Coffee Stains: Mrs. Table?Author: David Porter
French and many other continental European languages have a peculiarity that drives English speakers crazy—their nouns are either masculine or feminine. No one seems to be able to pronounce the simple little word “the” so everything is either la or le in French.
Maybe a long time ago, when the French and the English fought all the time, the cave-men French tried to come up with a fail-safe method to stop the cave-men English invaders.
“If we could invent a tank that spouted fire, and ran on tracks we could beat them,” volunteered little Pierre. “Have you been sneaking into the wine again, little Pierre?” said his father. “Nothing like that will ever exist.”
But one day some one must have come up with a fool-proof method to stop their enemies. “Let’s make all our words either masculine or feminine. That way when they yell horrible things at us, they will be confused and we’ll defeat them.”
If that was what happened, it must have worked something like this: A big English soldier yells at the French lined up against them: “Rendez-vous petite espèce de vauriens! … ummm … attendez-vous un moment …” (“Give up you little good for nothings… wait a minute. ”)
“Hey, Richard, is “espèce” masculine or feminine?”
“You got me, I think it’s masculine.”
“Don’t be stupid, it feminine,” pipes up Rodney from the second row of soldiers!
“No, it’s masculine,” yell two or three others.
An while the English soldiers argue among themselves, the French mount a surprise attack and push them back to the English channel.
Now, I’m not sure that’s how the masculine and feminine article adjectives came to be. It’s a thought anyway. One thing I know is that they can drive you crazy if you’re not born here. “La foi means “faith”, le foie means liver, but the noun is pronounced the same way, so missionaries in France have been know to preach messages on the necessity of liver.
For a long time, I thought the gender of the adjective must have something to do with the object in question. In English, if an object is masculine it’s because it’s—well, it’s masculine. It’s a man. A woman’s a woman. So, I figured la table (the table) must have something feminine about it that made it la instead of le.
But then why, le camion–the truck—(lorry for our British readers), and la camionette—a van (lorryette for our British readers?)
One day, I had a revelation, though. On television I saw the host of a program ask a French person, “Do you think this word is masculine or feminine?” I don’t remember what the word was but if it had been me, I would have immediately considered whether that thing had more masculine or feminine characteristics.
You know what the French person did? He repeated the word and listened to it. He thought it sounded masculine or feminine. Suddenly, a light went on in my head. “It’s not considered masculine or feminine because of the characteristics of the thing, dummy! It’s because of the way the word sounds!”
Head slap to one’s own head!
I have bad news for language learners. A language isn’t just a series of noises that communicate ideas. Often it represents a way of looking at the world—a worldview. To really learn to communicate, you have to learn how a people think.
Another Way Of Seeing Things
That’s why some folks don’t always understand committed Christians. We see the world differently. Our worldview starts with God. Our heart has been changed by the power of the Holy Spirit and we want to do what pleases Him.
Jesus is our King and we’re subjects in His kingdom. We want to promote what He wants promoted, do what He wants done, accomplish what gives Him joy.
Eugene Peterson captures this conflict of worldviews well in his translation of parts of 1 Corinthiens 2:
“The experts of our day haven’t a clue about what this eternal plan is. If they had, they wouldn’t have killed the Master of the God-designed life on a cross. That’s why we have this Scripture text: ‘No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, never so much as imagined anything quite like it—what God has arranged for those who love him.’
“But you’ve seen and heard it because God by his Spirit has brought it all out into the open before you … The unspiritual self, just as it is by nature, can’t receive the gifts of God’s Spirit. There’s no capacity for them. They seem like so much silliness. Spirit can be know only by spirit—God’s Spirit and our spirits in open communion. Spiritually alive, we have access to everything God’s Spirit is doing …” (From 1 Cor. 2, the Message).
Simply put, you have to understand God to know how He works; When He renews you, your way of seeing the world changes radically. The world thinks you’re a bit strange just like I think French masculine and feminine articles are strange.
There’s probably a reason for them, but I’ll bet that even the French don’t know why it all started. It might be because few seem to be able to pronounce “th” which makes it difficult to say “the” all the time. I think they inherited their articles from the Latin language.
But the worldview of Christ? When you know Him, it all makes sense and if you don’t know Him, it all seems silly. Only … only, it’s the most important thing in the universe to know and understand Him.
Cry out to Him in prayer. Read His Word, the Bible. Those who seek, find.
They find le chemin. (=”The way.” And that’s masculine, thank you, but it’s for women too!)