Friends,

I'd like to hear your thoughts about plain speech, if you would be willing to write in about it. It has been on my mind quite a bit lately, and I think I am being asked to learn more about it and work to practice it. From reading a little of early Friends' writings and about them, I gather that originally there were several elements to it. One was to follow Jesus's command not to swear oaths, but rather to make everything that comes out of one's mouth conform to the truth: to speak with perfect honesty and to keep any promises one made. Another aspect was to give up using pronouns and other forms of speech which exalted some and demeaned others on the basis of class (which led to Friends' use of "thee," of course.) But it appears to have developed into a much larger practice, something that had an effect on every aspect of life and was highly distinctive of Quakers. I would like to learn more about what it was and how these practices developed if anyone feels led to write in about that or suggest good reading about it.

I'd also like to know how anyone who practices plain speech today thinks of it. When I first began attending my meeting, I noticed that a few elders there responded to conversation with me by appearing to think carefully before they spoke. This practice was so alien to me that I felt intimidated by it. I had the impression that they thought I was such a trial to talk to, they had to work hard at it. (Maybe they did!) I realized recently that I've come far enough now that I appreciate the practice of taking care over one's speech and would like to do more of it myself.

Thank you for your help,
Rosemary

Tags: conservative, equality, plain, speech, thee, thy

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I think one reason the address "thee" appeals to me is because I read the King James Version of the Bible. I have a psalm reading practice--one psalm each night, in order--that I've kept up for many years, and I prefer the KJV because the poetry is so beautiful. Take, for instance, the lines "For with thee is the fountain of life. In thy light shall we see light." (Psalm 36). When Friends address each other as "thee," it carries a little of the tenderness and reverence with which the Psalmist speaks to the Divine (in my mind), as if the Friend were acknowledging that of God in the other merely by using the word.
Rosemary Gould, your thinking on the plain language rings true to me.
You've explained why the plain language appeals to you and many Friends.
But the earliest Friends, like the King James Version and Shakespeare,
used "thou" in the nominative, "thee" in the objective, and "thy" or "thine"
in the possessive case. For some unknown reason, Friends stopped using
"thou" (as Isabel Penraeth noted) and started using "thee" in both the
nominative and objective cases. This is another piece of evidence that
we are a folk religion. There's nothing wrong with that. We can use
the plain language if we believe it is a leading, or because we like the
tradition, or both. I just don't think the plain language, under the
circumstances of today, is a witness to our testimony of equality.
Some scholars believe that George Fox and other early Friends did
not ordinarily use the King James Version, but instead used the
Puritans' republican or Geneva version of the Bible. Of course,
this version also uses the old second-person singular forms.
If you want to see some beautiful modern English written by George
Fox, with a veritable riot of second-person PLURAL forms, read his
epistle no.10, which must have been addressed to a group. In this
amazing letter, which explains how the Inward Light works, one
finds "ye" in the nominative, "you" in the objective, and "your" or
"yours" in the possessive case.
Jeremy Mott
I happen to be married to a linguist and I think he would object to the term "folk religion" on the grounds that all religions are highly individualized by the particular conditions and history that lie behind what they do. I used to be a Catholic and I know that the church is quite different in each culture in which it's practiced. And if I wore ashes on my forehead on Ash Wednesday I don't think anyone would call that a "folk tradition," would they? Or say that Catholicism is a folk religion because they do that (and hundreds of other special things that vary by region, language, etc.)? I see what you mean about the original reason Friends insisted on using "thou" and not "you." And then the word "thee" evolved over time within that group while the rest of the population dropped it. That's what happens to language.

I don't use "thee." I only encountered people using it for the first time here at Quaker Quaker. (I'm pretty new to the RSOF.) But my sense is that those who use it here do so as a part of the plain witness, which is not intended to be quaint or merely preserve particular traditions, but rather to follow a leading about how to live in the world and engage with others. I haven't heard anyone say that all Friends should do it. Doesn't it make sense that the Divine would lead people to different kinds of outreach?

Thanks for the suggestion of Fox's epistle. I will enjoy reading that.
I think you are right about the speed at which life may go. People must have time to consider what they are saying . One can only try and slow down a face to face conversation. And also to consider the group around.
Although telephones have been around a long time, silence is not allowed, because of the medium. There must be a allowance made to not answer a phone or to say, I will have to call back- just to have time to think about the answer.
I should have taken a little more care over that response--yet another example! Anyway, I want to make clear that I'm not offended at the phrase "folk religion," I just don't see the point of it, or even, very precisely, what you mean when you use it.

I agree that we (certainly liberal Friends, my branch) would benefit from studying the Bible and our own discipline more. We have some Friends in our meeting who do that, though.
I certainly didn't mean to offend, only to explain, when I use "folk religion"
to refer to the Religious Society of Frends.
Think of the phrase "folk music." This is (or was) music transmitted by oral
tradition, often by musicians who didn't know how to read music. By the
same token, many liberal Friends nowadays learn our religion only through
oral transmission; many never read the Bible or our books, or consult with
more knowlegeable Friends, or even use the internet for consultation.
I think that Roman Catholicism, in certain circumstances, especially where
it becomes combined with animist religions, can also be a folk religion. But
in our country, aren't Ash Wednesday ceremonies explained and conducted
by a priest or a nun? That doesn't sound like folk religion to me.
Also, it is clear that early Friends were much less a folk religion than we
are today. After all, virtually all early Friends could read, and read the
Bible and the voluminous Quaker pamphlet literature of the time. In the
1700's and the 1800's, I think most Friends read in the Bible and in the
Quaker books of that time. This was true well into the 1900's , at least
among many groups of Friends, but is far less true now. Congratulations
on being a regular reader of the Bible!

