Just a somewhat silly passing notion that I thought I’d get down here, just for fun.
Sometimes, knowing a bit about linguistics can be an intriguing meta-level of understanding on any given matter. And, the differences between words phonologically can be fascinating to compare as well, especially when some words seem relatively close to each other. Greek and Roman, as well as Irish, folk etymological traditions were built upon homophone/”pun” relationships between words quite often, and these were not simply things that people spoke in the streets, but they were the mainstays of the scholarly cultures involved. Now, with the modern and scientific understanding of linguistic etymologies, a further level to these understandings has been added, and has often eclipsed those older but more deeply-rooted semantic connections that have been intuited by sound based on how people speak at any given time in history.
So, I was thinking about a particular word earlier today: “define.” And, I was thinking about another word that is incredibly close to it phonologically: “divine.” (I should note, I’m thinking of the latter word in its understanding as the present tense and infinitive of the verb “to divine,” and not as an adjective: thus, as the act of divination.)
Now, you might be saying: but wait! One of them is spelled “def-” and the other is spelled “div-” which is not the same thing at all! But, actually, it is, because the “e” and the “i” in each one is pronounced generally as an unstressed schwa (ə), which is to say, almost an “uh” sound. So, that takes care of that…
But wait, you might still be saying: there’s a huge difference between an “f” and a “v,” right? Actually, no, there isn’t, and one becomes or gets pronounced as the other on a regular basis: the word “of” is spelled with an “f” but is pronounced generally as if it is a “v.” There are also many words that vary between the two letters in singular and plural: “half” and “halves,” “wolf” and “wolves,” “calf” and “calves,” and so forth.
What is the differences between “v” and “f,” then, from a phonological viewpoint? It’s that “f” is unvoiced, and “v” is voiced.
Think about that for a moment, in relation to the two words that I introduced earlier: the main difference between “define” and “divine” phonologically is that the latter is voiced. Now think about that more for a moment, in a kind of poetic fashion: the difference between defining something and divining over it is that the latter is voiced.
What does that mean? We humans, particularly in theological matters, love to define things–in fact, it’s a major (and important, and I’d argue essential!) task in theology to define things, to tease out fine distinctions of meaning between terms, and how those terms are deployed within practical and theoretical contexts. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, and in fact I think there should be a great deal more of it than has been done previously.
But, in theology, something should also be going on at all times, at least for polytheists, because polytheism is a practical and experiential religion: we should be in contact with the divine realities that our theologies and our definitions are based upon. One way to do that is to use divination, which gives the divine beings (among them the gods) upon whom we rely the ability to speak for themselves. Thus, “to define” is voiceless, but “to divine” is voiced and has a voice…the voice of the gods and other divine beings. In defining, we speak for ourselves as theologians who are humans; in divining, while human interpretation (which includes definition) is involved, it is the voice of the gods and other spirits which comes through and is highlighted and, sometimes quite literally, given voice.
Anyway, this is perhaps an interesting poetic-linguistic matter, or it might just be petty and pedantic reading of too-large significances into things that are quite coincidental. But, what in divination doesn’t potentially fall into that category?
I don’t know…what do you think?