language and worship

Today I read this article.

Interesting. Let me preface that I am a complete neophyte in the world of philosophy, and in all honesty I’m not proficient in any language other than English (despite what BC thinks). Thus, I have not yet really begun to grasp the immense importance language plays in how human beings perceive reality. On the other hand, my dear colleague, friend, and Christian brother Herr Doktor Toni Werner Zender insists on its grave import. He adds, naturally, the Heiddegerian notion that one can only truly philosophize in German (or in Ancient Greek if one happens to be capable). Despite the resistance I gave to his suggestion, I think I may agree with him – at least with the notion, if not about the specifically German aspect.

So, if the notion that language structures the way we perceive reality is correct, would it not imply that certain actions would be helped or hindered depending on the language used? The empirical evidence presented in the above WSJ article suggests this to be a valid conclusion. For example, the article cites evidence of certain Aboriginal tribes being vastly better suited for navigation due to their impeccable sense of direction. This uncannily strong sense of where north, south, east and west seems to be a direct result of the language that they use. As the Journal puts it,

“As a result of this constant linguistic training, speakers of such languages are remarkably good at staying oriented and keeping track of where they are, even in unfamiliar landscapes. They perform navigational feats scientists once thought were beyond human capabilities. This is a big difference, a fundamentally different way of conceptualizing space, trained by language.”

Language itself seems to structure the way these Aboriginal peoples perceive reality, thus giving them greater abilities to do certain activities, namely, to be well oriented directionally no matter where they are.

Now, for the further relevant question: Could not something similar be said about the language used to worship God? Could there not be a language that is better suited to the praise of the Blessed Trinity than others? Again, from the Journal:

“Differences in how people think about space don’t end there. People rely on their spatial knowledge to build many other more complex or abstract representations including time, number, musical pitch, kinship relations, morality and emotions. So if Pormpuraawans think differently about space, do they also think differently about other things, like time?… It turns out that if you change how people talk, that changes how they think. If people learn another language, they inadvertently also learn a new way of looking at the world.”

So, if language can shape how people think about space, time, number, society, morality, and so on, could it not also shape how they think about God?

If the above notion is indeed correct, I can’t see how the answer to these questions could be the affirmative. The further relevant question now is whether this most proper language for divine things could be Latin… hm…

In seriousness, though, certainly the tradition of the Church, especially as reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council (don’t forget Sacrosanctum Concilium 36.1), suggests this language would indeed be Latin. I would like to see some sort of empirical study done about the use of various languages in the teaching of theology and, more importantly, the worship of God through the sacred liturgy of the Church to see if the results suggest the efficacy of one language over another. Of course, we do have the empirical evidence of the past 40 or so years as a starter sample…

For the record, I will say that the decline in religiosity in the past 40+ is quite obviously a more complex issue than a change in language used in worship, but I do maintain that it is a significant factor. I could give other reasons for doing so, but for the sake of placating Dominik, who rightfully finds my posts quite wordy, I shall omit them for now.

This entry was posted in philosophy, religion, theology, utterances. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to language and worship

  1. Eric Hinz says:

    To Toni Zender I would like to point out that both Fr. Tac and Andrea Staiti have told me that they think English is the best language for philosophy. They think that in German it is way to easy to cover up a lack of understanding by the use of big words. English requires much more precise reading and writing.

  2. Michael Williams says:

    Toni told me that English was the best language for doing science precisely because of its precision. Of course, philosophy is a science… hm!

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