A connoisseur: words are his world

They are certainly not silent, although much of their work occurs behind the scenes. In fact, interpreters and translators play an important role in international communication in the Church. One of them retired just recently. A tribute to mark International Mother Language Day.

He was born and raised in France. But French is not his mother tongue. He prays in German, he says, although German is not his mother tongue either. “My mother tongue is Alsatian,” says Jacky Mappus, born in 1953. “When I talk with my mother I do so in Alsatian.”

Shepherd Mappus is a real institution. For the French, he was the voice of the Chief Apostle for the longest time. Among the New Apostolic translators and interpreters he stands out like a beacon. He is a real institution. A word that peeves him ever so slightly. But actually it amuses him: “An institution? That sounds like a dinosaur,” he chuckles. “I’m not that old.”

Starting with a dialect

He was born in Woerth, a small town in north-eastern France. He grew up with Alsatian, a German dialect. This dialect was so widespread at the time that anyone wanting to work as a kindergarten teacher had to speak it. The children in that part of France were only introduced to French, the country’s official language, after kindergarten.

German was part of the curriculum in elementary school. Having New Apostolic roots, however, his ear was long accustomed to hearing German in church. Until the 1970s, divine services in the Alsace region were celebrated in the German language. This only changed with District Apostle Robert Higelin. And Jacky Mappus was to play an important role.

But first the young man had to go and get himself educated. He went to Strasbourg in 1972 to study German, a language that had fascinated him ever since high school. In 1976 a teaching position as a German-language teacher took him to Paris. In 1988 he started to work for the Church. He had planned to stay six years, but these turned into three decades.

Complex compounds and French literature

What fascinates Jacky Mappus about German? “The possibility of creating new words,” he says. The language allows users to construct composite words from two or three components to create a new term. “French is far more cumbersome.” But then again, French offers far more liberties in terms of word order and sentence structure.

Wait a minute, is German not the language of poets and thinkers? “The way you use it, maybe,” he says and laughs, “but not for Goethe.” Sometimes he teases his reporter colleagues: “What have you done again with the language of Goethe?” The message is loud and clear. Jacky Mappus’s favourite book, by the way, is not one by the German poet Goethe, but by the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Citadelle.

Reinventing the language of the Church

The life achievement of Jacky Mappus: his involvement in the invention of a New Apostolic French language. This is something he did twice over. The first time was under District Apostle Higelin, when divine services in France started to be held in French. And the second time was when he translated the Catechism into French, and had to scale the heights of abstract theological language.

In this case, his beloved German compounds drove him to despair, such as Petrusdienst (Petrine ministry), which describes the leading role of the Chief Apostle. That one was a tough nut. It took him some time of introspection, of searching around, and gathering information until he found the solution: le ministère pétrinien.

Language development

The translator evaluates his work as “satisfactory”. Coming from him it sounds self- assured, from a professional point of view, and modest, from a human point of view. He adds, “This is the language of Jacky Mappus. It cannot stay that way,” he says. “It is time for someone else to take things from here. The language has to develop further.”

The language lover wants to further his linguistic skills in retirement. He thinks his English could do with a little brushing up. Otherwise, the connoisseur is looking forward to spending lots of time with his family, sipping a good burgundy wine, and enjoying juicy steak on his plate done bleu.

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