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Hallo again to all.

If you spend time around older children and young adults, and if you can get them to trust you, you will certainly find that they communicate in a language whose vocabulary and sentence structure is quite different from the language that, well, we used when we were their age and also the language in which we write to you now. Newspapers and magazines, whose editors are typically old enough to have mortgages and laments for lost youth, periodically publish sidebars that are 'dictionaries of teenage lingo', and there are professional youth-ministry consultants offering to youth ministers seminars in 'how to talk to the young so that they won't run when they see you coming'.Cover of a Cab Calloway album 'Are you hep to the jive?'

We learn so much from children if we listen, and one of the most obvious lessons is the fluidity of language. Typically Acts 2:1-12 is read at Pentecost, which was last week, but we can think about its meaning whenever we want, and we are. We smiled at the thought of 'each one heard them speaking in his own language' as applied to teenagers and had some fun trying to construct translations of well-known Bible passages into the argot of teenagers' conversations. We had to ask teenagers for help, of course, and our asking made them smile. We shan't quote any of the results, because our quotes would be obsolete in three months, and it isn't our language. If you use a search engine to look for dictionaries of contemporary slang terms, you'll find a goodly number of them, and you might also stumble across glossaries from more-traditional organizations, such as this from the Alien's Guide to Oxford or this from the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Groups such as Wycliffe Bible Translators work hard on serious translations of the Bible to provide 'access to Scriptures to everyone in the language they understand best'. But sometimes the translations are not intended to be quite so serious: every year or two, there's a flurry of publicity about edition of the Bible translated into some interesting culture and slang, whose purpose is both to amuse and to educate. We had fun reading the Cockney Bible, the Aussie Bible, and the Black Bible Chronicles, and we recall having seen other similar 'each one heard them speaking in his own language' translations.

If you say to a person of the appropriate age and culture (for this example, early 20s North American college graduate) 'I'm down with that', you've probably said 'I find that perfectly acceptable', which you could have said instead, and if you're the listener's parent, you probably should have. We remember once when a friend's teenage daughter had her nose pierced, the teenager's mother responded by getting her own nose pierced, as if to say 'I speak your language'. That is not the message that the daughter received, though. If you want someone to hear something in their own tongue, it's not always clear that the best way to make that happen is for you to speak it in what you think is their own tongue. The identity of the speaker always factors into the meaning of the words spoken, doesn't it?

The overwhelming cognitive complexity of trying to speak to someone in what we believe to be their own tongue is why we usually just smile politely if we are asked our opinion on the literal inerrancy of the Bible. We haven't figured out 'literal' yet, and haven't started on 'inerrancy'. Back in the day, it wasn't the speaker who adapted to the tongue of each listener. It was the Holy Spirit. We always hope that the Holy Spirit will curl up with us when we are reading the Bible, to help us (as in that first Pentecost) hear the Bible in our own language. We keep checking online booksellers to find The Middle-Aged Anglican Editor's Bible or the The 'Hallo again to all' Bible, but we've had no luck yet. Nothing in our own tongue, so it's up to us and the Holy Spirit to do that translation.

Next week, dawg.

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Last updated: 3 June 2007

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