THY SPEECH BETRAYETH THEE

Dr. Stanley L. Morris

As the principal translator of The Simple English Bible (N. T.) I am often asked about the limited vocabulary which I used for the text. Although there are a few technical terms in the SEB, and I restricted the dictionary to about 3,000 words, we can all get along just fine with even less words in our everyday lives. Did you know that you can predict 25 of the next 100 words at any time? You can. Try it some time. Only 10 words (the, of, and, to, a, in, that, is, was, he) comprise 25% of English! The top 50 words constitutes 50% of all the words that we use in normal communication. The most frequent 100 ranking words makes up a whopping 60%. And, the most-used 1,000 words is an amazing 85% of English!: Even though there are an estimated 750,000 words in all the unabridged dictionaries of English (including all scientific forms), the top 10,000 words is an astounding 98% of our tongue! So, mathematically speaking, language is "top heavy" It has to be. Information theory demands it. Jesus wanted to reach everyone, therefore, He recognized the necessity of communicating in very simple terms. "...Jesus was telling them the message but only as much as they were able to understand" (Mark 4:33, SEB).

In Matt. 26:73 when Peter tried to hide his Galilean brogue while Jesus' trial was in progress, they said to him, "Thy speech betrayeth thee" (KJV), or, "your accent betrays you" (RSV). That is true in other ways with all of us all the tine. The writer of Proverbs (23:7) said, "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he" (KJV); "inwardly reckoning" (RSV); "always thinking" (NIV). Words good and bad thoughts come out of our mouths (James 3:10) from the heart (Mark 7:14-23). So, we ARE what we talk about. The more someone mentions a subject, the more importance he attaches to that topic, whether consciously or unconsciously. He wishes to emphasize something. Often the words themselves are incidental; it is the main thought that is repetitive. For example, if one uses 'T', "me", "my", or "mine" too much, we conclude that he may be egotistical.

Well, as a society', what do we talk about most of the time? In this article, I will offer some linguistic conclusions drawn from a massive one-million-word sample of English which was derived from 15 different types of literature (ranging from newspapers to fiction, from mysteries to humor, from science to religion) - Computational Analysis of Present-Day American English by Henry Kucera and W. Nelson Francis.

Let's try a few words for starters. Which do you think is more frequent, "yes" "no"? You are correct if you guessed that the word "no" occurs more often. In fact, "no" ranks as the 49th most-common word in English, and "not" is even more frequent than that (ranking 23rd)! The word "yes" scores an abysmal 683. It's no wonder why negative thoughts dominate our minds! What about the frequencies of another set of words colors? The word "color" ranks as 703, and the names of the colors themselves are: "white" (253); "black" (458); "red" (475), "brown" (537); "blue" (686); "green" (873); "gray" (1297); "yellow" (1952); and "pink" (2186). What pans or our body do we tall about most of the time? Answer: "back" (93, but mostly used as a preposition); "eyes" (214); "face" (244); "hands" (313); "feet" (323); "body" (332); "heart" (555); "hair" (660); "eye" (835); "arms" (837); "blood" (838); "mouth" (999); "teeth" (1003); "arm" (1090); "neck" (1285); "foot" (1481); "legs" (1561); "fingers" (1586); "shoulder" (1733); "nose" (1762); "legs" (1824); "chest" (1991); "shoulders" (2084); "throat" (2090); "skin" (2245); "brain" (2308); "muscle" (2488); "finger" (2586); "ears" (2704); "knees" (2718); and "stomach" (2814). I think you get the idea.

Now, let's explore the upper range of our vocabulary some more. In our fast-paced Information Age today, it is not surprising to learn the word "information" ranks as No. 343, "data" is No. 554, "research" is No. 574, "science" is No. 764, and "machine" is No. 998. The god Mammon's "money" (Matt. 6:24) is certainly high on the list (349), while dear "love" comes in at only No. 395. But I was totally shocked to discover where certain religious and quasi-religious terms were placed in the spectrum: "church" (267); "members" (278); "God" (287); "free" (355); "believe" (462); "peace" (473); "spirit" (521); "hope" (535); "heart" (555); "lost" (558); "feeling" (563); "religious" (588); "building" (611); "Christian" (681)., "moral" (702); "services" (721); "freedom" (788); "truth" (807); "religion" (857); "faith" (917); "Christ" (1056); "hell" (1084); "Lord" (1107); "Catholic" (1228); "sex" (1239); "buildings" (1349); "Jewish" (1390); "join" (1617); "Jesus" (1638); "spiritual" (1646); "save" (1703); "Bible" (1775); "pure" (1903); "Jews" (1963) "sin" (2016); "Protestant" (2080); "assembly" (2095); "soul" (2247); "doctrine" (2272); "heaven" (2423); "liquor" (2430); "saved" (2450); "conscience" (2575); "God's" (2712); "virgin" (2954); and "divine" (2981).

Benjamin Whorf, a famous linguist, described language as a "perceptual mold.' That is so true. It is difficult to think of concepts without associated words. Words define and limit the range of our thinking, often without our even realizing it. Paul said, "Don't act like people of this world Instead, be changed inside by letting your mind be made new again. Then you can determine what is good, pleasing, and perfect what God wants" (SEB, Rom. 12:2). Phillips' free paraphrase reads: Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its mold, but let God remold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all His demands and moves toward the goal of tree maturity."

Jesus said, "You know that the rulers of the world lord it over their people. Important men use their authority over them, but you must not think that way" (SEB, Matt. 20:25,26). Or, as the KJV has it: "... It will not be so among you." Well, it is so in modern-day churches everywhere! The worldly culture does squeeze us all ever so subtly and shapes us into its own agenda. Materialistic-minded churches today follow so willingly. And, before we know it, our religious vocabulary begins to imitate secular terminology: "government" (203); "business" (225); "power" (270); "control" (413); "committee" (581); "administration'' (606); "meeting" (616); "organization" (800); "director" (1015); "officer" (1018); "institutions" (1051); "management" (1127); "structure" (1133); "corporation" (1137); "manager" (1169); "campaign" (1275); "traditional" (1332); "editor" (1335); "title" (1347); chairman (1553); "intellectual" (1591); "employees'' (1609); "headquarters" (1612); "jobs" (1616); "organized" (1902); "institution" (2531). Doesn't this sound familiar in church circles? Something is wrong when our speech is sprinkled with too much of the "language of Ashdod" (Neh. 13:24). Considering that Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6:21), is it any wonder why ecclesiastical jargon today mirrors the language of worldly power structures and why those concepts have such a grip on our very minds? O Church, thy speech betrayeth thee!