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Shibboleth

The English language is now spoken in practically every country on earth, with a wide variety of accents. Some of the differences are due to it being a second language learned after a native language that has a different pronunciation structure. Others are because of regional differences that have developed over time. The regional differences do not always indicate national differences e.g. I speak "Canadian" English, but whenever I've been in, for example, the USA, no one could tell that I was a visitor - I'm indistinguishable from my American-born Illinois or Pennsylvania cousins (not all Canadians use the well-known "eh" at the end of a sentence, just as not all Americans use "y'all"). The fact that Anglo Canadians are often indistinguishable from Americans, in speech, is made evident by that some of the most well-known legendary "Americans" were or are in reality Canadians e.g. Peter Jennings of ABC News, Lorne Greene ("Ben Cartwright" on Bonanza), William Shatner ("Captain Kirk" on Star Trek), Raymond Burr ("Perry Mason" and "Ironside") among a long list of many others.

But at the same time, accents are very often noticeable between nations even though it's the same language that originated from the same place e.g. British English is very different from American or Canadian English, which are different from the English spoken in Australia or New Zealand. Differences can exist even between regions of the same country e.g. the difference of the English spoken in Alabama to that spoken in New York City, or that spoken in Newfoundland to that spoken in Ontario.

Shibboleth

Gilead "Shibboleth" has become one of the most well-known examples in Bible History of accent differences within the Hebrew language of that time. Those living east of the Jordan River had a different accent from those just across the river. One of the differences was that some used "sh" where others used "si" - using an English example, "simple" would be pronounced as simple by some and shimple by others. Along the same line, the Hebrew word that was pronounced sibboleth by those west of the Jordan was pronounced shibboleth by those east of the Jordan.

Under most circumstances, the accent difference was harmless and unimportant, but in one particular instance, it proved deadly. When the Ephraimites from the west of the Jordan invaded Gilead, they were defeated by the Gileadites. When they tried to retreat back across the Jordan, their escape was blocked by the Gileadites who took control of the fords. They were able to detect friend from foe by the accent difference - a difference that cost many men their lives.

"And the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and went northward, and said unto Jephthah, Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call us to go with thee? we will burn thine house upon thee with fire."

"And Jephthah said unto them, I and my people were at great strife with the children of Ammon; and when I called you, ye delivered me not out of their hands. And when I saw that ye delivered me not, I put my life in my hands, and passed over against the children of Ammon, and The Lord delivered them into my hand: wherefore then are ye come up unto me this day, to fight against me?"

"Then Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead, and fought with Ephraim: and the men of Gilead smote Ephraim, because they said, Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites. 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 12:1-6 KJV)

Fact Finder: Within Israel in the time of the New Testament there were differences in accent between northerners, from up in Galilee, and southerners, in Jerusalem and Judea. For example, could people in Judea tell, by his accent, that the apostle Peter (and therefore most of the other apostles, and even Jesus Christ himself) was from up in Galilee?
Mark 14:70


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