There was a long series of events---none of them folk religion---ahead of
Quakerism. First, the printing press was invented, and the Bible was
translated into the vernacular. Then a great many people (both girls and
boys) learned how to read, and began reading the Bible and the amazing
literature of the Commonwealth period, This literature eventuallly
included literally thousands of Quaker and anti-Quaker pamphlets.
In this way, from one revolutionary development to another,
we developed into a remarkable revolutionary or "enthusiastic" group.
To learn more about this, read Larry and Licia Kuenning's fine website
Quaker Heritage Press, or Rosemary Moore's book The Light in Their
Consciences. If it had not been for this history, Quakerism probably
never would have existed.

To find a copy of Fox's epistle no.10, look in the website of the
Earlham School of Religion, or in the book Early Quaker Writings,
edited by Roberts and Barbour. I think you'll enjoy it.

I'm not trying to argue with Friends, only to explain. Of course,
I may be mistaken in some of my explanations.

Jeremy Mott
As for the use of the plain language now, I doubt that any Friends who
use it are attempting to be quaint. I do think that some Friends who
use it are trying to follow ancient tradition, but most are simply trying
hard to follow their leadings. Of course, some Friends will feel led to
do one thing, and other Friends will feel led to do another. We respond
to the Diviine in different ways.
At least, we no longer have the situation that we used to have, where
many groups of Friends insisted on a uniform discipline on many
matters like the plain language. We are all individualists now.

Jeremy Mott
One way that I think modern Friends could speak plain is in eschewing the widespread use of hyperbole and sarcasm, especially where it is directed at other people or things that are dear to others. I can attest that it's hard! Such speech is so common and accepted now. It is often associated with wit and intelligence, especially among the well educated, where it has become almost a prideful thing -- to show how savvy one is in matters political or cultural. I do not claim to have conquered this stronghold in my own life, especially on the internet where sarcastic and ironic wit is so expected and so rewarded, but I'm working on it.
About the use of 'thee'. In Swedish the use of thee/thou/thy/thyne is the normal way of addressing a person. It used to be a sign of familiarity but today we use it for everyone. You has always been a plural form or a rude way of addressing a person so it does not signify politeness in Swedish although some people who has learnt German or French think so. The proper way to address someone of higher standard in the old days was to use the title and totally avoid pronouns. "Would Dr Johansson like coffee?" or "Is there an interest in coffee?"

Because the Swedish language uses thee/thou like it was done in the old days in England and not the Quaker way I cannot use 'thee' the Quaker way because it is just so ungrammatical in my ears. I do understand that this is not the case for those who do but all I want to do is correct the text for someone using 'thee' when it clearly should be a 'thou'. I could use thee/thou properly if I practised the verb endings connected with this but as English is not my first language it seems like unnecessary extra work. Out of interest in language history and Quakerism I might still do just for fun.

I am more plain in English than in Swedish already simply because I do not know as many ways to express myself in English compared to Swedish so I am more straight to the point to not be misunderstood.
Jeremy

Keep on writing my friend . . . I'm learning a lot. Tell me more.
Stephanie,
Thanks for posting this. I agree that not engaging in that kind of speech and writing is extremely important and is also something I struggle with. It's hard to accept the knowledge that others will sometimes find your conversation dull, isn't it? But you're so right.
Rosemary
Dear Friends, Everyone who visits this site might be interested in knowing
-----if you don't already know---that George Fox (and othesrs) actually
published a book (titled The Battledore, I believe) to prove that the plain
language is correct. Apparently the use of "you" and its forms was
already becoming common English usage in his day, whether for singular
or plural. And Fox's main evidence was this: in every other language
that he could think of or write about, there was a different word for the
second-person singular and the second-person plural. The singular
form was generally, in an Indo-European language, something like
"tu". The plural form varied; it was sometimes a third person as in
Swedish and in Spanish; it was sometimes a genuine second person as
in French "vous." Of course, over the years, French has moved in
the same direction as English, though not so far. In French, now
one uses "vous" in the singular as well as the plural, unless one is
speaking to family, or intimate friends, or inferiors.
Rosemary, the fact that Roman Catholicism is transmitted mainly
by priests and nuns does not make it a folk religion. Quite the
opposite, in fact. A piece of folk culture uses mainly oral trans-
mission, and generally few or no professional instructors. For
"high culture," which is not necessarily any bettter, one expects
written transmission and professional instructors. Not only
liberal Friends, but Friends of all kinds, do not depend as much
on these as most other churches. Fox never stopped saying that
professional clergy were completely unnecesssary.
Consider language itself----no doubt the finest and best
human cultural achievement. A child learns his or her first
language entirely by oral transmission, since he or she does
not usually learn to read and write until in school. In many
African cultures, second and even third languages may also
be learned almost entirely by oral transmission, without the
help of schoolteachers or other professional instructors. So
language itself, at least in its early stages in any given
individual, is an excellent example of folk culture. The Iliad
and the Odyssey, and the Old Testament, were all handed
down in oral form for hundreds of years before they were
reduced to written form. (It is true that these pieces of
literature were transmitted by professional scholars who
memorized them.) There is nothing at all embarrassing
or shameful about a folk culture.

I'm afraid that I'm not a member of the "clergy" of
my meeting. I'm simply not well enough to attend
regularly. I try to help Friends as best I can by offering
some of my expererience among Friends, which now goes
back about 60 years, on the blogoshphere. There are a
great many Friends alive and well with even more
knowledge and experience, but I know of none others
active on the blogosphere.

Rickey Whetstone and Elin Hagberg, Thank you.

Blessings to all,

Jeremy Mott

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