This Sunday is Pentecost when Christians reflect on the coming of the Holy Spirit and what some refer to as the birth of the church. Often what is discussed is the phenomenon of wind, fire, sound and speaking in other tongues. I've always been interested in the response of the crowd who observed all this. Acts 2 says the crowd was composed of Jews and Jewish converts with backgrounds from Rome to Parthia (Turkmenistan) and Pontus (northern Turkey) to Arabia. The text says "each one heard their own language being spoken" and they were "utterly amazed." The reason they were amazed was because of the group of Galileans (fishermen and country bumpkins) who were speaking in these languages.
One of my favourite screen moments is in the movie, Miracle on 34th Street, when a Dutch orphan girl meets the Kris Kringle character...
What we find here is the deeply emotional response to the recognition of language -- the language of this young girl's formation. Her identity is so wrapped up in her first language, learned at her mother's breast. It's like she is being seen, heard and understood in a manner she didn't imagine possible in this big metropolis of New York.
I think this is a part of the Pentecost story that we need to pay attention to -- that the languages spoken via the Holy Spirit are a picture of God's profound recognition of language, culture and identity. God acknowledges who we are, speaks our "language," and then invites us into relationship based on that recognition.
Learning language takes us into the worldview of people; we begin to see the world through another's lens. In communities where our voices are not being heard, it's quite possible that we haven't entered into the language and culture of those with whom we wish to communicate. So we speak our own language and just shout, thinking that might help. It probably doesn't :).