A Linguist-Geek Riddle

Is “dead metaphor” a dead metaphor? If not, then who killed it?

Background: Reading through a colleague’s excellent paper on the difficulty of handling words for ‘angry’ and ‘sad’ in the NW Nigerian language Huba, one section dealt with metaphors that we live by. A dead metaphor is one that has been used so much that you don’t notice it being figurative language any more and it carries the meaning directly, whilst also not necessarily making you think about the component parts.

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What can we sing about?

In recent conversation with friends we were considering why it seems to us somewhat odd to sing (in church, or I guess anywhere) about “God of concrete, God of steel, \ God of piston and of wheel,” etc. Here’s my working theory:

Romantic ideology or worldview still exerts an influence on what Western people consider things to sing about. That gives us nature, love and war and the full range of emotion turmoil as topics to work with. The church is not immune from cultural influence and so our hymns and songs are likely to be constrained by these limited aspects of life. So “when through the woods and forest glades I wander” fits our expectations of something to sing about rather than the starkly modern “when through the Facebook posts and blogs I browse…” or “when in the office juggling meetings and politics…” Perhaps this also explains our difficulties when it comes to singing some Psalms.

But let me back up a bit:

What and not just how we sing is an interesting part of culture, and it’s very easy to assume (erroneously) that all cultures will sing about the same things, even if their singing style is different. This is one reason why translating books of hymns and songs from one language to another may not be a particularly great basis for a new church’s song-life. The very topics contained in the songs may be awkward, embarrassing, boring or just odd for the target culture. (However, using a few translated songs from another culture may well address our own cultural blind-spots.)

I’ve already said that my guess is that we today inherit a list of singable topics from European 18th Century Romanticism, which just happened to coincide with some significant church growth and mission efforts. What I really should do, is to gather up older hymns and compare with ‘Romantic period’ hymnody and modern songs to try to gauge how well my theory is evidenced in reality.

Is there a problem? Romanticism was essentially escapist and a reaction against the urbanising, industrialising forces at work in Europe at the time. Are we in danger of yoking a significant part of church life to an escapist ideology if we limit ourselves to just the Romantic topics? Certainly the gospel can be powerfully expressed within the confines of Romanticism, but we need to be aware of some distorting influences that might slip through unnoticed. If Romanticism had a focus not just on escapism but extreme emotion, then it is quite possible that our singing may end up with a bias in that direction. And then since Romanticism excludes gritty, ordinary, working-class and modern aspects of life, is it possible that in our singing in church we may unwittingly reinforce the notion that the Christian gospel is primarily for the middle-classes? (They have the leisure to muse on higher things.) Might we end up excluding the impact of the gospel on everyday matters from our song-speech together?

Anyway, this is really just observation at the moment and so I’d find insights from others interesting.

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The Rains have Begun!

A week and a day ago rainy season began here in Jos. We had had a couple of rains in earlier April, but a week ago we clearly moved from generally-clear skies to cloudy ones. A slice of bread left out overnight wasn’t turned utterly to crust by the morning as it would normally be in dry season. And a week in there’s green grass sprouting up again. Within 2 days we suddenly had a flower bed brimming with beautiful pink blooms. OK we now need to start worrying about what’s been left out in the garden overnight, and remembering to take an umbrella with us and maybe wear closed shoes, but it’s lovely to see the colour more fully come back to the world around us.

Tonight I think we have our first really heavy rain.

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You’re preaching!

At a consultant training seminar recently I made an observation in passing that may be an intriguing cultural insight or may be not worth considering. I share here with the hope that Nigerian friends may help refine my observation, and for the potential benefit of non-Nigerians.

So here was the situation: we were in the middle of a discussion from the floor about some issue that a presenter had just been teaching when one of the participants started talking at some length and somewhat passionately about something completely irrelevant to the topic in question. I forget exactly what we were supposed to be talking about but I do remember that he had somewhat misunderstood or else he just seemed to have a hobby-horse idea that he wanted to put forth. After a while someone called out “You’re preaching!” and others murmured for him to be quiet. Eventually he did stop.

So here’s the observation: the term ‘preaching’ seems to be associated with talking at length, without wisdom or understanding about some pet topic utterly unrelated to the text or topic in focus. Is that a common understanding about what ‘preaching’ is? So when someone is invited to ‘preach’ are we to expect something resembling that? That seems somewhat removed from the Biblical concept. Are there other terms that we could use? What should ‘preaching’ really look like? What about a passionate devotion to proclaiming the very point of the text in front of us, to say clearly to people the same thing that the original author penned the text for, based on taking some time to understand what it says and how it presents it?

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Full House


Visiting Alanna reading to Creightons and Rowborys
Another nice thing about our new house has been having space to have people stay. Recently we enjoyed having the Creighton family stay with us for a week or so while husband Rick was at a conference in Brazil. They’re the British family we have visited in Kagoro and done joint home-school things with recently. Their 3 children are quite close in age to Rebekah, Elizabeth and Abigail, and they get on very well together. It’s just a blessing that we’ve got a bigger house now so that it is possible to have people stay, and lovely to have the fairly large garden for the children to run around in.

They live in Kagoro, the heart of the Gworog language, just an hour and a half from Jos and where David visits from time to time to work with the translation team. So we all tend to go to Kagoro together and Julie and the girls hang out with mum Alanna and Asha (6), Conor (4) and Jack (2) doing some of the educational things that work better with more children. Taking the kids along seems to be a good way to get through the 4-7 army/police security checkpoints en-route happily and speedily too.

Pile on mummy!And talking of travel I (David) am off soon after the crack of dawn tomorrow to ‘Tal’ where we’re going to have a shot at collecting hundreds if not thousands of words to kickstart a dictionary project. I’ll try to report on that next week. Prayers for smooth travel appreciated. It should be a 2 hour drive I’m told, so I plan to go there and back in the one day, so as to be back in time for commitments back in Jos.

