Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Mass Metrics

[Update: fixed links]

caelestis over at sauvage noble has written a series of posts on the new draft English translation of the Roman Catholic Mass, not from a theological point of view, but from one of metrics. Check out his analyses of the mea culpa, the gloria, and the credo. Those who know me know how much I appreciate translations that capture the rhythm and feel of their original (e.g., Tolkien's Gothic poem, Bagme Bloma), so caelestis' analyses were relevant to me, perhaps more than to fellow Catholics of mine who focus on meaning alone. I really like the words I say every day/week to be pleasing to the ear.

On the other hand, I also acknowledge that theology is a science, and words that are synonymous in everyday usage can be the difference between orthodoxy and heresy, and I'd rather have people repeating something that's a little awkward metrically if it means they don't drift into an incorrect understanding of something important. Other bloggers, more qualified (or at least louder) than I, have already and will continue to pick apart the current (to be honest, kinda free and loose in places) translation of the Latin of the Mass. For my part, I can remember even as a kid looking at facing-page English-Latin missals and wondering if there was extra significance to phrases like "and with your spirit" instead of just "and also with you", or "that you should enter under my roof" instead of "to receive you". Knowing theology, there usually is--words mean things--and I hate that nagging feeling like I'm missing stuff, especially if it's because of a silly translation issue.

Maybe in a perfect world, or at least in the perfect language, what we say would be perfectly mirrored by our speech, so that words would always sound like what they meant. I suppose that would mean we'd be speaking a form of poetry all the time (maybe in heaven?).

I also noted caelestis' mention that English tends to have a higher register when more Greek and Latin/French-rooted words appear, versus a lower, more common feel when native Germanic roots dominate more. I'm sure this is an accepted observation by many linguists, and I've noticed it myself (before I heard others confirm my thoughts). I guess I just think it's interesting, and admittedly (given my stated interests), a wee bit gratifying, that after all this time, there's a deep-rooted, almost unconcious linguistic sense that Germanic words are more native or down-to-earth or something, even when the synonymous Latinate word has been around for centuries.

Finally, the Word Nerds podcast did an episode a while back about language registers, and (for example) how we are often able to recite prayers we have't said for decades, all because we remember that particular prayer-style rhythm it had. (Be forewarned: Howard Shepherd gangsta-raps the beginning of Beowulf!) I think this is related to the times in which religious training often proves useful in life: not just when we feel like talking or praying, or when we're deliberating what's right or wrong in a given situation, but (perhaps more importantly) when we're at a loss and don't know who to turn to, or when we don't deliberate about our actions. The reflex habits built into us, when done right, make us better prepared not just for the challenges life hurls at us, but for the challenges we breeze by and don't even recognize as challenges--but they would have been without a bit of training, or at least some vestige of a good habit (virtue).

Ite, blogga est.

[Go, it's gebloggedt!]


Edgard Bikelis said...

'Gebloggedt' sounds very good to me ; ).

Derek the ├ćnglican said...

I really like the words I say every day/week to be pleasing to the ear.
...And so God gave us Thomas Cranmer. :-D

Great links. I can only pray that liturgical translation has finally moved out of its overly pedantic stage to a greater appreciation of the connection between aesthetics and the spiritual.