|280409. Tue Feb 19, 2008 9:21 am
|Blast! I'd spent all that time cutting and pasting this and had a critical error in between, and Lex beat me to it! Oh well, here's what I said anyway...
|Mr Wiki wrote: |
Shibboleth (IPA: /ˈʃɪbəlɛθ/) is any language usage indicative of one's social or regional origin, or more broadly, any practice that identifies members of a group.
The term originates from the Hebrew word שיבולת (other Semitic languages, e.g., Arabic: سنبلة /sunbulah/, Dialectal Arabic [Yemenite]: سبولة /sabūlah/), which literally means the part of a plant containing grains, such as an ear of corn or a stalk of grain  or, in different contexts, "stream, torrent"  (the latter meaning is not in use in Modern Hebrew). It derives from an account in the Hebrew Bible, in which pronunciation of this word was used to distinguish members of a group (the Ephraimites) whose dialect lacked a /ʃ/ sound (as in shoe) from members of a group (the Gileadites) whose dialect did include such a sound.
In the Book of Judges, chapter 12, after the inhabitants of Gilead inflicted a military defeat upon the tribe of Ephraim (around 1370–1070 BC), the surviving Ephraimites tried to cross the Jordan River back into their home territory and the Gileadites secured the river's fords to stop them. In order to identify and kill these disguised refugees, the Gileadites put each refugee to a simple test:
And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay;
Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.
– Judges 12:5-6, KJV
In numerous cases of conflict between groups speaking different languages or dialects, one side used Shibboleths in a way similar to the above-mentioned Biblical use, i.e., to discover hiding members of the opposing group. Christians might have been familiar with the Biblical story and directly inspired by it, or might have independently invented the same method under similar circumstances. Modern researchers use the term "Shibboleth" for all such usages, whether or not the people involved were using it themselves.
Today, in the English language, a shibboleth has also a wider meaning, referring to any "in-crowd" word or phrase that can be used to distinguish members of a group from outsiders - even when not used by a hostile other group. The word is also sometimes used in a broader sense to mean jargon, the proper use of which identifies speakers as members of a particular group or subculture. For example, people who regularly use words like "grok" and "filk" in conversation are likely members of computer culture or science fiction fandom, respectively. Shibboleths can also be customs or practices, such as male circumcision, or a signifier, such as a semiotic.
Cultural touchstones and shared experience can also be shibboleths of a sort. For example, people about the same age tend to have the same memories of popular songs, television shows, and events from their formative years. Much the same is true of alumni of a particular school, veterans of military service, and other groups. Discussing such memories is a common way of bonding. In-jokes can be a similar type of shared-experience shibboleth.
Shibboleths have been used by different subcultures throughout the world at different times. Regional differences, level of expertise and computer coding techniques are several forms that shibboleths have taken. For example, during the WWII Battle of the Bulge, American soldiers used knowledge of baseball to determine if others were fellow Americans or if they were German infiltrators in American uniform. Some shibboleths are jokes.
In the Victorian era, especially in Britain, the educated middle classes invented several shibboleths to distinguish themselves from the lower classes (see acrolect, basilect).
One of these was pronouncing the gerund suffix -ing as it is spelled, rhyming with sing, whereas both the lower and upper classes pronounced it as -in, rhyming with sin. However, many of the shibboleths were grammatical. These were primarily taken from the rules of Latin grammar, and had not occurred in English before this time.
For instance, in Latin it is impossible to split an infinitive, because a Latin infinitive (such as ferre "to bring") is a single word; therefore, prescriptivist grammarians decided that people should not split English infinitives either. (That is, to boldly go "should" be boldly to go or to go boldly, as if to go were a single word as it is in Latin.) Despite centuries of contrary use, this became a mark of a good education, and is still taught in some schools.
During World War II, some United States soldiers in the Pacific theater used the word "lollapalooza" as a shibboleth to verbally test people who were hiding and unidentified, on the premise that Japanese people often pronounce the letter L as R, and that the word is an American colloquialism that even a foreign person fairly well-versed in American English would probably mispronounce and/or be unfamiliar with. In George Stimpson's A Book about a Thousand Things, the author notes that, in the war, Japanese spies would often approach checkpoints posing as American or Filipino military personnel. A shibboleth such as "lollapalooza" would be used by the sentry, who, if the first two syllables come back as rorra, would "open fire without waiting to hear the remainder."
1. ^ "shibboleth". Oxford English Dictionary (second). (1989).
2. ^ Wahrig Deutsches Wörterbuch, Sixth Edition and Schibboleth. Meyers Lexikon online.
3. ^ shibboleth. American Heritage Dictionary, also sometimes rye, Fourth Edition. shibboleth. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
4. ^ Cf. Isaiah 27:12.
5. ^ US Army & Navy, 1942.HOW TO SPOT A JAP Educational Comic Strip, (from US govt's POCKET GUIDE TO CHINA, 1st edition). Retrieved 10-10-2007