20 May 2022

Ethnic Identity -- Selected Articles

I've written many articles on various different ethnic groups around the world, many times arising out of questions I've been answering for queries to my web site.

Most of the hundreds of articles on my Thoughts and Resources website have developed out of practical questions in the field. Many reflect the form of that original dialogue or start out with the original question. While I deal with philosophies, cultural worldviews and principles from several technical disciplines, everything I do is aimed at real-world value.

Many articles have been revised on an ongoing basis. I continue studying and researching. Many readers write in to discuss matters. Other researchers involved in networks and projects in which I participate will foster discussion. Many times, papers you see here have arisen to define definitions and strategy approaches in research and practice related to ethnicity and cross-cultural communication.

Each article carries a development history at the end, so you can see how the topic has been dealt with. Here is a topic originally posted in 2006 in answer to a query from a reader. It has been revised and expanded on an ongoing basis as I ran across pertinent information or dealt with related questions for other readers.

Italians and Race http://orvillejenkins.com/peoples/italiansrace.html

This relates to other files on the topic of concepts of race and the differing use of terminology for self-identification and other-identification in different social environments. A growing area of this discussion has been genetics. Check out the Related links at the end of the article.

Ethnolinguistic? http://orvillejenkins.com/peoples/ethnolinguistic.html

The site contains many cultural people profiles. Several existing ones have been rewritten. Here is one about a little-known people of the Congo.

The Yansi of Democratic Republic of Congo http://orvillejenkins.com/profiles/yansi.html



First posted by OBJ 14 March 2009

Revised post 20 May 2022

20 January 2018

Babel, Hebrew and the Origin of Languages

One of the topics readers have asked is what the original language was?

This assumes we have all the knowledge back to the origin of humanity, which we don't.  Some have even asked if Hebrew was the original language, though the term Hebrew is first known well into what is considered the Historical period of human existence, only about 3500 to 4000 years ago.  And the speech we know by that name is clearly a variation of a form of old Phoenician or Canaanite speech.

Old Semitic
We know the original alphabet used by the language form we know as ancient Hebrew was written in a form of Old Phoenician script, similar to the variation used in south Arabian.  The Hebrew examples we have in historical or biblical documents are almost entirely in a script developed in the Babylonian Exile, but two of the thousands of documents found at Qumran in 1948 were in the Old Hebrew script, a version of old Phoenician writing.  These were not biblical documents.  (See authorities on the Qumran scrolls for details.)

Here are some perspectives that may provide more background clarification.  I write as an anthropological linguist and an ordained Baptist minister.  My wife and I spent 36 years as missionaries, mostly in Africa.  Details are reflected in various articles on my websites.

No Torah Comment
The question of the first single language is not addressed by the Torah or New Testament.  It is the kind of theoretical question representative of analytical modern thought, a different and comparatively recent worldview in human history.

It does not seem to be a question of focus for the Scriptures.  The abstract question of the original human language is speculative at best.  If that had been a meaningful question in that era, I would have expected the question to be specifically addressed in the Hebrew Scriptures.

It is not.  Thus we do not expect the ancient writings to answer modern questions that arise for us only in our context.

Comparative Linguistics
Considerable knowledge has been discovered int eh last few decades that have given us great insight in to the history of our race interms of language nad cultural development.  These findings throw light and provide context for interpreting ancient texts like those of the Bible.

If we take the modern approach and assume everything is about us. if we just insist on wrestling the ancient texts into submission to our  expectation, we do violence to the text, scripture or whatever ancient texts.  We must honor the integrity of the text.

The question of the original language is a technical question.  Recent historical attempts to investigate that question have led to the that family of sciences known as Linguistics.  Comparative linguistics specifically tries to find universal forms of structure, sound sequence, tone, intonation, and other language features that will account for current known speech forms and the relationship between current speech forms.

Exciting Scenarios
Comparative linguistic evidence has not found enough evidence to account for all the various language families in a single source that will explain all the variations of phonetics, structure and vocabulary or the worldviews represented.  ut exciting scenarios development in our discovery of the movement of peoles and development of Empires and the languages they used for administration.

Hebrew is closely related to one group of historical and current human speech forms that have not been related yet to other families.  The broadest structure in the comparative language tree of related forms of speech is the Afro-Asiatic language group, in which Hebrew is a comparatively young version, going by comparison of characteristics with other similar languages.

