Tehillim One Hundred and Fourteen: Language

“When Israel left Egypt, the house of Jacob [left] a people of a strange tongue (Psalms 114:1).” I’m intrigued by the description of the Egyptians as ‘people of a strange tongue.’ This language choice is very other-ing. It refers to the Egyptians as strange, and their language, their very voices, are odd and different. It’s very easy to relegate those who we don’t understand, because they’re different from us, to a place of insignificance and lesser importance. Language always creates insiders, those who understand and can follow along with the colloquialisms, and those who are outside, missing something that’s been lost in translation. It’s a very isolating feeling to always think you’re missing something in the conversation, and whether you’re the one with the strange tongue or surrounded by those who you perceive to be strange, to feel that barrier. I’m a self-described awful language learner (ask my trilingual husband for confirmation), but I think if all of us learned to at least communicate a little with those who we see as ‘other,’ it would go a very long way.

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