Our Mission is to be a blessing to churches, ministries and Christian organizations by providing affordable, accurate Christian translations. Read More...

"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men."

Col 3:23

Language Information Packaging

Languages contain and package ideas in a way that few other media can. Of course, you can express lots of ideas without language: ever play charades? See a stone cross in a cemetery? Hear a Chopin sonata? All these symbolic media express ideas without language. But language is so much more efficient.

That is why we have textbooks in schools rather than teaching biology through the medium of dance, song, and charades, nor (usually) by sending students out to observe animals (though observation and dissection can complement biology lessons). Humans rely first and foremost on language because it is the most compact and efficient channel for transmitting ideas.

If you think this is just a matter of names or labels for things, you have underestimated the vast efficiency of information packaging that goes on in language. We take this entirely for granted! If I say ‘my nephew’ in English, what information is encoded? You know I am talking about a male person, and you know that he is related to me by blood.

But here it gets more vague. Is he older or younger than me? Unclear. Is he the son of my sister or my brother? Unclear. Is he the son of an older sibling of mine or a younger sibling? Unclear.

Is he a boy or a man? Unclear. The English word ‘nephew’ reflects a set of tools (kinship terms) we use to define social relations. They also reflect our society’s decisions about what information to include and what to leave out. These decisions are made not by individuals with executive powers, but by tacit consensus within a speech community about what is worth labeling and noting.

Evolving over centuries, and by a mysterious process we do not yet understand, word labels are no less real or effective because of how they came about. Different societies have traversed very different decision paths in constructing their social reality, and maintaining or changing their kinship terms. It is no surprise then, that corresponding to the single English word ‘nephew’, many languages have a much larger repertoire of more specific terms.

Rotuman (9,000 speakers) has a highly complex set of kinship terms, with unique words, for example, denoting ‘elder son of elder brother’, ‘younger son of elder brother’, ‘elder son of younger brother’, or ‘younger son of younger brother’. These terms help reinforce a legal framework for enforcing inheritance and land tenure in Rotuman society.

Linguistically, the result is a highly compact, highly efficient system of knowledge that packs multiple bits of information into small spaces. The more information there is in a label, the less inductive reasoning or context-based inference is required.

Christian Lingua offers Christian book translation