Actually I have noticed how my speech has changed over my lifetime. I was born around Orlando, not the Orlando you know now, but pre-Disney Orlando, which was a small town then, full of people with rural roots, and only a few pretentious folks over in the Winter Park section—the white-gloved folks who knew how to stick their pinkies out when they drank tea. Back then I probably had a true Southern accent.
I spent the last eight years of my growing up life and the first year of married life in Tampa, so my accent began to even out some. Then two years in Illinois farmland put a real spin on it. For the last 30 years I have lived back in Florida—not the cosmopolitan Florida the rest of the world knows about, but rural, north central Florida, where the possums and coons still rummage at night, the bobcats scream, and the hound dogs bay at the moon. I don’t think I have pronounced the “g” on an –ing word in at least 20 years. God’s people have had similar problems throughout the ages. Nehemiah was horrified at the effect foreign people were having on his brethren, and used their language problem as a symbol for things much worse: In those days also I saw the Jews that had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab; and their children spoke half in the speech of Ashdod and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people. Neh 13:23,24.
I have always heard this passage used to point out that some use Bible words the wrong way, mixing up pastors with preachers, and fellowship with donuts. But it is more important for me in my daily life to think about this: I should not allow the language around me to affect the way I speak. God’s children should be speaking blessing, not cursing; words of understanding, not words of judgment; words of praise, not words of criticism. Can I turn a cashier’s day around with a friendly hello rather than a cold empty look? Can I make a waitress’s feet hurt a little less with friendly conversation, rather than a gruff complaint? Can I give my wavering brother or sister an encouraging word rather than an unfeeling push over the edge of temptation? The condemnation of the language of Ashdod means a whole lot more than just mixing up a few definitions.
Today, and every day Lord, help my accent to be that of a Christian.
A soft answer turns away wrath…The tongue of the wise utters knowledge correctly…A gentle tongue is a tree of life…A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, and a word spoken in due season, how good it is…Pleasant words are like a honeycomb: sweet to the soul and health to the bones. Selected lines from Proverbs 15 and 16.