Languages and Peoples
Definitive information on the relationship between the various languages and language families of the world is available online in the Ethnologue, published by the SIL International, also operating in cooperaton with Wycliffe Bible Translators.

The Ethnologue is the repository of the code system and definition of languages of the world known as the ISO Code system for world languages.  This codeset is also known as the Registry of Languages.

For 7 years I was the Editor of the sister Codeset for Peoples of the World, the Registry of Peoples.  You can find information on these codesets and the related registry codesets in the Harvest Information Systems, managed by a consortium of key world mission agencies and cultural-linguistic research groups, from thousands of field teams, universities, and research and strategy agencies around the world.

For exciting portraits of the setting in Palestine, Mesopotamia and the Roman Empire in the first century before and after the birth of Christ, see these articles on my website:
First-Century Language in Palestine and the Roman Empire:  With Addendum on New Testament Texts
Greek and Aramaic Among 1st Century Jews
Hebrew – The Original Language? (Of Course Not!)
Languages Jesus Used

Literacy Training in the First Century
Orality and Literacy in the First Century
Textual Themes and Language Variations in the late Prophets

See further resources on Internet sources:
Will the Middle East’s Aramaic language survive?
The Mandeans - the last remaining Gnostic organized church

Initial notes written in an email exchange 28 February 2014
Developed October 2016, October 2017 and January 2018
Posted on this blog 20 January 2018

27 December 2013

Christians and Other Minorities Under Fire in Iraq

It's been a while since I've posted.  Christmas has just passed and it has been a good time of reflection.

Some Christians around the world have been unable to freely celebrate the festival of Christ's birth.  In Iraq, it has been tedious and dangerous for Christians, many of whom live mainly in the north of Iraq, and other ethnic and religious minorities.  They have been under siege for a long time.

Iraqi Christians celebrate Jesus' birth behind blast walls, in a siege situation.  A Reuters news report laid out the stark conditions in the Christmas season 2013 for Christians
TYpical cement block wall, an Iraqi girl stands shyly in the shadow as we look in towards the inner courtyard
in Baghdad.  Soldiers and police ran bomb detectors across cars around Mar Yousif (Saint Joseph) Syriac Catholic church in western Baghdad and patted down visitors.  The church itself looked like a walled fortress.

The radical islamic groups seem to have the approach of conquer or destroy, convert or die.  This has not always the dominant viewpoint.  It seems to depend on who is in power and who has the guns at a particular item in a particular locale.

The neighboring Assad regime in Syria was cruel and repressive, and the revolutionaries there were first hailed by US and European leaders.  But the government's opponents are revealing themselves to likely be similarly unprincipled and uncompromising ideologues who will be as repressive, not along the lines of a liberal democracy originally touted.

Syrian Christians in have been driven from their homes in recent disruptions in that country.  Not just because of general disturbance, but because they are Christians.  This does not bode well for that situation.  Minorities are in a vulnerable position there.

The US made the mistake once of supporting Saddam Hussein against an "enemy" just because he was also against the same enemy, even if for nefarious purposes.  Without questioning Saddam's reasons for propogating his raw aggression on Iran and what the outcome would be, the US rushed weapons and materiel to the vicious dictator over a long period.  Let's hope more careful thought goes into the Syrian situation.

Meanwhile the Iraqi Christian communities were ignored and persecution increased.  They thought European arrival in military force would be a deliverance, but it has not turned out that way.

Christians in the east have suffered under pagan, then islamic regimes of various kinds. The early Arab Empires were generally benevolent, but Christians are always by definition second-class and experience official limitations. They flourished the most under the Ottoman Empire and subsequent colonial western protectorates before WWI and between the two world wars.

Three ancient Syrian or Syriac Aramaic (Aramaean) churches survive from the early centuries of Christian faith in Syria-Persia.  Non-Christian and non-Islamic traditional groups also struggle to survive,
like the Yazidis, with a strong advocacy community in Canada.

Mandeans are another ancient non-Christian sect, the only remaining organized Gnostic church.  They are a pre-Arab sect that honors various biblical characters as prophets, the last of which is John the Baptist.  Augustine of Hippo ("St Augustine") was a member of a similar very famous Gnostic religion called Manicheanism, before his conversion to Christ.  The last instance of the latter died out in about the 14th century in China, where it had migrated under missionaries.

