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Creating a "liturgical English"


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#21 Thomas Brunson

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Posted 05 September 2011 - 11:13 PM

Herman, the translation from Greek to English is very difficult to totally understand or express. In Greek God is pronounced Theos, but if you understand it from the Greeks it means God, but that is not the literal translation of the word. (Theos I think means All Powerful One, something like that). If you look at the word betrothed as the Theotokos betrothed to Joseph, we understand what that means, (that type of betrothal meant guardian of the Virgin) but to those outside the Orthodox Church many think the Theotokos married Joseph. Languages are difficult at best when it comes to stating our theology so we educate our catecumens who will then understand what this terms mean and understand our theology and we used words that are as close to what is meant from the Greek as possible, some things just don't translate well is what I am saying. My first language is Lebanese, some Lebanese words don't translate well to English, and some Lebanese words just don't translate to English. We do the best we can with the languages we have and if our prayer comes from our hearts and we are truly worshipping God, I think in my little old brain, that God will accept that. Thomas

#22 Olga

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 12:22 AM

Theos I think means All Powerful One, something like that


I'm afraid not, Thomas. Theos means God, as it did in pre-Christian Greek. All-powerful one is Pantokrator, which can also be translated quite correctly as Almighty.

If you look at the word betrothed as the Theotokos betrothed to Joseph, we understand what that means, (that type of betrothal meant guardian of the Virgin) but to those outside the Orthodox Church many think the Theotokos married Joseph.


You are quite correct in saying that Joseph was the guardian of the Virgin, but, liturgically and iconographically, Joseph is referred to as mnistir (suitor, betrothed), never as syzyghos (spouse, which denotes marriage). What the non-Orthodox think is only of consequence if it is used to contradict or denigrate Orthodox teaching.

As for the perception that English can often be inadequate in expressing the things of Orthodoxy, I have never accepted this. Of all languages, its mongrel nature (in its wholesale appropriation of words and concepts from most every language on earth) makes it the most flexible and accommodating language of all. It can take time and effort to translate properly, but the idea that English has insurmountable deficiencies cannot be sustained. What of our missionary saints, priests and bishops who learned languages much "narrower" or obscure than English and then translated scripture and hymnography into those languages? If they could do this successfully with Japanese, Mandarin, the Aleutian languages, or Bahasa, how can providing good and accurate scriptural and liturgical English be such a problem?

Edited by Olga, 06 September 2011 - 11:10 AM.
correcting typo


#23 Jim McQuiggin

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 11:44 AM

One of the problems in creating an acceptable liturgical English is that there is no universally acceptable English in the first place. Spanish has the Academia Real that determines what is and what isn’t good Spanish; French has the Académie Française in France and the Office québécois de la langue française in Canada. There is no parallel body for the English language. The patronage of King James for the Bible and the established Church of England for the Book of Common Prayer combined to give English a liturgical language that was generally accepted for several centuries.

Saints Cyril and Methodius established a standard regarded as authoritative when they created Slavonic as a liturgical language. (I do think “created” is correct here as they did have to add many words to the existing vocabulary, and find ways of expressed new concepts in old terms.) This supports what others have said that English, like any other language can be effective as a liturgical language.

Until we have a modern equivalent of King James (i.e. an accepted authority), I fear that our ability to have universal agreement on a liturgical English will remain just slightly out of reach.

#24 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 12 September 2011 - 09:56 PM

One of the problems in creating an acceptable liturgical English is that there is no universally acceptable English in the first place. Spanish has the Academia Real that determines what is and what isn’t good Spanish


Which is largely ignored by Latin America, who constitute the largest proportion of Spanish speakers. Spain can prattle on all it wants, but it has no real authority to dictate what is and is not "proper" Spanish outside of Spain.

There is no parallel body for the English language


For which I say Deo gratia! Deo gratia! In maximum Deo gratia! The last thing I want is some silly little group of totalitarian martinets dictating what is and is not "proper" English.

The patronage of King James for the Bible and the established Church of England for the Book of Common Prayer combined to give English a liturgical language that was generally accepted for several centuries.


Indeed, up to and including the point wherein it had become incomprehensible to English speakers! Ask the typical speaker of English if "Thou" is extremely familiar so formal that it must only be reserved for addressing those of extremely high rank. They will almost always reply the latter, even though "Thou" is the OPPOSITE of what most people believe it means. Opposition to appropriate revision of the thee-thou and obsolete language was so extreme, however, that the counterreaction went too far, and sitcom English became the norm for "modern" Biblical translations and "modern" (protestant/evangelical) church practices.

Saints Cyril and Methodius established a standard regarded as authoritative when they created Slavonic as a liturgical language. (I do think “created” is correct here as they did have to add many words to the existing vocabulary, and find ways of expressed new concepts in old terms.) This supports what others have said that English, like any other language can be effective as a liturgical language.


Adding words does not constitute creating a language. Did they significantly invent a new grammar/syntax? Did they alter how words were mutated according to grammatical rules? Did they alter the fundamental phonemic structure? Or did they just add appropriate words to extant language? If I buy a 150-year-old house and add a modern bathroom and kitchen, I have not built a new house. I have instead made the old house more useful and congenial to life.

#25 Jim McQuiggin

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Posted 13 September 2011 - 12:02 PM

Which is largely ignored by Latin America, who constitute the largest proportion of Spanish speakers. Spain can prattle on all it wants, but it has no real authority to dictate what is and is not "proper" Spanish outside of Spain.

No, this is not the case. It might help you to know that Latin American countries all have their own equivalents and they work together within the Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española. I lived for three years in Paraguay and I can assure you that the people there, whose colloquial Spanish clearly departs from the norm, are very much aware of and appreciate the use of standard Spanish. They usually refer to the Spanish language as "castellano" rather than "español" which is reserved for the meaning of "Spanish nationality".

Indeed, up to and including the point wherein it had become incomprehensible to English speakers! Ask the typical speaker of English if "Thou" is extremely familiar so formal that it must only be reserved for addressing those of extremely high rank. They will almost always reply the latter, even though "Thou" is the OPPOSITE of what most people believe it means. Opposition to appropriate revision of the thee-thou and obsolete language was so extreme, however, that the counterreaction went too far, and sitcom English became the norm for "modern" Biblical translations and "modern" (protestant/evangelical) church practices.

It's unfortunate that you sound so argumentative. Please read again that I stated "was generally accepted".

Adding words does not constitute creating a language. Did they significantly invent a new grammar/syntax? Did they alter how words were mutated according to grammatical rules? Did they alter the fundamental phonemic structure? Or did they just add appropriate words to extant language? If I buy a 150-year-old house and add a modern bathroom and kitchen, I have not built a new house. I have instead made the old house more useful and congenial to life.

I did not say that Saints Cyril and Methodius created Slavonic, but that they created the liturgical language. I found the book Cyril and Methodius of Thessalonica; The Acculturation of the Slavs by Anthony-Emil N. Tachiaos to be helpful in my understanding of their life and work. I apparently was not clear enough for you to understand that my point was really on their establishing a standard, rather than on the creation of a language.

Unless I am mistaken, we English speaking Orthodox Christians are not trying to create a new language, but to set an acceptable standard for liturgical purposes.

#26 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 02:12 PM

Why should we require the intervention of secular states to dictate what may and may not be the basis for a liturgical English? That is what an "Academy of English" would be. Why make the Church dependent upon the agents of secularism? If unity is lacking, it is not among English speakers but within the Church in a major and influential English-speaking country that has a sufficiently large Orthodox population. If this unity is lacking, no amount of secularist language dictation will help at all.




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