Fishman’s Decalogue

A Decalogue of Basic Theoretical Perspectives for a Sociology of Language and Religion

Joshua A. Fishman Yeshiva University and New York University

(from Omoniyi, T. & Fishman, J.A. (2006) Explorations in the Sociology of Language and Religion. Amsterdam: John Benjamins)


With respect to basic theory, we stand now in the sociology of language and religion just about where we were relative to the sociology of language per se some 40 or more years ago. Insofar as our most relevant “mother discipline”, the sociology of religion, is concerned, an examination of several highly regarded recent works (e.g., Woodhead and Heelas 2000, Fenn 2001, Bruce 2002, McGrath 2002a) reveals that “language”, as such, does not even exist, neither as an explanatory variable nor as a variable to be explained. Insofar as we ourselves are concerned, judging by our own initial efforts thus far, even sociology does not exist, neither as a body of foundational theory, methods, nor systematic empirical findings. How can this mutual disregard be over- come? I suggest that we must do today in the sociology of language and religion that which we tried to do before in the sociology of language: find a theoretical parental home for ourselves. Only those who have a parental home can mature and leave it to build one of their own! Relative to other orphans, we are fortunate in only one respect: we can adopt a parental home rather than needing to wait to be assigned to one by others (such as happened in the assignment of sociolinguistics to linguistics). For me, the parental home that I would like to adopt is one that consists of a sociology of language that is richly informed by sociology proper. I have reason to hope that such a combination will provide a nurturing point of departure. This is so not only because I am convinced that any disciplinary point of departure is better than none, but because both of the above mentioned prospective “parents” (sociology and the sociology of language) have already provided much evidence of the stimulation that they could provide for our fledgling enterprise. Among the founders of modern sociology, Max Weber and Emile Durkheim., were quite clearly very much interested in religion (note, e.g., Weber’s Sociology of Religion [tr. 1963], and Durkheim’s. clear demonstration that all social norms are essentially “religious in nature in his Elements of the Religious Life [ tr. 1915)). Among the founders of the modern sociology of language, Charles Ferguson stands out for repeatedly stressing the centrality of religion in connection with understanding such central sociolinguistic topics as diglossia (1959) and language planning (1968), as well as in connection with his ground- breaking inquiries in many major areas of the world (e.g., 1969 and across centuries and millennia (1982, 1986) So, in accord with at least some religious traditions, I will now proceed to propose a decalogue of theoretical principles for the sociology of language and religion, drawing heavily on both of its parents. Nevertheless, I am not prepared to define “religion” per se, accepting that the behaviors, beliefs and values that are deigned to be religious are more diverse than any of us are currently aware of.

A Decalogue of Theoretical Principles

i.          The language (or “variety”) of religion always functions within a larger multi- lingual/multivarietal repertoire. This principle assumes that the members of any socioculture, or, at least, those who have been fully enculturated and socialized into membership in a speech-community, can and do differentiate between religion and non-religion, or, in settings where what the West calls religion permeates and is not separable from the entire culture, more and less sanctified contexts and pursuits. No matter how difficult it may be for outsiders (definitely including most Western researchers) to find the exact boundaries, and no matter how greatly religion permeates everyday life or how restricted the role and domain repertoire available in any community may be, the (most-) religious language or variety is not the only one available to its members. If this is true for pre-modern cultures (e.g., the Kung!) and for anti-modern cultures (e.g., the Old Order Amish) then it must be all the more true of modern societies with a larger role and domain repertoires and with the peripheralization (or “cornerization”) of religion that tend to obtain in such societies. This principle is an appropriate one from which to undertake a sociology of language and religion. It not only permits but expects diversity and, in this sense, provides for a desideratum of social inquiry. Sociology is not greatly interested in uniformities (“All humans are mortal”). Indeed, its central task is to analyze (describe, understand and predict) societally patterned variance in all human behavior. To posit Principle 1, therefore, is merely to posit that the development of a sociology of language and religion is a fitting topic for sociolinguistic inquiry, both in its “socio-” and in its “linguistic” concerns. The positivistic (Edward) Thurstonian dictum that “whatever exists, exists to some degree, and if it exists to some degree it can be measured” applies to the sociology of language and religion, regardless of whether the measurement that a researcher prefers is qualitative, quantitative or a combination of the two. For our analyses to proceed we must be able at least to differentiate between religion and non-religion (or between varieties or degrees of religion) as well as between the varieties of language with which each is generally associated (Samarin 1976).