Seasonal celebrations from the common ancient eastern calendar are still celebrated by many peoples of the region.  One of these is the celebration of Navroze, the ancient Medo-Persian New Year.  

Since modern Turkey, even with its current more reactionary traditional Muslim orientation, is a long-time ally of the USA and Europe, the ancient connection may be of further interest:    My article Yezidis, Kurds and Zoroastrianism discusses the relationships of the Yezidi and Kurds in regard to Navroze.

Updated 4 February 2014

Read further about these peoples and the cultural setting on my website:
The Yazidis – An Angelic Sect
Yezidis, Kurds and Zoroastrianism
Greek and Aramaic Among 1st Century Jews
Textual Themes and Language Variations in the late Prophets

Related on the Internet:
Christians in Syria Driven from their Homes
Another Dark Christmas for Iraqi Christians - Reuters
Read more about the dangers to Christians in Iraq
Will the Middle East’s Aramaic language survive?
[OBJ note:  There are several varieties of Aramaic.  The traditional family groupings of Aramaic languages in north-south or east-west variations of the Aramaic family were in existence at the time of Jesus.  Aramaic was the Greek of the east from ancient times, so had many varieties.]
The Mandeans - the last remaining Gnostic organized church

13 February 2013

Cyprus Napkin Holder and the Orthodox Sunday School

When we were living in Cyprus, we were in a duplex with our landlord and his famliy on the other side.  While having a late night supper with them one evening on their front veranda (a common Cypriot summer practice), we we admired the napkin holder, which bore a scripture passage in old Greek script.

 The verse on the napkin holder was Philippians 1:13 in the "original Greek" (as American pastors are so fond of saying), "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  The son, about 12 or 13, mentioned he had won this as a prize in his Sunday school class.

This led to a discussion about Sunday school and Bible study in the Orthodox Church of Cyprus.  We were intrigued to discover that they use this term "Sunday School" familiar in American churches.

They explained that not all the classes were on Sunday.  I saw that the word on the inscription was Catechismos, the equivalent of "Catechism Class."  So we asked if this was just for the youth preparing for adult membership.

The older daughter answered they have Sunday School and Bible study classes for all ages, like churches I grew up in.  This was interesting, since we knew that in the British and European context, "Sunday school" is commnly only for children.

I had already learned that the Eastern Orthodox have a simpler Confirmation process than the Roman Catholic and other western churches.  What is called "Confirmation" in the west is just handled at the Baptism, going back to an early practice in Christian history.

I learned later that this was indeed the ancient practice, called the Charisma ("The gift").  This involves an anointing of oil, to signify the receiving of the Holy Spirit, as in the New Testament references, which few western chuches still observe.  In Orthodox practice, this joint baptism and Charism varies in time from a few weeks to a few months old!

Learn more about Cyprus and its fascinting, deep-history culture at these links on my website:
Across the Greek Divide
Cyprus: Notes and Perceptions
Eastern Orthodoxy
  This article links to several other sources of information
Eastern Orthodoxy - Presentation
Prayer for Cyprus
History and Art in Cyprus
Italians, Etruscans and Greeks: Genetics and Ethnicity

For More on Cyprus
History of Cyprus
The Church of Cyprus - Official Site
For More on Eastern Orthodox Churches
Autonomous Orthodox Churches of the World

This blog article includes material first published in November 2000 in The Cyprus Sentinel, a periodic newsletter on cross-cultural communication, published in Nicosia, Cyprus

08 January 2013

Language and Identity

A major resource in our understanding of peoples of the world is the Ethnologue, the primary authority on languages of the world.  A few years ago the codeset of the Ethnologue became the world standard of the International Standards Organization (ISO) for languages of the world.

The entries in the Ethnologue indicate the main name of a language.  Dialects of the language are listed, as well as alternative names under which the language or dialects have been listed previously.

In people group research, the Ethnologue language code is correlated with the similar code for peoples from the Registry of Peoples.  In many cases the name of a dialect corresponds with the name of an ethnic group that speaks that form of the broader language.  That just depends on the self-identity attitude of that group.  You have to find out from them.  This is where field linguists and anthropologists are so critical.

