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Monday, October 31, 2005

Are You Multilingual?

Comments on Linguistic Elitism

Christians face may challenges when witnessing; Jewish people will often ask, “Do you know Hebrew?” and Muslims will often ask, “Do you know Arabic?”

You might answer “No” on both regards to which you will be told, “If you don’t know Hebrew then you can’t understand the Tanakh (Old Testament) and it’s no wonder why you think that Jesus fulfilled prophecies that He never did fulfill” or “If you don’t know Arabic then you can’t understand the Qur'an and it’s no wonder why you don’t understand that Muhammad fulfilled Biblical prophecy and is Allah’s final prophet.”

What do you do if you don’t know Hebrew or Arabic? Of course, you could take classes and learn those languages but you could also turn the tables. You could ask the person questioning your linguistic abilities, “Do you know Greek?” and if they don’t you could say, “If you don’t know Greek then you can’t understand the New Testament and it’s no wonder why you don’t understand the claims that it’s making about Jesus.” Or, “If you don’t know Greek then you can’t understand the New Testament and it’s no wonder why you don’t understand that Muhammad did not fulfill Biblical prophecy and cannot be a prophet.”

Of course, they may, in turn, ask whether you know Greek, which you may not know. Yet, the point is still valid even if you do not know Hebrew, Arabic or Greek. Thus far we have simply showed how to turn an argument around.

These are cases of elitism, which we have termed linguistic elitism, but such cases can be answered even without learning any and every language that a skeptic would expect you to know in order to discuss a particular issue with them. Being bilingual I can offer the following thoughts; translation can be difficult but translation is possible. Some languages are more specific than others and some are more poetic than others. But all languages have something in common, which makes them interrelated, and this is that all human languages express human experience.
In other words, all human language is meant to describe what we know and what we question, what we see and feel, what we can describe and what we can imagine. Moreover, when a people encounter something that their language cannot describe they will invent new words or modify existing words in order to accommodate the new experience and or knowledge. Therefore, translation from one language to another is sensical and there are people that spend lifetimes studying linguistics and have translated, as relates to this article, religious texts.

Consider the various translations of the Bible, there are formal and dynamic translations; formal meaning word for word translation, even if the meaning of the though is a little cloudy while dynamic refers to clarifying the thought even if some individual words are not translated. There are also poetic as well as modern day common language translations. We have interlinear translations, concordances and lexicons. We have numerous resources that allow us to understand literature that has not been written in our own language.

Therefore, you may not know Hebrew, Arabic or Greek but you have various means by which to inform yourself of the world’s vast literature.

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