04 August 2010

English for spirituality?

One reason writers use multiple languages is that they correctly feel that something cannot be expressed only in one language.  Ordinary readers have known this for a long time, although professional linguists and literary critics are hesitant to admit it, perhaps because of fear that they will find their own mother tongue (particularly English, which has the most number of fanatics) inadequate.  Here is a post from an ordinary blogger whose mother tongue is Dutch:

My English is excellent (if I may say so myself) when it comes to complicated issues. I sometimes feel it's easier to talk about spirituality in English than my native Dutch.

Is spirituality really "easier to talk about" in English than in Dutch (or any other language)?  That's very interesting, because many English poems deal with spirituality.  (I am talking of real poems, not the Hallmark-type verse that abounds in "spiritual" inspirational books or websites.)  On the other hand, think of the Catholic saints:  how many of them had English as their mother tongue?  Surely, a minority (though I haven't actually counted).


  1. Hi,

    Hi, Thanks for using my lens as a starting point for your blog. The fact is: I usually have on trouble translating my English blogposts about spirituality into Dutch (which I do routinely). I meant it more as a testimony of the strength of my English. Also, the things I read about spirituality are generally in English, so that helps.

    That said - I do think the larger amount of words in English versus Dutch does probably help. And talking about consciousness IS easier in English. The word 'mind' is hard to translate into Dutch. And we routinely use the word 'mindfulness' without translating, because nobody has come up with a suitable translation. Added to that: the Dutch who practice mindfulness, generally have a pretty decent level of English.

    I would not dare generalize my experience. My English is almost as good as my Dutch. I lived in the States when I was 12 and learned to think in the language there. Since then I've kept it up, reading in it etc. And I was raised to read stuff in their original language if I could. Which in English I can - so I read spiritual literature mostly in English.

    But I do think it's generally recognized among linguists that languages are also keepers of knowledge. The famous 'snow' argument for the Inuit for instance. I'm sure Dutch has more words relating to water management than English.