Monday, October 20, 2014

Blast from the past

Don't ask me how, but at dinner tonight with Mr B, the subject of learning to read a foreign language with a different alphabet came up. Though he speaks Spanish and Italian, both of these use the Latin alphabet and he thought it would be very difficult to add both foreign tongue and strange script. I opined that it was not that hard, really.

And for some reason, went and got my old Greek New Testament to show him.

The Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 6
The whole New Testament is in Greek, with exception of a few places
where Jesus is quoted directly in Aramaic,
his native tongue.

I've always loved and been fascinated by languages. I've read Latin well, done ok with New Testament Greek, and spoken and written French, Italian, Spanish and even German for a while. A smattering of Hebrew. Had a brief go at easy but oddly boring Esperanto and was defeated by Irish, whose spelling makes English seem as rational as Spanish spelling (which is very rational). For example, the Irish word for "almighty", uilechumhachtaigh, is pronounced illi-hoo-atah. You get my point. Even though Hebrew is in a completely different alphabet, written right to left, and uses little marks in place of vowels, I found it a more accessible tongue than the language of my Hibernian ancestors. It's written as pronounced. Fifty years after the founding of modern Israel, Israelis all speak Hebrew. Ireland has been independent since the early 20th century and no more than 10% speak Irish, despite 12 years of compulsory teaching in schools. But, Jews are smarter than Gaels, and Hebrew is easier than Irish. So there we are.

Though I neither speak nor understand any other foreign lingo, I can recognize the script of very many and can tell from listening whether someone is speaking Korean, Mandarin or Japanese.

When I was a seminarian in Rome, in some of my free time I used to work my way through the various New Testament texts. I later referred to this volume when I was a pastor and a preacher. Not for the congregation, who cared very little about the original languages, but for myself. It's one thing to read the Bible in translation and another one to know that you are reading the very words of the original, it its original 2000 years-ago tongue. It's always struck me that Koine Greek had a single verb for "to be crucified together with"....sunstaurosqunai. 


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