Editorial – August 2014

An inclusive Christian community in Auckland, New Zealand

Editorial – August 2014

Smuigleiri Leabhar

This intriguing programme title enticed me to watch the Tuesday Documentary on Maori Television and I was not disappointed.

It told the story of an Irish poet, who travelled to Lithuania to find an example in the resolve of the people to maintain their language under Russian Czarist occupation in the nineteenth century. Their major achievement was maintaining access to the printed text that was produced in the neighbouring Prussia and smuggled under threat of severe punishment across the border. The Russian occupiers, not unlike their British counterparts in South Africa and New Zealand, not only discouraged the use of the native language, but punished its use in the schools and prevented its use in official transactions. Separating the language, as a Lithuanian commentator pointed out, amounts to destroying the soul of the nation, as it is inexpiably linked to its culture and traditions.

Afrikaans was another remarkable example of great resolve in this respect and Te Reo Maori is receiving much encouragement at the moment to ensure its survival. This is evident in the enthusiasm of several public schools, where children spontaneously and in a fun environment acquire a basic knowledge of the language.

Frysk, the language of my ancestors, is still spoken in its home territory in the Netherlands with a variant in the Saterland region of East Friesia.

In a very recent visit to Sydney Rosemarie and I frequented a café attached to our apartment hotel. Noticing an inscription in Ersk on the outside of the premises I addressed one of the proprietors in the traditional Irish greeting and was overwhelmed with his fluent response in the original language.

You may ask me what all this has to do with religion? It so happens that faith based organisations have played a meaningful role in preserving indigenous languages over the centuries. The best example of this is Hebrew in its adaption from a liturgical language in the Synagogues to its modern version. Unfortunately Latin, many centuries the language of the Christian church, has not met with the same positive fate and been surpassed by English as the predominant communication medium in world affairs.

There can be little doubt about its merits as a world language and it does not have to be at the expense of traditional vernacular forms of expression. If I am correctly informed the Presbyterian Church can take credit as an upholder of Highland Gaelic in earlier times, as it is still spoken in several parts of Caledonia.

Returning to the documentary, it made me aware of the beauty of the Baltic countryside, its fields, forests and Lithuania’s capital city. It should serve as enticing encouragement to visit and experience at first-hand its progressive people and language.

Let there be unity in diversity.