Addressing god in european languages: Different meanings, different cultural attitudes

Anna Wierzbicka*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    14 Citations (Scopus)


    All European languages have a word for God, and this word means exactly the same in all of them. However, speakers of different European languages tend to relate to God in different ways. Each group has its own characteristic ways of addressing God, encoded in certain words, phrases and grammatical forms, which both reflect and shape the speakers’ habitual ways of thinking about God and relating to God. Often, they also reflect some other aspects of their cultural memory and historical experience. In this paper I will compare the meanings of the vocative expressions used for addressing God in several European languages, including “Gospodi” in Russian, “O God” in English, “Mon Dieu” in French, “Herr” in German, and “Boże” in Polish. But to compare those meanings, we need a common measure. I believe such a common measure is available in the “NSM” framework, from Natural Semantic Metalanguage (see e.g. Goddard and Wierzbicka, 2014; Wierzbicka 2014a and 2018a; Gladkova and Larina 2018a, b). The data is taken mainly from well-known works of literature, such as Lev Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Boris Pasternak’s poem “V bol’nice” (“In Hospital”) for Russian, Charles Peguy’s Le mystère de la charité de Jeanne d’Arc and its English translation by Julien Green for French and English, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s prison poems and Heinrich Böll’s novel Billard um halbzehn for German. The results have shown that each European language offers its users a range of options for addressing God. Some of these options are shared, others appear to be unique to the language. All are underpinned by broader historical phenomena. The exact nature of all these links remains to be investigated.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)259-293
    Number of pages35
    JournalRussian Journal of Linguistics
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2020


    Dive into the research topics of 'Addressing god in european languages: Different meanings, different cultural attitudes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this