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Does language matter?


Inno
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Posted (edited)

I've been raised in a non-English speaking country and the majority of material I've consumed throughout my life has been in English, especially when it comes to spirituality and personal development in general. 
I've been speaking and learning in English for the better part of my life and  a significant portion of thoughts for example do indeed appear in English.  
I've been wondering lately, especially when it comes to expression, does it really matter what language one is using? In psychoanalysis they find it very important, at least from my understanding, that you try to understand things and relate and express using your "mother language" as this is the language you've grown into and kind of shaped you and the majority of childhood trauma is indeed from a period before learning another language. 
Thoughts?

Edited by Inno
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This is an interesting question. 

 

On the one hand, I believe all languages and dialects are equally valid. There's no superior language and this includes Sanskrit, Pali, or Latin. There used to be old school teachers who thought learning and using Latin made one a clearer thinker. I think that this view has fallen out of favor. So I'm not sure if speaking one language over another either benefits one or limits one as far as enabling the speaker to relate and understand things better. In Chinese theres not a direct word for "No" -- but that doesn't mean that Chinese don't have the concept. There's a linguist Whorf who thought language determined beliefs and again, this view has fallen out of favor. 

 

What are some criticisms of the Sapir -Whorf hypothesis?
While linguists generally agree that the weaker Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, also known as linguistic relativism, can be shown to be true to some extent, there are criticisms of the stronger form of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, also known as linguistic determinism. Among the criticisms of the strong form of the Hypothesis are:

 

One of Whorf's central arguments in his paper on language determining thought was that the Hopi terminology for time gave the Hopi a different and unique understanding of how time worked, distinct from the typical Western conception of time. Pinker (1994) argues that Whorf had never actually met anyone from the Hopi tribe and that a later anthropologist discovered, in fact, the Hopi conception of time was not so different from the traditional Western understanding of it.

 

The problem of translatability: if each language had a completely distinct reality encoded within it, how could a work be translated from one language to another? Yet, literary works, instruction manuals and so forth are regularly translated and communication in this regard is not only possible, but happens every day.

 

 

On the other hand, words do matter. How a word is translated is important. I've seen this in how Buddhism is translated from Pali. For example, samadhi, is often translated as "concentration" but Bhikkhu Kumara does a good job in saying this is a mistake. Instead, samadhi is better translated as "stability of mind". Does this matter? Well, it changed the emphasis on my practice. 

 

 

“If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.” ― The Buddha

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In regard to thoughts as labels for objects, chair vs silla vs כיסא for example, it doesn’t seem significant. For self-expression, it seems very significant. Not only the language, but cultural and regional differences in usage, application and connotation / meaning of words. As it relates to age, this could be most significant. 

 

If someone self-expressed in language A, and then at age 9 started learning and speaking in language B from there on out, the connotations with language A would be that of a 1 through 8 year old lens… and the connotations of language B would be of a 9 year old and older lens.  Words like jealousy, envy, vanity, shame and guilt for example, would have very different implications, meanings / connotations, from ages 1-8, as compared to 9-26, based on accumulative experience both in terms of the ‘outer world’ interactions, and the ‘inner world’ expressions. 

 

In relation to trauma, overall, the proof would be in the pudding, in the expressing in both languages and seeing what clarity arises and what internalized beliefs related to identity are dispelled. Imo (big shocker here) the biggest difference is undoing the internalization which is in truth, experiential and not indicative of the true nature, or ‘true self’ if you will. As it pertains to identity essentially.  A thought as simple as “I am angry”, compared to “this is the experience of the emotion anger” is a completely different connotation and experience. Suffering vs liberation. 

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16 hours ago, Phil said:

 Words like jealousy, envy, vanity, shame and guilt for example, would have very different implications, meanings / connotations, from ages 1-8, as compared to 9-26, based on accumulative experience both in terms of the ‘outer world’ interactions, and the ‘inner world’ expressions.

This makes me think that for those people it could be used as a tool similar to using your less dominant hand to write answers to questions you ask. 

 Youtube Channel    Website

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Posted (edited)


When it comes to validity of language I wouldn't argue there is more valid language to another, however speaking of translating academic or spiritual work to another language it is indeed tricky. Ancient Chinese and Tao Te Ching comes to mind. In his book Tao: The Watercourse Way Alan Watts does a good job introducing how the Chinese language actually works and displays that is is actually not linear as most Western ones, but characters play the role more of a painting I'd say, or a symbol in the Jungian sense of the word. 

Languages do differ, though, and although I don't necessarily agree that each language had a completely distinct reality encoded within it, I'd say that there are more complex languages in terms of structure and more simple ones, and the more complex languages have the capacity to "fragment" or "cut" reality more precisely.