For reference purposes, a list of peoples (ethnicities, tribes or people groups) of the world needs to indicate whether a certain known group is a separate entry or is considered a sub-group of another people.  The formal world-level classification may be different from a more local database or cultural profile looking at more details of local relationships and interaction.

So What Do you Do?
I had this problem, for example, with the Gawwada people of Ethiopia.  Several divisions of the Gawwada people were listed under the Gawwada entry in the Ethnologue, with their individual populations.  But the Gobeze sub-group identified by the Ethnologue had no population.

Should these people all be listed separately though they all spoke one language?  What about the Gobeze?  How different were they?  Limited information is frustrating for the analytical westerner!

As editor of the Registry of Peoples at the time, I had to make a call for classification purposes.  At that point, I assumed that the report in the Ethnologue indicates that there are some separate ethnic groups who all speak forms of the same language.  But I do not know how closely related they consider themselves.  And why is no separate population or information given on the Gobeze people/dialect?

With the state of information available, I considered that those listed with populations think of themselves as separate ethnic groups, but closely related.  The information seemed to indicate that the name Gobeze referred to an identifiable variation of speech, but that if this name also indicates a discrete group of people (like a family, a village, a region, etc.), they consider themselves still to be part of the Gawwada.

This was confirmed to some degree by a linguist investigating these speech forms (personal communication to me).  He indicates that the term Gobeze is used for the main dialect, spoken by the greatest number and used as a "standard" language form for these closely-related peoples.

With the uncertainty, I decided not to enter separate ethnic names in the main people group database, but to provide a complete picture, I would indicate them in the profile.  We are always watching for further information and updates are made as needed.

Anything that will clarify the communication and relationship patterns will be critical for outsiders who wish to work with this people cluster.  This is a common situaiton around the world.

So Who Cares?
Language information can sometimes help clarify people identity.  Linguists working on literacy development sometimes report one village or clan is unwilling to accept oral or written resources in the dialect of the neighboring village because it is not "theirs," even though they can communicate with no trouble at all with those neighbors.  This is a complicating factor for the task-oriented westerner limited by funds, time and other resources in developing literacy programs and materials.

This is not due to a peevish childish self-centeredness of that village or clan.  This is a factor of the fundamental orientation to the world.  The western worker has to decide:  Do you want to help them learn to read and provide written or oral resources meaningful in their context?  Or do you want to have to convert a whole culture to a new worldview and orientation to reality first?

Worldviews change as opportunities appear and challenges are met.  Self-identity is integrally related to Shared Significant Experiences within the group.  Initial communication and presentation of possiblities must start within the current worldview.

For more on the relationship of Language and Ethnicity
Accent, Dialect and Language
Dialects, Peoples and Cultural Change
Peoples and Languages
What Makes a Dialect a Dialect?

For more on how to define a "people"
Assimilation: How Peoples Develop and Change
Cities and People Groups
What is a People Group?

This blog includes some content originally published in September 2001 in Research Highlights, a research and culture newsletter published in Nicosia, Cyprus
This topic posted 8 January 2013
Last updated 14 February 2013

21 November 2012

Cultural Worldview Learning and Communicating

My wife and I lived in other cultures most of our married life.  We lived for some years on the island nation of Cyprus with its rich heritage of Micenae, Hellenic and Roman culture and thought.  All this identity for the Greek Cypriots is wrapped by two millennia of Christian thought, belief and practice.

It is exciting and challenging to live among a different people, and further, to look out from Cyprus to our east and south and wonder at the hundreds of ethnic groups and dozens of languages spoken!  Their culture and religious faith is different.  But there are Christian citizens of most of the countries in this part of the world.  Many trace their heritage to the first century and those first followers of Jesus.

What is involved in communicating across such vast cultural differences?
How do we develop our cultural worldviews?
How does this affect the way we think and relate to others?

Basically a worldview is the common idea of life and reality based on the Shared Significant Experiences of a certain group of people. The more similar the set of life experiences, the more similar the worldview from one individual to another and from one group to another. This is the frame of reference for beliefs, values, expectations and decision-making.  To communicate with someone in a different culture, we must come to understand the Significant Experiences that have shaped their thought.  We must also come to Share to some extent in these Significant Experiences, vicariously and practically. 