ii.         The variation posited in Principle 1, above, exists both intra-societally and inter-societally and may vary over time as well. The degree and kind of socioculturally patterned variation between the language/variety of (greater) religiosity and that of (greater) non-religiosity (let us call the latter “secularism”) will itself vary from one socioculture to the other. In Socioculture A it may involve variation from a Classical to a Vernacular (e.g., among Moslem Arabs or among devout Hindu Tarnils): in Socioculture B, it may involve variation from Vernacular 1 to Vernacular 2 (e.g., among Christian Tarnils): in Socioculture C, it may involve variation between two different varieties of the same Vernacular (e.g., among English speaking Quakers or among Lutheran speakers of German, or among speakers of Turkish of widely different political views). Each of these three types of inter-societal variation between the languages/varieties of religiosity and those of secularism are then further modified by the intra-societal variation within any given socioculture. Avowed atheists and extreme religionists, both of whom usually constitute speech-networks of their own, may vary less in their speech repertoires than do members of middle-range religious bodies. Additional modifying factors with respect to linguistic repertoire-range are historical circumstances (e.g., warfare with the speakers of a language that is very similar to the religious variety of one’s own vernacular, as for example the use of German in German-American Churches during World War I), the politicization of repertoires and organized governmental support or opposition toward religion per se (e.g., in the pre-perestroyka Soviet Union or the Zionist movement’s opposition to the allocation of any functions whatsoever to Yiddish). In addition, adherence to religion and membership in “churches” also varies over time, particularly as modernization increases and as disappointment with modernity also grows or recedes. Even more general societal change (such as changes in the economic cycle, social mobility possibilities) may also affect between-group and the within-group variation vis-à-vis the languages/ varieties of religion and those of secular life. Because the repertoires of religiosity and secularism may be unstable, they are, therefore, not necessarily diglossic, and even those that are, can and do undergo slow but constant “leakage” and change.

iii.        Religious languages/varieties are more stable than others and impact their secular counterparts more than the latter do the former. Even long-established diglossic patterns (and even those involving classicals and vernaculars) “leak”, i.e., the varieties involved influence each other, whether in subtle or in obvious ways. Latin has influenced the languages of Western Christianity, not only in legal and medical terminology, but in terms and expressions that were initially “learned” but that have entered everyday life as education and literacy became more generally available. (Note, however, that the medieval Latin of English-speaking clerics and scholars reveals that they were exactly that, English speakers, both lexically and grammatically, and differed, therefore, from the Latin of French counterparts.) The same can be said of the interaction between Old Church Slavonic (or Slavonics, for there were several of them, each in its own area within the Slavic world) and the various vernaculars of the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic worlds. Also, the influences of Classical Hebrew on vernacular Hebrew (as well as upon other Jewish vernaculars), of Classical Tamil on the spoken and written Tamil of the well-educated, and of Sanscrit upon all of the vernaculars derived from it, fit this same paradigm. The situation in the Arabic-speaking Islamic world is somewhat different, since the Classical (Koranic) variety is still the basis of secular literacy, and even of careful speech, thus more greatly influencing and even controlling all but the most popular varieties of spoken and written communication. A “middle Arabic” variety, in terms of degree of classicization, has developed in more recent years for use among educated speakers of Arabic across political boundaries, but even here the degree of classicization remains an effective stylistic variable for both situational and metaphorical purposes. The Chinese pattern, vis-a-vis Mandarin and the local vernaculars is quite similar to the foregoing Arabic one, most particularly for writing and reading among languages of the Han group and, even more broadly, among all languages of the Sinosphere, whether they now use Mandarin characters or not. Also, in each of the above cases where classicals are involved, the reverse direction of influence (of the vernaculars upon the classicals) is proportionately more minor. In the Hebrew case the modern variety’s revernacularization of the classical is only a century old and, therefore, less distancing has occurred even under secular auspices. This imbalance in directions of influence is a by-product of the common lack of informal vernacular functions (it is in vernacular functions, after all, that languages most decidedly interact and in which least correction can occur), as well as a function of the hallowed status of eternal and immutable texts, truths and traditions more generally. Even where these contain obvious spelling errors these are retained, at least in script if not in oral rendition. The impact of the varieties of languages of religion upon varieties of their commonly associated secular vernaculars is not limited to classicals, however. The most religiously impacted vernaculars of former centuries continue to influence the current counterparts with which they have remained associated. Thus Luther Bible German vis-à-vis modern German, King James Bible English vis-à-vis modern English, Yehoash Bible Yiddish vis-à-vis modern Yiddish and other famous bible translations of former centuries remain living metaphorical influences in the speech and writing within their counterpart spheres of secular use to this very day. These “citation varieties” remain a rich reservoir of religion-derived linguistic permeation of everyday life, extending far beyond learned or pious circles. In each community of users, they serve as metaphorical modifiers of the religious (or even less-religious) varieties, whereas the “citation originals” themselves, fixed in their texts, change rarely if at all. Thoroughly revised and updated translations of sacred texts do come to pass, of course, but their inevitably greater proximity to the spoken vernacular robs them of the metaphoric advantages of the earlier versions that they attempt to replace. Their greater understandability and similarity to secular usage of the day make them more understandable, but in the minds of some, makes them less suitable for the sacred functions with which their predecessors were long associated.

