2013-04-04 / Columns

News & Reviews

By Edward F. Keller, D.D.S.
1732 Golf Drive Bismarck, ND 58503

Tri-Lingual

When I was a little boy on my Strasburg, N.D. farm in the 1930s, I spoke in three languages. At home I spoke German, in school I spoke English and in church I spoke Latin… plus the priest spoke High German which I only half understood.

As an altar boy at my Sacred Heart Rosenthal Church,I exchanged the Latin prayers with the priest throughout the Mass. The beginning prayers at the foot of the altar involved the long, extra laborious, 66 word “Confiteor.” Mother rewarded me 25¢ to learn all the foot of the altar prayers.

In school the teacher’s rule was that when we entered school grounds we had to speak English. To be caught speaking German on school grounds invoked an automatic penance writing “I will not speak German” 50 times on my 4¢ paper tablet.

At home I was embarrassed to speak English to my parents. I felt it disrespectful to them and afraid I might sound better than them.

The language problem all took a turn in the ninth grade at my Ohio seminary high school. The first priest I served Mass for there lovingly told me he had never heard Latin with a German accent, and that he rather enjoyed it. My language barrier mounted that year because my thinking was in German and my speech was in English. This all changed for the better as I spoke more English. But my German accent hung on. While leading the Way of the Cross on Sunday afternoon during Lent, the 6th Station, “Veronica wipes the face of Jesus with the veil,” came out like this, “Weronica Vipes da fase off Cheesus vit da Wail.” That sent the boys from Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York into a laughter to split the chapel and caused irreverence beyond belief. My accent too was conquered as time went on. During these wonderful high school years I continued to be trilingual. I studied English, German, Latin and even Greek…

Till next time.

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