Tag Archives: semantics

What Happens When Language Changes.

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The French woman was adamant.

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The Swiss woman sat, staring at her. The English couple, from Trent, lifted their chins just slightly. Next to them, the German husband arched his back. His wife wilted, averting her downcast eyes, and the American’s widened.

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These all sat around the dinner table, in Zurich, on a Sunday. It was a Bible conference weekend, but this was a bigger deal.

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The French woman was talking about language.

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She said you have to live among the people, and learn the language. Only then will you know the culture. Because, and she closed emphatically, the culture is in the language.

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That was 1984.

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In 2019, we might be members of a culture whose language remains a leading means of discourse among the powerful. But, as English speaking people, our culture has changed.

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There are words which have been added to our lexicon which have become so embedded in it that we hardly realize there was ever a time when they were not there.

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Here are two of them, taken separately.

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“Reproductive” and “rights”.

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Reproductive — having the capacity to reproduce.

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Rights — (n.) moral or legal entitlements to act.

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But, taken together, they form a term, embodying a concept. “Reproductive rights” refer to a specific entitlement, that being: to bear a child.

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The problem is, this term has evolved to become broader in scope than one might have initially perceived. No longer merely representing the right to bear a child, it has come to also mean the right not to. And, this evolution has been driven by social forces.

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Plus — in the present day, not only are we talking about the right to or not to bear a child, this term has actually become one which encompasses a concept never actualized by humans born before 1930. Reproductive rights have come to represent the option to cease carrying a child already conceived.

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In our language.

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In our time.

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The intractable problem with this is: now, the public debate tosses this term to and fro, throwing it around as a tool supporting any number of arguments from the right to receive compensation to emotional support, counseling, products, services, and all manner of supplemental medical procedures. Now, women fight to preserve their reproductive rights, their choice as women to make exclusive decisions about their bodies, decisions which are exempt from anyone else’s decision-making power.

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Reproductive rights have melded into one argument, when they are actually two, distinct and even unrelated. And, the fundamental problem is one of conflation.

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Somehow, the right to make independent decisions affecting one’s body, as a woman (or, as a man) has become conflated with another right, that of the option to dispense with a conceived embryo which has nested in one’s uterus, having begun the process leading toward birth. While the female body belongs to one, independent person, once conception occurs that independence is, in part, forfeited — because another life exists inside of it.

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There are English speaking women to whom the term”reproductive right” is moot. These have already acknowledged that, once fertile, each of them bears both the ability and the responsibility of conceiving another human being. As such, they exercise only the right to be that vessel, should conception occur. To them, there is no other right. The right to bear a child is beyond the right they have over their own body. There is no argument. There is only the honor of a higher calling.

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And so, embodied in its language, the very culture is divided. And, living amongst its people, this disparity is palpable.

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Someone once said that the English language is the most inconsistent on the planet, riddled with exceptions to the rule of order.

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Does this also reflect a problem within the culture?

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If she could, would the French woman speak to this, and what might be said?

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One wonders whether silence would be required by all.

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Selah.

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© 5/25/19   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

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Absolution.

 Absolution.
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This morning, John Paul Downey, priest to St Paul’s Episcopalians, exhorted his congregation in prayer. He asked God to renew our hearts to look “beyond our absolutions.”
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I heard this from my seat at the cello, near the pipe organ and the rest of the musicians. And, as is so often the case during one of John Paul Downey’s homilies, the Spirit set my mind to contemplation.
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On Good Friday prior to this Resurrection Sunday ( now so – called by the Church, lest we confuse Christ’s triumph over death with the holiday otherwise celebrated),  the atmosphere had been emotionally charged. Pastor Timm, of the high Presbytery at First Covenant, had embodied Christ on the cross like nobody since my own father, and was a much larger and more cavernous resonating chamber than dad could ever have hoped to be. My whole body’d reacted to his thunderous declaration of the Son of God’s final words:
IT.IS.FINISHED!
and, I’d spent the rest of the service in tears.
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But, “absolution”.
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After a brief stop for Russell Stover creme eggs, I came home and went for the Webster’s. First, the root:
Absolute:

free from imperfection; perfect; not mixed or adulterated; pure.

free from restriction or limitation; ultimate; positive; certain; complete.

And, then this:

something that is not dependent upon external conditions for existence or for its specific nature.
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Buzzwords come and go in our society, and I’ve lived long enough to witness many an incantation. Perhaps we can credit the talk show circuit for these trends, but somewhere between 1997 and just last week, the response: “Absolutely!” locked in as the only hip retort to any pursuit of affirmation. We had all become, for reasons I have no authority to cite, ultimately, positively, perfectly sure  – and, remained so for over a decade.
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But, “not dependent upon external conditions for existence………”……now, there’s a state.
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One of the most baffling aspects of Christ on the cross, as he had come to be recognized by Christians over the centuries was his having taken, upon the body he bore, the weight of all the transgressions of mankind committed against his father, God. Or, Eloi, as he’d called him from Golgotha (and, probably earlier, in the garden of Gesthemane.) Jesus had agreed to die in exchange for the entire creation’s absolution. Yes. Complete, total forgiveness. And, he being believed to be uncorrupted, was the absolute sacrifice – pure, perfect, complete, AND: believed to be holy and divine, not dependent upon external conditions for his existence.
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Now, I’m neither linguistics expert nor historian, but the source indicates that the term “absolute” first appeared in the 13th century. Thirteen hundred years after the birth of Christ. I don’t know what earlier thought evolved the concept, but its embodiment in the form of an omniscient God who, paradoxically, needed no body to house His Spirit was sufficient for me from my birth. Perhaps this is merely indoctrination (the source of any faith?) ; tradition, the result of its practices. Yet, I do have science on my side.
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Because, I also consider the state of utter and complete distinction, of total independence from external conditions. Apparently, such “absolutes” exist in nature, in chemistry and mathematics. But, when did we first lay hold of, and then depart from, a “belief” in Absolutes? Were there external influences affecting this? Can we blame Relativism for whole generations of entirely too much flexibility of position? Have we weighed both sides of every issue for so long that we can no longer come to any decisions that will hold up under the fixed scrutiny of finality?
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One thing seems clear: When we read the words of Jesus, we never find ambiguity. Whenever he is challenged, he responds with the conviction of inner authority. And, neither is he shy of leaving one with a question as an answer. He had a gift for knowing when to declare, and when to let a query be the impetus for further inquiry. Could this be because he knew the answer was absolutely discoverable?
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Father Downey urged us to look beyond our having been forgiven. I should be so thankful that, more than once a year, I am called to witness Christ’s declarations from my seat in the musical ministry. I should be so grateful that he still provokes me to search out the truth. Most importantly, I am truly and deeply moved to be certain when I have found it.
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Absolutely.
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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo
4/5/15  all rights those of the author. Thank you. Selah.
littlebarefeetblog.com