Updated: Aug 12, 2021
I learned Romanian when I was 19, in the service of Christ for two years serving people in Moldova and Romania. Learning the beautiful Romanian language opened windows to my heart and mind (my soul). The differences in language, word choice, and sentence structure are unique and edifying. For example, Romanians never say “YOU are right", like we do in English. Instead, in Romanian, they say “Ai dreptate” which is to say “You have the rightness”. For better or for worse, I found this was a less personal way of saying, I'm pursuing truth, rather than a defining statement about how my thoughts say something about "who I am".
While in Moldova during that two years, I learned bits of Russian and saw similar shifts in perspective. Most notably the personal pronouns in Russian are subsumed by the verbs. You don’t say, “I want” you say “Hatchu” which simply means "want" without emphasis on the personal pronoun “I”.
This reinforced the philosophy that you are what you do, for right and wrong and to my perspective explains the Russians' powerful will to do and be. On the flip side in both Russian and Romanian, the Soviet Unions efforts to erase the notion of God - not from the broader consciousness of its subjects, but from their speech - had noticeable, painful effects on the broader culture.
I later learned that in Chinese there is no plural form (link here), which can be both destructive to the sense of self, and positive to the sense of community. Additionally, in certain Asian languages there is no concrete present, but rather it is a shadow of a present, eclipsed in the fundamental building blocks of the language of a sense of “future” and “non-future” (link here); effectively creating what I call a “shadow present”. This has been cited as a reason Asians culturally save more than Americans, because the future is the shadow present. This theory was put forward by behavioral economist Keith Chen in a fabulous TED talk here: which was built off of his research at Yale here.
And in ancient and aboriginal cultures, it is taboo to mention the names of the dead for fear of violating their memory or awakening their departed spirits. This posed problems in certain cultures when the name of a king or ruler was the name of a common object like Jaguar, as it required the renaming of those objects and the memories related to the same.
Overall, the message is clear, language shifts our understanding, our perspective and even how much we can see. This was taught with spectacular science fiction clarity in the movie, “Arrival” in which the linguist professor Louise Banks saves the world by learning an Alien language that shifter her mind so see can actually see the past, present and future - at once.
The similarities to the truths taught in scripture about prescience, where things are past, present and future in a moment. For example, in D&C 130:7 we learn that angels reside “on a globe like a sea and glass of fire where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord.” And that the earth will one day be gloried as a sea of glass, according to John the Revelator, in John 4:6. The world is destined to see things as they really are, past, present and future. And D&C 93:24 teaches that TRUTH is “things as they were, are, and are to come.”
Let’s not forget the efforts of Martin Luther, and William Tyndale to give the “Word of God” to the masses. And why Tyndale famously declared against the Catholic Church’s efforts to keep the Bible in Greek to prevent mass access, “I defy the Pope and all his laws.... If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow, shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.” (Link here).
With this background in mind, is it little wonder then that Christ is first introduced in Matthew, he is described as the “Word” and the creator that spoke and light was?
Words matter. Our perception of those words doubly so. And our words can either limit or enhance our sight.