|Do you understand church English?|
Total Votes: 91
Church English, sometimes called Biblish, is a special dialect of English. As with any dialect, church English has some unique vocabulary, syntax, and even phonetics. There are some subdialects of church English dependent on what denomination a person most closely associates with, and, of course, there would be some geographical influences, such as differences in church language based on what country a person lives in. But there are enough similarities in church English that it is possible to make some linguistic generalizations about it. Here are some words and phrases used in church English which are seldom used by those who are not speakers of church English (not all of the words are used by everyone who understands church English):
Have you been in the Word yet today?One phonetic characteristic of some varieties of church English is to pronounce the vowels of these words farther back in the mouth than one does in ordinary speech:
Do you know the Lord?
It's such a blessing to be here.
Let's have a word of prayer.
Let's go to the throne of grace.
Let us lift his name on high.
My heart is overflowing with the Lord's goodness.
We'll give you all the honor, and the praise, and the glory.
Lord, we lift our hearts to you.
growing in the Lord
GodAnother phonetic characteristic is to use a flapped "r" rather than a more liquid "r" when pronouncing
Holy SpiritUsing the flapped "r" gives a perception of a more British sound to American or Canadian English, and British English is perceived by many Americans and Canadians as sounding more spiritual than their own dialects. Listen to some radio or T.V. evangelists sometime and notice how some use the flapped "r" when preaching. British speakers are especially desired at U.S. and Canadian church conferences because they barely have to open their mouths to speak and they already sound spiritual to us on the west side of the Atlantic! It is always a coup when an American or Canadian church conference is able to book someone like John Stott, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J.I. Packer, or F.F. Bruce to be its conference speaker.
In terms of syntax, church English uses many more "in" prepositional phrases to communicate meanings normally communicated by manner adverbs or manner relative clauses. In the following list, for each line the first phrase will be church English, and the second phrase will be a more typical form that a speaker would use for the same meaning:
speaking in love, speaking lovinglyWhat relationship is there between church English and English Bible translation? Often the relationship is quite direct. If you do a quantified analysis of the vocabulary of many English Bible versions (it is possible to do so with a number of computer programs today, including a fairly primitive method of using Microsoft Word to place each word of a version on a separate line, then alphabetize the entire list), you will find a much higher percentage of church English words in those versions than you would in ordinary original compositions from those who use those versions.
responded in anger, responded angrily
in the fullness of time, when it was the right time
in that day, at that time
in truth, truthfully
in fear, fearfully
in righteousness, righteously
There are some sociolinguistic advantages to knowing church English. One of the most obvious relates to what we have just said about English Bible versions. If you understand church English, you have a much better chance of understanding many English Bible versions. Along the same line, if you understand church English and use a Bible version written in church English, your Bible will sound right, familiar, comfortable, to you. It will sound like we have been led to believe that an English Bible should sound.
Another advantage to knowing church English is one that is true of any jargon or speciality dialect: being able to speak and understand church English creates a sense of solidarity or oneness among its speakers. One of the first jobs that a new believer has in many churches is to learn to speak and pray in church English. The more fluent the new believer becomes in church dialect, the more others in the church sense that that person is progressing spiritually (or, "walking in the Spirit," as it might be said in the dialect).
One disadvantage of using church English in one's speech and Bible versions used is that it creates distance between them and their unchurched associates. I am astounded that Crossway is creating an edition of ESV for evangelism. The English of the ESV is loved by those are are familiar with church English but it is quite inappropriate for evangelism. That church English does not speak the language of the people we are trying to reach, which is the method Jesus used in speaking to people. A couple of blog posts back I quoted from Francis Schaeffer on this very point. I'll repeat here the two excerpts I posted from Schaeffer previously:
If we wish to communicate, then we must take the time and trouble to learn our hearers' use of languages so that they understand what we intend to convey.Then he said:
I suggest that if the word (or phrase) we are in the habit of using is no more than an orthodox evangelical cliché which has become a technical term among Christians, then we should be willing to give it up when we step outside our own narrow circle and talk to the people around us.What other examples of church English can you think of? What other advantages and disadvantages can you think of for using church English? Can you share any reactions you have gotten from unchurched people when you have spoken church English to them? How have unchurched people reacted when you have given them an English Bible version which is written in church English? Conversely, what reactions have you gotten when you have given unchurched people Bible versions which are, on the whole, not written in church English?
Categories: Bible versions, language usage, Biblish, church English