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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

English folk taxonomy survey

On Sunday I blogged on the question "Are sisters brothers?" Today, in connection with that post, I created a poll to find out what taxonomic classes visitors to this blog consider various entities to belong to. Please help out by responding to the poll. It is the red one in the right margin of this blog. I think it shouldn't take very long to give your answers. Please answer as you normally speak and write English, not how you might answer if you understand a unique dialect of English understood by anthropologists, biologists, or theologians. If you would like to comment on the poll or any of its statements, feel free to do so in the comments to this post.

Have fun!


At Tue Dec 13, 08:58:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I have been unable to respond to your surveys since they lack the one word which I thought brought men and women together - that is, brethren. As long as the Bible said 'brethren' I knew I was one of those, in more ways than one. However, in the Brethren a sister can never be a brother. A brother has many privileges (or obligations, depending on how you view it) from which a sister is excluded.

Therefore, when I examine letters of the early Brethren I find that they were always addressed to "My brothers and Sisters in the Lord ..." This form of address was considered to mean the same as "my brethren'. And women definitely were brethren as the book "Chief Women among the Brethren" shows.

In fact, that is one reason I called my blog Powerscourt - to show that women were brethren too, as Lady P was. But never, ever, were women brothers. Brothers could speak in the meething, break bread, attend brothers' meetings and do the things that brothers did.

Any notion that sisters are brothers seems to me to be a neologism as Peter points out about this debate in general. If translators cannot brings themselves to name sisters directly, then they must return to the traditional term 'brethren'.

At Tue Dec 13, 10:03:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

You're right, Suzanne, that the word "brethren" would be acceptable as the superordinate label for both sisters and brothers. But "brethren" is not on my poll because it is an obsolete or archaic word for many, perhaps most, English speakers today. As with so much of the debates today about English Bible translations, we get into the matter of whether or not it is appropriate to use terms in a translation which are not familiar to all of the target audience. My own position is that it is not. Those who translate the ESV and a few other Bible versions believe it is appropriate to use words which are no longer current for all of their target audience. I believe that, at minimum, we should state our positions clearly. We can then agree to disagree, if that is what is necessary, in the end. But until those listening to anti-TNIV and similar claims about Bible translation can hear all sides clearly, they will not be able to make accurate, informed decisions. The debate should not be framed in terms like, "Our side believes that every word of God is pure" and so must be translated literally to English. Such words are misleading although I am sure that those who speak them do not intend to mislead. I suspect that in some cases that those who speak them are themselves not aware of all the issues involved.

As the Good Book itself says, we need to "speak the truth in love." Both sides believe they have the truth. At a minimum, we need to speak lovingly to and about those with whom we disagree. There need be no compromise about truth when we are loving. But if we do not tell all the truth when we should, we are not, in my opinion, being loving.

At Wed Dec 14, 08:26:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

The main issue is that those who think the plural 'brothers' can include women would not call a sister a brother in the singular. The way the Tolkien-style dialect is supposed to work is that in the plural you get such things but not in the singular. I think the way you've worded the questions will lead people who speak such a dialect to answer the way everyone has here, and the poll will show nothing.

With 'man' it's supposed to be a little different, according to those who speak the way Tolkien did. That word is supposed to translate the kind term, but you have contrasted it with family terms as well as other terms. If the dialect in question favors the family terms with non-inclusive readings, and that trumps the inclusive sense of 'man' unless the context requires otherwise, then I think Tolkien would also answer the way everyone here did. That means those questions aren't reliable for determining whether this dialect is still active among those answering the poll.

Questions that might work include:

1. Legolas, Elrond, Arwen, and Cirdan are elves, but Boromir, Faramir, Eowyn, and Aragorn are men.
2. Paul wrote to the brothers in Corinth, including Rufus, Zoe, Secundus, and Phoebe.
3. You will face off against three enemy soldiers. You can choose three champions. If any of your men dies, he or she will no longer be available in later rounds. (I know this is cheating by combining one element of one dialect with one element of another, but if it feels funny to someone who claims to be of the older dialect, then that might indicate that the 'men' isn't really inclusive.)
4. When I was looking through the documents collected by my forefathers, I realized that one of them, Sophia Cook, had been on the Mayflower.
5. Abraham looked out from heaven over the nation of Israel, made up of his sons. Out of these many sons, the only one he was proud of was Deborah.

Some of those sound better to me than others. What's important for me, though, is the context. It makes them sound a lot better than the examples you gave in the poll, which sound impossible.

At Wed Dec 14, 10:04:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Jeremy, thank you for your comments. They prove my point that English speakers today do not regard sisters to be a kind of brothers, nor women to be a kind of men. One of the principles of Bible translation is that its language should be that of its target audience. IF we are to translate English Bibles for English speakers, then the translations need to be in the language of those speakers, not in a speciality dialect of Tolkien, church English speakers, or anyone else. Of course, anyone is free to translate speciality dialect Bibles, but they should state clearly that that is what they are doing.

All English speakers, including those who speak and understand speciality dialects, can understand and be impacted by English versions which use only the language of all English speakers. But the converse is not true: Not all English speakers understand English versions which use speciality dialects.

At Wed Dec 14, 05:33:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I was rather surprised to hear this evening a lady who is a long-standing member of my church here in England, objecting to traditional wordings of Christmas carols which use "men" in an inclusive sense. She insisted that as a woman she feels excluded by such language. The surprise was to hear this from a lady of about 65!


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