Creeping in undetected…

I find it difficult to embrace the unfamiliar on the before side, but I adapt pretty well on the after side of a change. Depending on the circumstances, it can take a great deal of initial grit and determination for me to find a comfortable groove in new circumstances. However there are some kinds of adaptations that are effortless for me—even accidental. This is especially so when it comes to language.

I’ve never cultivated enough determination/discipline to become fluent in any language other than English, but my mind is kinda linguistically wired. This applies to dialects, accents, and colloquialisms—as well as actual foreign languages. Words (and how they are used) are what I notice first and what I pick up most readily in new surroundings. Believe it or not, this can be awkward at times.

If I spend much time around English speakers visiting from a different part of the world, for example, I find myself instinctively adopting those of their expressions that capture a thought or sentiment particularly well. My speech becomes involuntarily peppered with their particular pronunciation. I think it’s pretty subtle…at least, I hope they don’t notice. If I catch myself, I stop and blush. Do they think I’m making fun of them…or worse—trying to be impressive? What about those present who know me and share my native Northwest tongue?—Do they think I’m play-acting or something?

In 2004, when my husband and I visited Norway for just a few days, our host family spoke English…but it wasn’t our sort. I didn’t even notice that I’d assimilated Norse-flavored Oxford English into my repertoire until I returned to my own context, where it sorta stuck out.

I am recently reminded of this phenomenon because I’ve been watching the 1995 BBC version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I find myself sporadically thinking in Regency-period English. It’s weird, but it’s not altogether unheard of for me. Sometimes a song, a phrase, a flavor, or an experience acts as a trigger, shooting my synapses down a rarely used track…and I actually think a short, simple thought in another language. It never lasts very long—as soon as my brain has to look for the right word, it reverts back to English.

I’m always caught off guard and surprised by this sort of thing, but it’s kinda fun. It can, at times, be embarrassing, but it’s harmless. I have no reason to be on guard against it.

It makes me wonder, though, what other things do I assimilate into my thought-life virtually unawares? I love God. I stand on the his self-revelation in Scripture. But I do adapt; I do absorb. I am not immune to having my perspective, my world-view badly skewed by a cultural, theological, media-driven, or familial assumption—especially one that is long held, constantly fed, or particularly well suited to my way of processing things.

So my question(s): What are some ways that we, as Western Christians, allow this to occur? What is the effect? What is the preventative or the remedy? Are such measures even possible?


7 thoughts on “Creeping in undetected…”

  1. So, I am so glad that you have a quirky little language thing that you do! I also do somewhat the same thing…. And seem to develop a accent! It’s funny because I have to conciounsly not get a Russian-ish accent when I’m around people with a accent(and it doesnt matter where their accent is from) This developed when we were living with students from all parts of the world.
    Ask a few friends(Ladina, Anthony or my brothers) they tease me and tell me Im trying to sound foreign. But really it happens without my consent! Lol!
    What is wrong with us?!? Lol!

  2. I don’t know about your last questions, but I can relate to the Jane Austinian way of speaking or the way you put it, “regency-period English”. I’ve been watching a lot of Jane Austin and I find that I structure my sentences in a similar way and use words that are a little “outdated”. It’s not extreme, just enough for me to notice.

  3. First, when I’m around Dave’s cousins from Memphis, I find myself starting to drawl. I thought it was just me……

    Second, I’m reading a series of novels by Susan Howatch that explore, among other things, the various schools of thought in the Anglican church in the 1900’s (really, they’re much more intriguing than they sound!). There were those who believed that God was just the great angry judge in the sky. There were those who believed that God was all love and everything was excusable because He was squishy and didn’t hold anybody to an absolute standard. There were those who believed that the God of the Bible was no longer relevant and had to be modernized. The novels show how these beliefs affected the way the characters lived their lives and how a one-sided view of God generally leads to chaos in one’s life. It’s made me realize that even today there are trends in our theology, and that I need to re-examine my view of God in light of Scripture. God doesn’t change just because it’s trendy to accentuate one aspect of His character over another. The only prevention, and the only remedy, is to continually seek Him in Scripture. I think it also helps to have somebody who is also honestly seeking God in Scripture who we can discuss our thoughts with, somebody who is willing to tell us when they think we’re skewing too far one way or the other.

    But it’s very hard to stay clear-headed and to not be influenced by those around us, just as I find it hard to not say “y’all” when the Memphis cousins have been here for a few days.

    1. Michelle – I shudder to think what might happen if I found myself in the South! I’d love to hear your drawl sometime. 🙂

      Thank you for the very thoughtful and very true comment. It is easy to become imbalanced and polarized in our theology–in keeping with well-meaning trends. I am often amazed at how easily I can forget major themes of scripture when influenced by a convincing sounding argument. The more I engage Scripture, the more solidly the rebuttal or the balance will be planted…and the more easily I will be able to call upon it.

      “I think it also helps to have somebody who is also honestly seeking God in Scripture who we can discuss our thoughts with.”

      This has been of greater value to me than I can say. We have a much better chance of finding truth or balance with more minds sincerely engaging the Word and holding one another accountable to it.

      Great thoughts!

      PS Believe it or not, an exploration of the various schools of thought in the Anglican church in the 1900’s sounds interesting to me.

  4. The drawl only occurs after a few days with the cousins….

    The books, by Susan Howatch, are (in order): Glittering Images, Glamorous Powers, Ultimate Prizes, Scandalous Risks, Mystical Paths, and Absolute Truths. They are meaty, challenging, a strong PG-13 rating, thought-provoking, and the characters are shown warts and all, and boy, do they have a lot of warts! This is my second time through the series and both times I’ve gained spiritually from them.

  5. If you decide to tackle these books, flip to the back of each one before reading it and check out the Author’s Note. It gives a brief explanation of the theological philosophy discussed in the book.

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