Tag Archives: Peter-Berger

Language and Order

Witnessing all the recent hubbub about new English mass translation that’s just been approved by US bishops and the ever-present tensions between rival Bible translators, I thought the following quite from Peter Berger’s The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion might provoke interesting discussion.

"The social world constitutes a nomos both objectively and subjectively. The objective nomos is given in the process of objectivation as such. the fact of language, even if taken by itself, can readily be seen as the imposition of order upon experience. Language nomizes by imposing differentiation and structure upon the ongoing flux of experience. As an item of experience is named, it is ipso facto, taken out of this flux and given stability as the entity so named. Language further provides a fundamental order of relationships by the addition of syntax and grammar to vocabulary. It is impossible to use language without participating in its order. Every empirical language may be said to constitute a nomos in the making, or, with equal validity, as the historical consequence of the nomizing activity of generations of men. The original nomizing act is to say that an item is this, and thus not that. As this original incorporation of the item into the order that includes other items is followed by sharper linguistic designations (the item is male and not female, singular and not plural, a noun and not a verb, and so forth), the nomizing act intends a comprehensive order of all items that may be linguistically objectivated, that is, intends a totalizing nomos.

What I primarily take from this is the importance of word choice for the recording and transmission of information, i.e., order. When we translate Scripture or liturgies to modern languages, we must be mindful of a few important questions.

  • What sort of order did the original author(s) intend to impose with the words they chose?
  • What sort of order do we wish to impose with the words we choose?
  • If these orders do not match, why do they not, and how should that affect our translation efforts?