Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thinking about language

I've been taking Russian for the last three semesters. It's an interesting language to study because it's so much more subtle than English. Russian makes all kinds of distinctions that English doesn't bother with, or at least doesn't bother with anymore. For instance, if you're going somewhere on foot you use a different verb than if you're going somewhere by transport. And then there's the imperfective/perfective question: is this a repeated action or are you going to/have you done it one time and one time only? English really only uses "to go" in these situations. Well, I guess you can count "to drive" and "to ride," but that gets a bit iffy.

And then there's "where." English uses "where" for "Where are you?" and also "Where are you going?" and "Where are you coming from?" Russian uses a different word for each of these. My professor explained it in terms of where, whither, and whence. Which is interesting, because suddenly I understand so much better how both the Russian and the English words function. This is true of whom as well. Before I studied Russian I couldn't point out the direct object of a sentence to you and I don't know if I had even heard of indirect objects. But because Russian uses different cases for the subject, the direct object, and the indirect object, I can now figure out what they are in English. Most of the time.

Which leads me to this: sometimes the things we study make strange connections to entirely different areas. I mean, who knew that studying Russian would clarify English grammar for me? I guess there is some correlation there since they are both languages. But I just wrote a paper from my art history class which relied heavily on the ideas of the historian of religion Mircea Eliade, whose work I had first read in my Celtic Spirituality (Christianity, although it didn't say so) class first semester.

And leads me finally to this: let your mind make connections. We usually get our education in discrete packages: this is art history, this is math, this is English, this is Russian. We don't have to leave them in those discrete packages. Cut the string and let them be friends. Okay, yes that metaphor was a little strange. But you get the point. There are interdisciplinary connections. Explore them and see where it takes you.

2 comments:

molleth/molly said...

I come from Russian stock (and Aleut, and some other things thrown in for good measure)-lol. My grandpa's native language is Russian. I'm...tentitively...going to go to a Russian Orthodox Church this Sat for Vespers (mostly in English) and maybe, if I can get up the courage, for the Sunday service (as I explore the Orthodox faith)...

I'd love to hear more about your thoughts on being Orthodox sometime!

MaureenE said...

Molly,

It's funny, I actually have no Orthodox heritage whatsoever! (That we know of, at any rate. One of my great-grandfathers was adopted, so I suppose he theoretically could have been of Orthodox heritage.) My parents converted just before I was born, although we were baptized when I was eight months.

Saturday nights are definitely a good time for a first visit, from everything I've heard. It's very low-key and quiet. In fact, a lot of people say that if there wasn't Communion on Sundays, Vespers would be their favorite service.

If it's mostly in English then it sounds like the church is at least somewhat interested in converts, which is definitely good. Unfortunately, some ethnic churches tend to be a bit closed in on themselves and have no desire for missionary work. But it doesn't sound like that's the case here.

If you do end up going for a Sunday service, I'd suggest getting in touch with the priest before hand so you can talk to him and find out specifically what to expect. Every parish differs a little--not in the actual content of the Liturgy, more in the set-up: dress policy, food afterwards or not, etc.

Don't feel like you have to understand everything all at once. I've been going to Orthodox services all of my life, and I'm still constantly discovering new parts to them that I had never noticed before! That's actually one of the things that I absolutely love about Orthodoxy. It meets you where you are. No matter what you are dealing with, or what joys you have, there's a prayer for that.

This may well be the longest comment I've ever written! I hope I haven't overwhelmed you. I'd love to share my thoughts on being Orthodox, although it may take awhile. Fortunately, the insane month of November is almost over, so I'll have a little more time when I'm not doing NaNoWriMo.

Just in closing, I really have no idea where you are in your exploration, but if you're interested in a really good explication of the Orthodox faith, you can't go wrong with The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware.

God bless you!