For example, verbs in English do not have different forms, as opposed to Bulgarian for instance. For example:

1. I feel

2. You feel

3. He/She feels
1. We feel

2. You feel
3. They feel

 

While in Bulgarian it looks like this:
1. Аз чувствам

2. Ти чувстваш

3. Той/Тя чувства

1. Ние чувстваме
2. Вие чувствате
3. Те чувстват

So as you see, the latter verbs change when a different pronoun is being used in the sentence. I'd say that when it comes to "doing the work", this "finer fragmentation" of Reality, metaphorically speaking does actually reinforce a sense of separation from "other", Me vs. You, Me vs. Her, etc. 

 

@Phil Your reply was spot on, exactly what I had in mind starting this topic. I think that life-time-related, unprocessed periods of time do need to be expressed in the language they were actually experienced. 
What comes to mind is the Emotional Scale and the Dreamboard . I've translated all of the emotions on the scale to Bulgarian, as I really thought that some of the emotions listed in English do have different connotations and flavors compared to my native one. Same with the dreamboard, I've been writing everything in English, and when it comes to material things or possessions or experiences doesn't make much difference, I resonate quite better with Любов instead of Love for example:) 

 

On 5/13/2022 at 10:37 PM, Phil said:

Imo (big shocker here) the biggest difference is undoing the internalization which is in truth, experiential and not indicative of the true nature, or ‘true self’ if you will.

 

Can you elaborate on that a bit, please. I'm not sure I understand exactly what you mean by that. 

Edited by Inno
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@Inno

Yes, I agree, there is no distinct reality embedded. More, different languages can be internalized in different ways, different connotations can be internalized. A somewhat extreme example might be English, vs Reiki as a language. 

28 minutes ago, Inno said:

While in Bulgarian it looks like this:
1. Аз чувствам

2. Ти чувстваш

3. Той/Тя чувства

1. Ние чувстваме
2. Вие чувствате
3. Те чувстват

So as you see, the latter verbs change when a different pronoun is being used in the sentence. I'd say that when it comes to "doing the work", this "finer fragmentation" of Reality, metaphorically speaking does actually reinforce a sense of separation from "other", Me vs. You, Me vs. Her, etc. 

That’s really interesting and insightful to read. Really ‘clicked’.  🙂

29 minutes ago, Inno said:

Your reply was spot on, exactly what I had in mind starting this topic. I think that life-time-related, unprocessed periods of time do need to be expressed in the language they were actually experienced. 

Thanks. I wonder about ‘need’. I wonder how that specific word, as connotations / internalization go… differs among languages. I don’t know because I don’t know many languages at all, but I would bet it differs greatly, and yet very subtly. 

29 minutes ago, Inno said:


What comes to mind is the Emotional Scale and the Dreamboard . I've translated all of the emotions on the scale to Bulgarian, as I really thought that some of the emotions listed in English do have different connotations and flavors compared to my native one. Same with the dreamboard, I've been writing everything in English, and when it comes to material things or possessions or experiences doesn't make much difference, I resonate quite better with Любов instead of Love for example:) 

Awesome. What resonates, resonates. 🤍

 

 

33 minutes ago, Inno said:

Can you elaborate on that a bit, please. I'm not sure I understand exactly what you mean by that. 

 

On 5/13/2022 at 3:37 PM, Phil said:

Imo (big shocker here) the biggest difference is undoing the internalization which is in truth, experiential and not indicative of the true nature, or ‘true self’ if you will. As it pertains to identity essentially.  A thought as simple as “I am angry”, compared to “this is the experience of the emotion anger” is a completely different connotation and experience. Suffering vs liberation. 

A personal example… no household is perfect, there’s going to be some conditioning. In the household I grew up in, there was sometimes intense stress and tension related to essentially the role of being a provider. Innocently, I did not see that this was perspective. I thought pressure, urgency, tension and stress, were simply ‘how reality is’, or ‘how life is’. Through inspecting my connotations, my beliefs, I found this was how I had learned to think, and that there is actually no pressure, urgency, tension or stress - in reality, as in, ‘in the world’ - that the tension, stress, discord, suffering I was feeling - was actually due to the perspectives I was ‘holding’. 

 

Another ‘layer’ if you will, was found through inspection - that of identifying, or having identified. It was also realized - in regard to pressure & urgency - that this is not actually how I am - at all. I thought these were indicative of reality, the world, life - and also - thought these were indicative of me. After inspecting, it was found these perspectives and beliefs felt as they did (suffering) precisely because these perspectives were not indicative of me / of Ourself / of the true nature / of Truth…

of Love. 

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