LINGUIST List 6.664

Thu 11 May 1995

Disc: Language and Religion

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Zev bar-Lev, Re: 6.594, Language and Religion
  2. "Bellusci, D, David, Mr", Re: Language and Religion

Message 1: Re: 6.594, Language and Religion

Date: Thu, 27 Apr 1995 08:49:55 Re: 6.594, Language and Religion
From: Zev bar-Lev <>
Subject: Re: 6.594, Language and Religion

i believe that the idea of Hebrew as the original language (as well as the
holy language) is very widespread in Jewish religious literature, and is
widely believed by Orthodox Jews. Jewish mysticism puts great weight on
the Hebrew alphabet, and sees it as, in effect, the tool of God's creative
activity. apart from its uses in mysticism, viz. where the numerical values
of words is believed to have hidden significance (a common example, widely
used among the non-Orthodox as well, is 18 for the root of the word for

i also agree with the claim that there is nothing specific in the Hebrew
Bible to imply that Hebrew was the language that preceded the Tower of
Babel. the only exception to this are "puns" that work in Hebrew, e.g.
"woman" (isha) coming from "man" (ish) -- which works in English too! --
but at least not in most languages. (on the other hand, the connection
between "woman" and "rib" is apparently a Sumerian pun.)

 zev bar-Lev (prof.)
 dept. of linguistics & oriental languages,
 san diego state university, san diego CA 92182
 tel. (619)-594-6389
 fax: (619)-594-4877
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Message 2: Re: Language and Religion

Date: Fri, 5 May 1995 13:41:17 SRe: Language and Religion
From: "Bellusci, D, David, Mr" <>
Subject: Re: Language and Religion

While there may be few if any Christian greetings, this certainly
does not hold for Christian expressions; the main problem with
our e-mail is that the language for communication is
English which has been purged, and rather successfully, of
Christian expressions. The reason should be clear: the symbols are
associated with Catholicism. If we consider Romance languages
such as Italian, then the Christian symbolism in language becomes
evident; in fact, the encoded Christian symbols in Italian
expressions are suggestive of the religious world view. Consider the
following translations (in order of frequency as I hear them):

 - My Jesus!
 - Mother of God! (lit. my Mother of God)
 - Do it for the Souls in Purgatory!
 - Soul, eg., Not a Soul was around.
 - Holy Heaven!
 - St. Anthony! (lit. my St. Anthony) or the local Patron/Patronness
 - Jesus, Mary and Joseph! (especially northern Italy)

An Irish friend of mine visiting Cape Town commented: "There's not a
Soul on the beach." It was the first time I heard any such expression
in English, but then he came from a Catholic culture.

I recently noticed in Italy that a common greeting, at least among
Religious (Priests/Sisters/Nuns) is "Salve" which is more powerful
than "Hail": Salve is in the opening line of the "Salve Regina" -
"Hail Holy Queen" - and I don't mean Queen Elizabeth. I'm not sure
if "Salve" has religious connotations to the users, or if it's
limited to a certain Religious culture where I widely heard the
greeting, or even if "Salve" is a recent development. But the
greeting seems suggestive of the Latin translation of St. Luke's
Gospel when the Angel Gabriel greets Mary "Salve..."

These expressions appear almost always in exhortive subjunctive type
clauses, and I have heard them all over Italy, both in cities and
villages, with some expressions being more common than others.

In English, these expressions sound very "out of place" especially
today with politically correct language, but I suspect that this would
not have been the case before the Reformation. Such expressions are
evident in Shakespeare's works: "By His Mother..."

With regards to Muslim greetings in Arabic or languages influenced by
Arabic and Islamic culture, "Peace" had already been centuries prior
to Islam by Jews and Christians, in fact Christ's words: "Peace I
leave you..." appears in the Scripture. To say "Peace" is a
Muslim greeting overlooks this fact.

Both Malaysian and Kenyan friends of mine who are Catholics do not
feel that Malay or Swahili greetings are necessarily Muslim: Arabic
does not have a monopoly on "peace"; so languages influenced by Arabic
are not communicating something limited to Islam.

David C. Bellusci
University of Cape Town
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