Saturday, June 30, 2012

Who What When Where Whow

  Lascaux? Uh-uh. Altamira? Uh-huh.

Who would disagree with the idea that the more cars you can drive, the easier it will be to drive yet another one? Bueller? Bueller? OK, nobody.

The same is true for languages, especially within language families, such as the Indo-European family (IE). IE languages have so much in common that like cars, the more of them you drive, the easier it is to drive another one. Here's a quick (not the only by any means) example:

Check these basic English interrogative particles: who, what, when, where, why, whow. I add a w to how to clarify that "how" belongs to the family of wh- interrogatives.

I had two profitable years of highschool Spanish, followed by two explosive years of Latin. Latin was the first foreign language where I noticed that like English, the interrogative particles shared a common initial sound, kw: Qui, Quod, Quando, Quo, Quid, etc. Not the same sound as in English, but still nice to know the pattern.

Over the next few decades, due to education, travel, and adoption, I learned some more languages; not fluently, but enough to not need English or gestures to communicate. Because the main benefit of speaking a language is to be able to ask questions, a good learning shortcut (among many) was that any language's interrogatives were all likely to start with the same sound, and it's usually true:

Wer, Was, Wenn, Wo, Warum, Wie, in English's lovely and creative cousin, German.

Qui, Que, Quand, Quoi, Comment, Où, in Latin's daughter, French. Note that comment starts with the same k sound as the q- words. And is short for Latin ubi, which I suppose is itself contracted from an older proto-Latin word starting with q, something like "quobi".

And in Russian: кто/ Kto, что/ Chto, когда/ Kogda, где/ Gdye, куда/ Kuda, как/ Kak. The exceptions in Russian are worth some digression: Kto means who; Chto means what. I'm guessing that distinguishing between people and things created Chto- simply altering the k-sound enough to make a new word. By the way, it's pronounced shto, not chto due to the speed at which the word is said.

Gdye (gd-YEH), where, may be a newer, voiced version of the unvoiced Ktye, an imagined word I'm backfiguring to fit the k- pattern.

These, and many more, Indo-European languages are assumed to spring from a common tongue which left no written record; what Germans call an Ursprache (ur- primeval, original + Sprache, language) My guess is that all of these interrogative particles originate in a single interrogative proto-particle, khuh. Khuh would sound like huh, but with a kh sound like the ch in loch. Here's how over time we get from khuh to the other words:

For some peoples, kh would sharpen to k or kw. Depending on their own aesthetic sense, others would soften kh or kw to wh. From wh, speakers may further soften to h (as in who), or w (even as we do today in saying wite instead of white). W could shift to v as it has done in German. You may think I assume too much, but listen to my Russian-adopted son Michael. When he was first learning English, he could not say 'house'. He said khouse. But 'hospital' was gospital. Why not khospital? Dunno...Russian has its reasons. And 'dinosaur' (dinosawr) was dinosavr.

Now a little digression. You know the intonation for "I don't know" when the note rises on don't and is lower for both I and know: iDUNno. Sometimes we will hum mmmMMMmmm and be understood. Of course without already knowing the English words, the humming won't communicate a thing.

Now you also know what this means: huh?

And huh...they aren't the same.

And this: uh-uh.

And: uh-huh.

Unlike mmmMMMmmm, none of them is based on English; but they can also be hummed or grunted because we know the "words" already. Those sounds aren't words from any language, any Sprache. They don't enjoy the status of "word;" but they're language, and we understand them. My guess is that those sounds are vestiges, living fossils of the oldest human oral communication which predates Proto Indo European. What the Germans might call a Vorursprache, before an original language. Communication so old and basic it's simply nuanced grunting. And huh? would be the root sound from which the word khuh developed.

Maybe the the first word. It'd be just like humans to make their first word a question.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Review on the Fly

 Maybe not that fast

How catechectically wonderful is it when the kids don't remember something that you've already covered? Don't tell me. But my experience has been that with a bit of review at the instant of forgetfulness, they can even remember things that haven't come up for months. Of course, time can be saved by giving the answer, but a minute or two of review on the fly after a wrong answer may actually be more productive than a correct answer. Like so:

We cover Melchizedek in early September. Then he might not show up again until February or March. That's a long time for kids to remember an odd name and a small story. So when we discuss the Last Supper, I've learned not to be surprised if the kids can't always recall that information. But by answering pointed questions, they can find their way back, and then forward again.

