Monday, February 21, 2011

Re-examining Friends’ Testimony of Plain Speech in Whittier, California

By Abbey Pratt-Harrington

The weekend of February 5-6 I (along with a few others) went to visit the Quakers in Whittier, California. I think it’s safe to say that we all had a lovely time (and not only because we got a short reprieve from the winter weather). We spent most of our time visiting with people (mostly over meals) and enjoying our surroundings.

One of the most interesting conversations I had while there was with a man of Hispanic descent. He approached me after I led the adult education and we talked about his journey to Quakerism, which he had recently found. What made his story stand out to me was that I had never heard a story like it before. Most convinced Friends seem to come to Quakerism for peace issues. This man had found Quakers while studying languages. In Spanish there still is a formal and informal way Friends walking together - Dan Kasztelanto address people and (from my limited understanding) it has to do with social class. This gentleman did not like this distinction and wondered why it existed, so he started to study languages/the history of languages.

Somehow, he ran across the story of the Quakers who refused to follow this distinction in English. This got him interested in who the Quakers were and eventually brought him to this community in Whittier. I found this whole experience interesting because, while I love the story of Friends addressing everyone with thee and thou, I never thought about that principle still being applicable in today’s world. I suppose this just goes to show you that you can learn something new every day.

Abbey Pratt-HarringtonAbbey Pratt-Harrington is a member of Athens Friends Meeting, Lake Erie Yearly Meeting. She is a graduate of Wilmington College and is currently a residential student in Earlham School of Religion’s Master of Divinity program.


  1. I not surprised. There is a huge curiosity out there about the traditional Quaker testimony of plainness. It's consistently one of the most sought-out topics on my blogs. Since sites like QuakerJane has risen its visibility, there have been a lot of people who have been coming to Friends because of it.

  2. This has ceased to be a useful ministry among English speakers and should therefore be abandoned. It has become a useless artifice in itself and exists only to be archaic. Doing something because it sounds cute doesn't win you new converts, and it has made Friends speech more complex rather than plainer.

    The other, more important manifestation of plain speech of honesty and not taking oaths is still, however, a culturally and theologically important practice.

  3. I think "Voice in the Desert" hit the nail on the head!

  4. As I was writing this posting on Simplicity, (, I found that plainness in some of the research I did seems to flow from this testimony. So, I don't know if this is of interest, but there definitely seems to be a trend of interest.

  5. Voice in the Desert, methinks thee does protest too much.

  6. Having grown up with the plain language used in my family and in the Quaker community, I can say that it led to a certain inclusion/exclusion status. If you were 'thee-ed', you were in. My mother was never addressed as 'thee' by her mother-in-law, although all the rest of the family were. This was undoubtedly unconscious on my grandmother's part, but it led to a lifetime hurt. Hearing the plain language takes me back to the Quaker culture of my childhood, but I don't use it and I think it no longer means what it originally did.

  7. Douglas HarringtonMarch 20, 2012 at 3:11 PM

    Very Interesting.