We share their stories as we learn their stories.  Sympathy and Respect are foundations of Communication.  They must be accompanied by Trust.  This comes only from sharing and earning credibility in personal relationships.

Learn More about "worldview:"
Worldview, Technical and Historical Point of View

Learn how worldview underlies all your beliefs and assumptions:
Worldview, Practical and Experiential Point of View
More on Worldview and Experience
How We Learn Worldview through Experiences
Learn about Practical Aspects of Culture and Worldview
Literacy and Learning:
Orality and Postliterate Culture
[PPt] Orality and Postliterate Culture
[PPt]Oral and Literate – Contrast of Oral and Literate Perspectives

This blog article includes material first published in May 2000 in The Cyprus Sentinel, a periodic newsletter on cross-cultural communication, published in Nicosia, Cyprus
Developed for this blog 21 November 2012

12 September 2012

Shared Significant Experiences

There is a thought system behind every culture.  We call this worldview.  It is also called Cognitive Culture.  It is natural to one growing up in that cultural setting.  But someone from another culture has to start at the bottom to learn how to communicate and relate in that worldview.

Our cultural research probes for the key features of a people's worldview to enable communicators to make sense in that cultural setting.  Cultures are based on collective group experience.  New experiences are interpreted in light of previous experiences.  Thus change may be slow and difficult, new concepts hard to understand and accept, even if better (in some views).

After living in East Africa for about 25 years, I spent some years living in Cyprus, an island country in the Mediterranean a few miles from Turkey and Syria.  There I was the cultural research coordinator for a company called Geolink Resource Consultants.  We provided cross-cultural training and media production, and training in cultural research and worldview investigation, primarily for people from other parts of the world living and working in Northern African, Middle Eastern or Asian countries.

Underlying all our research and media training is the worldview of the various peoples* we interact with.  This worldview focus entails oral culture concepts, since most peoples of the world are not literate and abstract in the western sense, but oral and relational in culture and learning style.

How We Think
This is a whole different matter from the technical ability of functional literacy.  We are talking here about how people think and make decisions.

Early cultural experiences set the basic patterns for understanding the world around us, and for dealing with later experiences.  Significant life experiences we share with our closest society -- family and beyond -- become the basis of worldview and the social patterns for living.  This is why cultures and worldviews are different -- different families,  communities, ethnic groups, peoples have different sets of experiences, and thus view the world differently.

Shared Significant Experiences
These Shared Significant Experiences are the common treasure of reference for a family, community, extended family, tribe or nation.  The "common sense" of any human family or society consists of these shared memories, concepts and beliefs and the world and reality.  This is the "worldview" which resides in the heads and hearts of each member of that society.

Their language and history are components of this set of experience, as well as their religious experience.  Thus we try to discover these deep concepts through worldview investigation to understand the peoples of the world and how they communicate, to learn how to relate and communicate the good news to them.

Experience and Reality
The core of common experiences is a shared reality for those who are part of it.  The more different the most significant experiences are, the more various individuals and families will differ from one another.  The differences occur by generation, geography, lineage or other significant characteristics of human society.

This is why generations move away from their elder generations, slightly or radically, one party or clan sees things differently, has different ideas of how to meet a crisis, etc.

* The term "peoples" refers to what are also called by the more recent term "people groups," "ethnic groups" or "ethnicities".  Earlier this was the meaning of the term "nations," which in the recent modern era came to be applied to geo-political states, called "nation states," the common format in today's political world.  For instance in the words of Jesus "Nation (ethnos) shall rise up against Nation (ethnos)" the meaning is that tribes or ethnic groups will be fighting.  A pattern of our human history and current world scene!

Learn more about this concept of Worldview as Shared Significant Experiences on these links:
Culture and Shared Experiences
Culture and Experience
Cognitive and Social Culture
Culture, Learning and Communication
Ethnicity and Nationality in Mixed Genetics:
  What Makes a "People"?
Socialization and Self-Identity

What is Worldview - PowerPoint Presentation

This blog article includes material first published in November and December 2000 in The Cyprus Sentinel, a periodic newsletter on cross-cultural communication, published in Nicosia, Cyprus
Developed 31 January 2012
Finalized and posted on Topics and Thoughts 11 September 2012