"So here's Jesus and the Apostles at the last Supper, what kind of dinner is this? Passover? Yes, so they'll be eating....Lamb! Uh-huh. But does Jesus pass around grilled lamb kebabs?, they have bread! Yes,! Yes. Tell me about bread & wine. What? Where have you heard about it earlier this year? And the guy whose name starts with an M. Methuselah? No, he was just old. Matthew? Matthew? No. OK, tell me about Christmas. Christmas? Yes, new topic. Who was there? Angels. Yes. Shepherds. Yes. Wise Men. Yes, what did they bring? Gold, frankincense, & myrrh. Yes. Gold is for...a king, yes, and...incense is for a priest, yes, good remembering. So a priest? Yes, we'll sort that out some more later. What do priests do? Sacrifice! Yes, and..offer stuff! Yes. Tell me about Sarah's husband...Abraham! Yes, tell me. God told him to go to Israel. Yes, Canaan. Yes, what? Their baby was Isaac and it means laughing! Yes, they were so happy to have a baby. Did the people in Canaan welcome Abraham with a camel-sausage pizza and say please be our king? No he had to fight people. Yes. When things went well for Abraham he'd build an altar and offer God a sacrifice...what kind? A thanksgiving sacrifice! Yes. But do y'all remember after one battle he didn't offer his own sacrifice, someone did it for him...the M guy! Yes, c'mon. Methuselah! No! That was wrong two minutes ago and it's still wrong! But close. Mmm...Melchizedek! Yes! What was he? A priest. Yes. What did he offer? Umm...bread & wine! Yes. So why does this matter? Because Jesus is copying Melchizedek! Yes! Y'all are too smart!"

Now in this case the punch line, Melchizedek and his offering, is the oldest part of the thread, so we went backward in time to Genesis, then returned to the present in one jump. I don't always do that; it just depends on the topic, what isn't remembered, and available time. Regardless, it's best for the kids to review an entire concept, not just the fragment that applies at the moment. For example, any time miracle bread comes up during the year, we source back to manna, then move forward until we hit the most current bread miracle.

By the way, once the children have firmly connected Melchizedek to Jesus at the Last Supper, they will always remember him when he comes up in our Mass classes.   

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Book Review Review

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

Sha-zayum! Maximum Catholic Media Generalissima Elizabeth Scalia says nice things about my book...or about a review of the book. I link/ you decide.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Book Review

I know what you're thinking...did he use 6 verses, or only 5?

Like a gunslinger, Christian Le Blanc’s gentle drawl belies an explosive quick-draw capability that has the Catholic townsfolk wide-eyed and Bible ignorance on the run....

The Bible Tells Me So: A Southern Gent Wows Catholic Kids with the Bible

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Teaser Tuesday

"Eventually Isaacs' parents died.  Isaac married Rebekah, but they couldn’t get pregnant. Who does this remind you of? Abraham and Sarah! Yes! But “Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.”  (Gen 25) She became pregnant with twins.  They would jostle each other in Rebekah’s tummy; they didn’t get along even before they were born.  [I take two rubber fetuses out of my prop bag.]

Hey, who're these babies?
Umm, Jacob and Esau? That's right, and they already don't get along. Look, I'm Rebekah, here they are in my womb, fighting [I bang them into each other in front of my stomach like Punch & Judy puppets, accompanied by grunting sounds]. "There ain't enough room in this womb for the two of us! Then you get out! No, you get out!" And Rebekah is groaning, "Oww, y'all settle down in there!" That's weird! What's weird? Those things. What things? Those babies, they're weird looking. Oh yeah? I think they're cute [I give 'em a kiss], they look like my kids when they were growing in my wife...would you like to kiss them? No! Hey now, don't get squeamish on me, this is what you looked like when you were a couple of months old and still in your momma....and I bet she loved you even if you thought you were weird-looking.

Later on, when the first baby was being born, they saw he had more hair than most babies, so they named him Esau, which is Hebrew for 'hairy.' Ewww, gross, a hairy baby! C'mon, he wasn't hairy like a gorilla, some people just have more hair. Well, as Esau came out, they saw another little hand grabbing onto his ankle...that baby was named Jacob, which means "heel-holder." Yes, what?  Umm, how does that work?  What exactly?  You know...babies?  Oh- you mean how does sex work?  Yeah.  Ask your parents, this is a religion class, not a plumbing class."

This post links to Nancy Brandt's Teaser Tuesday.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Five Arks of VBS

 It's almost summer now, but it's also the winter of VBS discontent: the cost, the programs, the relevance, the Catholicity, etc. I don't do Vacation Bible School so I'm not an authority; I just see VBS angst kick in on the Net each June. At a VBS thread today someone suggested that VBS could be homemade instead of following a packaged program. (Although as Jerry Seinfeld might say, there's nothing wrong with that.) So I thought for several seconds about what sort of homemade VBS I might like to do, and came up with this:

Assuming there are five days of VBS, they might be tied together by the idea of Ark:

1. Noah's Ark
2. Baby Moses' Ark
3. The Ark of the Covenant
4. Mary as the New Ark
5. The tabernacle in church as Ark.

There will be good stories to tell, read, and act out; things to draw, color, and craft. Any of the stories could be expanded per time available, e.g., Baby Moses' Ark could be preceded by Joseph and the famine that brought his family to Egypt, and/or followed by the story of the first Passover. Then the kids could choose to make or draw: the pyramids; a sphinx; Joseph in his coat; Pharaoh; Moses in his Ark; the Burning Bush; one of the plagues; the Angel of Death passing over a house marked with lamb's blood; parting the Red Sea, etc. Then they could assemble what they'd done in chronological order and as a group retell the whole story by referring to their artwork. Maybe each day's artwork would append to the previous days' such that on the last day they could tell the whole connected story to their parents or another class.

