I have been privileged to study four different languages in my as yet short lifetime. In middle school I took a year of German; in High School it was Latin; at the University I was required to take a semester of Spanish; and recently I’ve been dabbling in Koine Greek with the help of some do-it-yourself books. How much of these languages has stuck remains to be seen.
I didn’t make it far enough in the first three languages to be anywhere near fluent. More than anything they helped me to understand universal principles of grammar and how to apply them better to my English. I’m hoping to go a little farther with the Greek, God willing.
One thing about learning languages struck me recently, though. In every language I’ve learned, “to be” was one of the first verbs I was required to study. In Greek, Latin, and Spanish, “to be” is an irregular verb. The tense, number, and person must be memorized—you can’t simply follow the rules to conjugate it like you can with other verbs. Consequently, it’s also a verb you spend a lot of time with.
When learning any verb, the first conjugation you learn is the first person singular present tense. Let that sink in for a second. Can you see where I’m going here?
When Moses asked God what to call him when he delivered his message to the Israelites, God told Moses to say that “I AM” sent him1. “I am” is, of course, the first person singular present tense of the verb “to be”. The personal name of God, Yahweh (or Jehovah), is closely related to the term “I am”. It means, loosely, “the one who is”2.
So, one of the first words you learn when studying any given language is God’s name. I’m not sure if this holds any significance, but I find it very intriguing.