Love from us all, D+J, R, E & A

(In the first pic you’ll not spot Julie, but Alanna reading to 5 of the 6 kids that were enlivening the house that week.)

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A home ‘school’ room

weekly176One of the exciting aspects of living in the new house has been the extra space, particularly the school room. This dedicated room has made it so much easier for Rebekah to focus on what she’s learning (and increasingly Elizabeth who doesn’t like to be left out). Home educating the girls has also led to some other opportunities to get to know other families. A few weeks ago we managed to get together some other ex-pat families who are home educating and we plan to meet regularly, especially to do things that work better in a larger group. Julie also met some Nigerian mums who are home educating their children and we are hoping they will be able to join us.

The school room has also had some other rather exciting uses. For about two years now, Julie has been very keen to get a women’s Bible study going. She was particularly hoping to have one where the focus was on a Bible book and getting into the text, rather than a Christian book, and was keen for there to be a mix of Nigerian and ex-pat women. At last, on Tuesday, the group had the first study on the book of Colossians. There were six women in total, representing four different nationalities, married and single, with children and without, and with an age range of about forty years. This is such an answer to prayer and we are hoping it will continue to go well.

Thanks once more for your support and prayers.

David, Julie, Rebekah, Elizabeth and Abigail

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We’ve Moved

New HouseWe moved house! Actually we moved just over a week ago and have been unpacking and settling into our new house since. We’re on a compound called ‘Mountain View’, and unsurprisingly there is a large hill just at the back of the compound adorned with water tower and radio masts. Rebekah and Elizabeth have been enjoying playing a bit with another wee Northern Irish girl who lives on the same compound.

Most of the bags are unpacked. David’s taking on the challenge of remounting our mosquito nets in an aesthetically-pleasing manner (hopefully). We’ve hooked up a whole-house power backup system with 3 huge batteries which currently unfortunately omits most of the lights in the house. (Oops.) Washing machine is ensconsed in the nice large bathroom and the somewhat large hole in the bathroom wall where the outflow pipe went even got patched up by the plumbers last week.

Meanwhile friends of friends moved into our old house 4 days after we left. Intriguingly Elizabeth refers to our old house as ‘Nigeria’, as in “When we used to live in Nigeria we only had 2 bedrooms but now we have 4.” Maybe the dedicated home-education room needs to be dedicated to a bit of geography. As for Abigail, she loves the fact that this house comes with a climbing wall (stone fireplace) and all manner of opportunities for sneaky ascent.

It’s back to work for us all this week. Unfortunately we brought back a nice British cold virus which we’re all suffering from.

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A quick visit back to the UK

Happy New Year! We’ve been on the road the last week, all in the run-up to the family wedding we celebrated on Saturday near Exeter. We left Jos on Monday at lunchtime to be driven down to Abuja with a fairly modest load of suitcases, then stayed overnight before flying to Heathrow the next morning. Since then we’ve been glad to see friends and a few relatives around England en-route to Exeter and have now flown up to Glasgow for a week, again catching up with family and friends, as well as handing our flat over to an agent to let while we’re away.

The wedding itself was lovely and relaxed, with Dave and Becky organising lots of things themselves and with quite a few children there too. Rebekah contributed a (pre-recorded!) prayer for the couple and Abigail and Elizabeth contributed a certain amount of volume too.

Coming back to the UK in the midst of wintry wind and rain has been a bit of a shock for us all, but we’re well kitted up now with all the warm clothes and boots we need for the next couple of weeks in Glasgow and Northern Ireland before we head back to warmer climes again.

Love from us all, and perhaps we’ll see some of you this week or next. Apologies if we miss you; it’s only a flying visit.

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A December break

Miango holidayWe’re just back from a restful few days of holiday at the Miango Rest Home, about an hour’s drive away. On Thursday afternoon, right after David had finished subjecting some of his poor Bible translation students to the rigours of practical and written exams, we drove dustily West to the conference centre originally built as a peaceful sanctuary for harried missionaries over 80 years ago.

Our Northern Irish friends from the seminary down the road in Kagoro were there too, and while the dads both knuckled down to marking and teaching prep, mums and children (3 wee Creightons and 3 slightly weer Rowborys) enjoyed a change of scene and some fun things to do together. It was interesting while we were there to meet various Nigerian missionaries staying for conferences; some knew a bit about Bible translation and others were very interested to hear that work was beginning in their own languages.

Back home, there’s still more marking for David to do, then a Wycliffe group Christmas party on Friday, before Christmas is upon us. In amongst all that we’re also getting ready to move to a bigger house in January.

Love from us all, from a rather chilly Jos,

David, Julie, Rebekah, Elizabeth and Abigail

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Talking signs & Written assistants

Travelling around you always notice some differences markedly.

“How do you know where to go without any signs on the road?” my friend Richard asked our driver on the way to Abuja airport. The answer was that he’s lived around Abuja and travelled the road a lot so he’s seen it change and has been able to always find someone who could tell him where to go. At the airport in Abuja you notice lots and lots of staff helping you through 6 different security checks, immigration control etc. How did we know what to do and where to go? Someone would ask us what we were doing and would tell us where to go. In Frankfurt there were comparatively fewer staff around; instead there are just lots of signs everywhere.

In some ways this is symbolic of the different cultural expectations. In writing-focussed societies we expect to find a sign telling us where to go, but in most of Africa you get people doing that job as part of the conversation. (Around airports you’ll also find lots of people who absolutely insist on helping you and then being reimbursed for it even if you really don’t need any help, thank you!)

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