iv.        A by-product of all of the forgoing characteristics of long-standing vernacular translations (“saintly” translatorship, greater linguistic contrastivity and the sheer weight of traditional usage itself), is their acquisition of a degree of sanctity of their own. They come to be associated with the holy liturgy (even though the latter may continue to be in the classical) itself, or with certain parts thereof that are deemed worthy of a higher level of lay understanding or of more active parishioner participation. In some cases the long-established translation varieties also come to be utilized for sermons or for extra-liturgical ceremonies (viz., the continued attempted use of Luther German in Old Order Pennsylvania German sermons, even when either Pennsylfawnisch and/or English are the language[s] of parishioner everyday life; the synagogue announcement of the precise time of the new moon in Yiddish, even when modern Hebrew and/or English have become the language[s] of parishioner everyday life; the singing of certain parts of the Sephardi liturgy in Ladino/ Judezmo, even when Arabic and/or English have become the language[s] of parishioner everyday life, the retention of Unkelos’ Judeo-Aramaic (Aramic) translation within the weekly lection of Yemenite services, even though Aramic, which once rendered the Masoretic text more understandable, is now far less widely understood than the original, etc., etc.). As a result of the partial use of varieties of vernaculars for sanctified purposes, these varieties often come to be viewed as co-sanctified themselves. The latter half of the 20th century has witnessed the spread of sanctity claims for vernaculars outside of the Euromediterranean area of their initial appearance into Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Whorfian and Herderian imagery has accompanied the above spread of sanctity claims for vernaculars far beyond their initial venues (Fishman 1997, 2002a, 2002b).

v.         The rise and spread of newly sanctified and co-sanctified varieties (or also of less sanctified ones) within the sociolinguistic repertoire of a speech community renders that repertoire more complex and more functionally differentiated than heretofore. Differentiations as to degree and type of sanctification may obtain, as may intra-cultural disagreements and conflict vis-à-vis acceptance and utilization (or rejection and detachment) of vernacular varieties’ [newly] sanctified statuses. Further differentiation of the repertoire results from other areas of social change (including the resulting pressures on religion to change). Sociocultural change fuels the processes of language shift but also elicits efforts on behalf of language maintenance and even of reversing language shift. To the extent that a variety is religiously encumbered, its associated religious institutions and their designated officers and local representatives and personnel can provide valuable intellectual, cultural and fiscal protection on behalf of organized and ideologized language maintenance for threatened religious varieties and their tradition-related functions. On the other hand, the very organized nature of many religious traditions is potentially a two-edged sword vis-à-vis the continuation of religiously encumbered varieties. When higher order religious authorities reach a decision that a change in allocation of languages/varieties to religious functions is required (for example, when the Western Catholic Church’s authorities reached the decision to perform the Mass in (sufficiently represented) vernacular languages, rather than in Latin alone, this resulted in the overwhelming and rapid abandonment of Latin for this purpose. When the less centralized Missouri Synod Lutheran Church’s authorities reached their decision to permit the use of English (thereby effectively abandoning German) as the language of its devotional, educational and social efforts, half a century or more was required for this decision to be generally implemented among its member-churches. In the latter case, there were noteworthy regional differences between “heartland” and “secondary settlement” member-churches of the Synod, but in the former case (that of the Western Catholic Church) no such regional differences were apparent, although a few straggler holdouts for the status quo ante conspicuously occurred in both instances. The abandonment or loss of heretofore religious varieties in favor of less religiously-linked varieties, initially temporarily contracts the sociolinguistic repertoire of the socio- (and ethno-) cultural communities affected. However, the long-term differentiation of the hitherto non-religiously encumbered repertoire into more religious and less religious varieties may once more restore or expand the balance of complexity vis-à-vis the balance that existed previously.

