Monday, April 04, 2011

Child of Wotsizname

Early on in my study of Greek I was struck by the way that our theological or church language has been shaped by the structure of the Greek language. I first saw this in the way that we talk about Jesus as the Son of God and less commonly as God's Son. We call him the Lamb of God - it sounds very odd to talk about Jesus as God's lamb. The structure of the Greek drives the Bible translation to the more clumsy English construction - but it shouldn't and it shapes our thinking! If someone asks me whose dog I am playing with, I tell them that it is my son's dog - not the dog of my son!
It is interesting that if you ask a black South African whose home language is not English, "Whose child is that?" they will often respond, "That is the child of . . . of . . . wotsizname" and use the 'of' construction because that is natural in at least the Nguni languages just as in Greek. So English: God's son. Greek: ὁ ὑιος του θεου isiXhosa: uNyana kaThixo - where even the Xhosa contains an archaism in that uNyana is not in everyday use except as reference to God's Son!
And the wotsizname comes in, not because the speaker has forgotten the name of his or her friend, but because they are struggling to remember the name that this person is known by to white people! One of the good things about seminary is when black seminarians come to realise that some white people would like to know their 'home name' and call them by it. And when white seminarians come to know that some black people are willing to share their home names with white people.


Thomas Scarborough said...

At first glance, I thought Wotsizname was a new Zulu word you'd learnt. You forgot to complain about how Google imposes US spelling on blog comments (this comment getting flagged for non-US spelling). Thomas.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

I cam across the Zulu word for 'wotsizname' while looking something up in the dictionary and meant to write it down for you . . . but I forgot!