I reckon Germans have one of the best languages. German is often teased for its compound words, long words formed by sticking smaller words together. My favourite word is one of these, luftkissenboot. You might be able to work out what the words stuck together are even if you don’t speak German, luft-kissen-boot or in English, air-kissing-boat. To me this is much more beautiful and suggestive that the English equivalent, hovercraft! Although sticking words together like this may seem clumsy, and produce many lettered results, by bringing together words that wouldn’t normally be associated it can create powerful suggestions and ideas.
I read a fascinating article by Guillaume Thierry, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Bangor University today about language and how it shapes the way we think.* It illustrates this effect by pointing to the German word Torschlusspanik, and here it gets a little tricky as we don’t really have an English equivalent. Splitting it up, the word is tor-schluss-panik or gate-closing-panic in English. This is the feeling that you have when rushing to get on the tube and hearing the beeping signalling the closing of the doors as you approach. But it’s more than that, it’s also the growing awareness that you get as time passes that opportunities you may have had have passed. It’s the perfect word for the motive behind cramming at exam time or explaining a midlife crisis. But here’s the thing, we don’t have that word in English and so it needs to be explained to us.
This raises an interesting question. Does language change or shape the way we think? Do Germans think differently about such experiences because they have a word to describe it, or do we all experience it the same way but have to explain it differently because of our different vocabularies? This has been an ongoing argument in the world of linguistics, but according to Thierry, recent experiments with neuroscientific methods suggest the former, the language we have literally shaping our thought processes.
I find this idea fascinating as a former scientist, but I also find it fascinating as a Christian because of Romans 12:2,
‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.’
This suggests to me that by reading and absorbing the Bible and its unique language of love, grace, humility and acceptance, that we are literally changed by the renewing or reshaping of our minds!
Spirit, as we read and reflect the Word, may we learn to think in some way after the Father.
Church newsletter article 03.03.19
Posts labelled ‘From the Pastor’s Pen’ reflect our ministers’ views and not necessarily those of Wormley Free Church/The Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion
* Guillaume Thierry, ‘The Power of Language: We Translate Our Thoughts into Words, but Words Also Affect the Way We Think’, The Conversation, 2019 <https://theconversation.com/the-power-of-language-we-translate-our-thoughts-into-words-but-words-also-affect-the-way-we-think-111801> [accessed 27 February 2019].