The Bible would be treated in an organized way, and the kids would see a meaningful thread of Catholicism run from the Old Testament through the New, and on into the kids' very own church. Time permitting, a 6th Ark might also be squeezed in: the cube-shaped New Jerusalem of Revelations. And as a prelude to arks, the garden of Eden.

Ya can't beat that.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Behold the West 2

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

This past winter on successive Thursday evenings our parish showed the ten episodes of Catholicism, the series featuring Fr. Robert Barron. My Wife the Art Historian asked me if I wanted to go.

Well, I've seen a ton of Fr. B's bits on YouTube, and he's kinda overexposed there, y'know? And besides, isn't this for people who don't know squat about the Catholic Church? That includes us out. On the other hand, lots of my friends'll be there and we can schmooze. And the pastor will be leading some discussion after each episode. So even if none of it's new to me I can still have a good time; at least I can give the first Thursday a shot, right?

So we go to the first one...and it is the best. It's a spectacle of painting, theology, architecture, faith, music, philosophy, the Bible, sculpture, literature, saints; every spoke on the huge wheel of Catholicism, all treated as a one big thing, like a softly whirling spiral galaxy. Which Catholicism is: the complete foundation and underpinning of the West. But Fr. Barron isn't so obvious as to say so. He simply spends 10 hours (less, really) talking about the Catholic worldview so comprehensively that it'd be hard not reach that conclusion on your own.

And the wonder is that he does it so well in a mere 10 episodes. Janet & I discuss the problem: treat the faith in all its aspects in 10 hours, and speak to the well-catechized as well as the unchurched. What would I cover; what would I leave out; how many seconds to spend on each idea; how to knit the parts into a whole, etc.,etc. So I liked the series, and was better off by far for having seen it. Plus much of how he treated things reminded me of my class, which was gratifying in the shallowest way.

But here's the real surprise: Janet bought the DVD set, and we're watching it again. It's better the second time around. 

Galaxy photo by the European Southern Observatory

Sunday, June 3, 2012

O Fortuna

 This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

A Little House

Most Americans have heard the song O Fortuna in the movies or on TV, although they may not know its name or its composer. It's one of a suite of poems from the Middle-Ages (Carmina Burana, Bavarian Songs) which were set to music by the 20th century German composer Carl Orff. Carmina's a terrific array of moods and musics: Fortuna is epic; others are reflective; some langorous; and some boisterous, once sung in medieval pubs. The drinking songs are grouped under the heading In Taberna, i.e., In the Tavern. In the English sense of a 'public house' being a place to buy a beer, a taberna is a house; or a shed attached to the side of the house as a store or shop.

If you ever get the chance to see Carmina live- do so.

New topic, sort of: you may recall that when the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob reestablished his covenant with the Hebrews, he gave Moses very specific instructions as to how his dwelling, the Meeting Tent, should be constructed. In Hebrew, the 'tent' is ohel/ אהל;  the 'dwelling' is mishkanמשכן  In the Old Testament their uses frequently overlap where the portability of a nomad's tent melds with the security and serenity of abiding within one's extended family.

In the New Testament, the Epistle to the Hebrews uses the Greek word skene/σκηνή (skein, tent) to describe both God's earthly and heavenly dwellings.

When St. Jerome later translated the Hebrew and Greek Testaments into the Vulgate, he used the existing Latin word tabernaculum, the diminutive of taberna, for the assorted older terms. The Roman Army, which was certainly practical about its religion if not particularly pious, had for centuries built a tabernaculum augurale, a tent, a "little house," in all of its camps for checking the auspices. How nice of Jerome not to invent a new word, but to baptize an old one instead.

[Is augurale related to inaugural? Why, yes it is.]

And how nice that the Church applies that same term to the little houses in which the Lord has dwelled among his people these last two millennia. As the New Testament fulfills the Old, the Church extends and deepens the connection between God and his people.

The Catholic Church doesn't invent anything.

Greenville- Ephrathah 6

Tonight Li'l 'Phrathah hosts Transitional Deacon Jon Chalmers' ordination.