Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

This is more of an open-ended post than normal, but the issue of formality in Religious discourse came up today.

Having not been raised in any particular religion, I was somewhat surprised to discover that in the Bible, God is usually addressed informally rather than formally (when the language so permits).

For an example, let’s use Job 10:4 (this passage is the first I found where a person speaks with God. Attribute no special significance to this choice.).

In the New International Version of the Bible, the passage is glossed:

You don’t have human eyes. You don’t see as people see

Modern English has lost the Second Person informal (‘Thou’), so this informality doesn’t show up at all in Modern English translation. However, in the King James Version, we start to see this informality:

Hast thou eyes of flesh? or seest thou as man seeth?

Here, the full informal is used in reference to God. Also interesting is the lack of the capitalization found in the NIV’s “You”, when referring to God.

Interestingly, this same informality showed up in other languages as well. The Reina-Valera Spanish Version of Job 10:4 uses the informal tu (lowercase) in place of Usted, and the Russian Synodal Version uses the informal ты (/tɨ/) instead of вы (/vɨ/) This pattern also held true in French, German, and Portuguese, as best as I can tell.

Of course, there are people who might have a field-day with this information, attributing all sorts of cultural conclusions to these choices (“People must view God as their friend!”). However, rather than jumping to any conclusions, I’m going to ask what other people think.

So, my questions for my readers are twofold:

First, if you speak another language or practice another religion, with what form of address do you address your Deity or Deities? Do you use a formal Pronoun (Usted, You, Vous, Sie, etc.) or an Informal pronoun (Tu, Thou, Du, etc.)? For languages with many levels of formality, please specify.

Second (and answer this only if you’d like), does this informality (or lack thereof) hold significance for you? Do you feel like it’s more a matter of tradition than anything? Do you think that this represents or affects your perception of your God(s)?

I hope this yields some interesting answers, and maybe some interesting discussion!

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