Power vs. THE Power

Just a quick thought as I sit in the Moncton Airport waiting to fly west.

New Brunswick is Canada’s only officially bilingual province. Folks here take both languages (and, indeed, both cultures) pretty seriously, practicing a policy I’d never heard of before: “duality.” That means two health care systems, two school systems, etc., etc.

There is much to both praise and blame in this outlook, but I’m glad quite frequently as I sojourn here that it makes me think about French, a language I know very badly but love. (I certainly encounter it a lot more than when I return to British Columbia…soon to be Canada’s second bilingual province, except featuring English and Mandarin.)

Anyhow, an advertisement caught my eye today in the departures lounge. On behalf of a charity working with impoverished women in Africa, the sign shows a tribal woman looking at the camera over the slogan, “I am powerful.”

Amen to that. So many women around the world, given even just a little education and economic opportunity, have become so much more powerful than they were before.

But the French parallel struck me hard: “J’ai le pouvoir.” The phrase can mean, of course, simply “I have power.” But taking the article (“le”) literally, it means, “I have THE power.”

As a Christian, I think I have become acquainted personally with The Power. And what a difference there is between “I am powerful” (to whatever extent I enjoy power) and “I have The Power”—the Holy Spirit of God.

So by all means let’s support charities that empower women (and men) with education, financing, justice, and all that they lack.

But, old-fashioned Christian that I am, I’m also glad for those that bring the Good News to such people, as someone brought it to me, that we each and all can truly have The Power.

2 Responses to “Power vs. THE Power”

  1. Glenn Smith

    Hello John….welcome once again o the wonderful world of bilingualism and biculturalism – at least in its Eastern Canadian version. John, in French you have to use the definite article so although your point is quite right about women, the Holy Spirit andf God in our lives, your over-interpretation of the French version of the publicity is not exact. But don’t worry about it. After working mostly in French for the past 35 years, I often tell my colleagues and students, “un de ces jours, je vais maitriser la langue de Molière. “

    • John

      My knowledge of French is sadly rudimentary, as I freely admit. But I have don’t understand what I take to be a friendly correction. I acknowledge the straightforward translation (“I have power”) and then deliberately press the point about the definite article. Is there not ambiguity built into the language there?


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