Jottings on science, religion, technology, pop culture and faith from the Antipodes.

Faith & Religion

Linguistic theology

Several things came together in my mind this weekend as I read and thought about various things.

Firstly I’d been reading Steve’s posting (e~mergent kiwi: Reading Whale Rider: Reweaving in Godzone) about reweaving or reintegrating the various strands of Aotearoa New Zealand theology into an integrated whole.

Secondly, it was Pentecost Sunday so I’m thinking thoughts about the Spirit and the new community formed at that time.

And thirdly, I read the article “Beer & Fear by Ear” by Olivia Kember in this week’s Listener on the vowel merger of “ea” and “ee” blends in the New Zealand accent (or should that be the “Nu Zulund ucksant”).

The article makes the claim that there are two worlds within New Zealand English language culture. Those that can tell the difference between words like “share” and “shear” and those that can’t. And the latter group is becoming the majority. No matter if the words are pronounced differently they are heard the same way, and basically the difference (like in the historic blend of “meat” and “meet”) will disappear. Even if people know they are pronounced differently they still hear them as the same, and it’s a language culture that spans the socio-economic spectrum.

It’s similar in theological circles too I think. There are those who can “hear” differences between different things and others who, if they are submerged in a different world view or culture, hear another thing. Yet they both communicate. Problems arise though when the “traditionalist” group says “this is how it has to to be ‘pronounced'” rather than communicating with the other side and accepting their difference of pronounciation and getting on with engaging with the content of the discussion.

Pentecost must have been like that somewhat. Suddenly there is a “vowel merger” and those inside one community appear to be talking with a different pronounciation than those outside. Yet it is the same God being talked about.

So the weaving of strands of the Aotearoa New Zealand theological scene could be considered, in part, the agreement to allow different accents, pronounciation and dialects within theology and not getting “hung up” on that. And to not consider our “accents” as less than perfect and that we do have something to say to the wider world.

BTW – The linguists are very excited to have a vowel blend in process to study. Not only that but the NZ accent provides opportunities for Hollywood to use voices that have an intonation that “conjoured up an orgin, far, far way.” (Kember’s example of Temuera Morrison in Star Wars 2).


  1. Mate I love your second to last paragraph, “so the weaving of strands…” I might have need to quote you at some point in the future… 🙂

  2. The weaving idea is picked up in Guy Gavriel Kay’s “The Fionavar Tapestry” trilogy. Creation is thought of as a tapestry with “God” weaving it and peoples’ lives into it. The opponent of the Creator is called “The Unraveller”. If something is done well the character’s comment that it was “brightly woven”. Kay’s series is an interesting blend of European mythology (incl. Arthurian) but is a little contrived in parts (I think).

    Maybe a useful metaphor: The “brightly woven” life.

    BTW – I think the books “The Lions of Al-Rassan” (Moorish Spain) and the “Sarantium” duology (Arian Byzantium) are better. Alternative history but well researched with some nice twists.

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