vi.        All sources of sociocultural change are also sources of change in the sociolinguistic repertoire vis-à-vis religion, including religious change per se. Language spread itself is, of course, the most common carrier of sociocultural change. The current spotlight is on the worldwide spread of English (McGrath 2002b), but the recurring strong social class restrictions upon its functional acquisition still limits it as a language of religion in most settings where English is not also the language of the local mainstream. Even this limitation still leaves immigrants, Hispanics and Amerindians in the USA, immigrants and Aborigines in Australia, Maoris in New Zealand, a long list of immigrant minorities in Angle-Canada and even Anglo-Indians fully exposed to the creeping impact of English in one aspect or another of religion. Other larger languages are also still spreading into religious functions: Spanish and Portuguese accompanying the introduction of Catholicism into the areas of hard-to-reach indigenous populations in Latin America, as does French among aboriginal populations in Quebec and Francophone Africa. Eastern Orthodoxy accompanies the introduction of processes linked to the spread of Russian in the Siberian interior as well as in much of the former Sovietosphere. Doubtlessly (though still largely undocumented), there is an ongoing spread of Mandarin in the Sinosphere and Arabic is still spreading as well (specifically as the language of Islamic prayer and study, but, at times, also that of other formal and literacy/education related sociocultural functions among Muslims). Extensive sociocultural change always accompanies instances of religious intrusion (“spread”). Language spread is actually rarely, if ever, a self-propelled phenomenon. The underlying dynamic for the acceptance of a “new” language into religious functions is often modernization under Western auspices, via economic penetration or invasion (colonization). Following in the footsteps of modernization, with or without actual invasion, are soft-sell or hard-sell (i.e., forced) miss ionizing and conversion efforts. Voluntary immigration and forced relocation or exchange of populations have been historically another source of severe dislocation in the formerly obtaining allocations of varieties to sociocultural functions. In most of the above scenarios, whether when a population moves and encounters a religion hitherto foreign to it, or when a religion moves and discovers a population hitherto unknown to it, the total sociolinguistic repertoire (i.e., above and beyond religion per se) may also be seriously impacted and altered. New sociocultural functions and lifestyles may be introduced (e.g., urbanization, formal education, wider adult literacy, mass-media and communication technology access, participation in local and extra-local democratic processes, new methods of production, the industrialization of agriculture, a cash economy, consumerism, and a growing sense of national, regional and even world-community membership and involvement). It is not realistic to expect that such new functions, carried as they commonly are by a new language, will not affect the language of religion as well. This has been true of the intimate relationship between sociocultural change more generally and the spread of religion from the earliest times through to today. The introduction of Judeo-Aramaic (Aramic) into Jewish religious life followed upon the devernacularization of Hebrew more generally under the social, economic and intellectual impact of Hellenism and the physical dislocation of the Jewish population by the Babylonian captivity. The Christianization of Western Europe, largely through warfare, occupation, building of roads and missionizing, brought with it Latin in legal, intellectual and educational functions as well. The Islamization of North Africa and various parts of Asia, stretching rather continuously from the Atlantic through to Indonesia, has often provided a similar functional spread for Arabic, above and beyond its required use in prayer and Koranic study. The complete or partial Protestantization of Northern and parts of Central Europe was itself a by-product of the commercial, industrial and urbanization revolutions and a contributory cause of the recognition of the major vernaculars for all public and symbolic functions. Each case of language spread or functional elevation is simultaneously a case of social change, social dislocation and language shift in many socio-cultural functions, even before such shift occurs in religious functions per se. Non-textified and un mediated (spontaneous) functions may well be the first to change, but textified and ritualized functions follow behind, at a greater or lesser remove in time.

vii.       There are several reasons why multiple religious varieties may co-exist within the same religious community. One such reason is that social change is neither instantaneous nor evenly spread. Outlying (“peripheral”) areas, usually rural and relatively inaccessible, change more slowly and more piecemeal in all respects, including religion. They often act as a brake, restraining religious groups from across the board language shift. As a result, Aramization penetrated only partially into Jewish religious texts and services during the first five centuries of the Christian era (and several centuries before that era as well). Similarly, many immigrant-based churches pass through a bilingual phase, in which one language is used for one audience (the “youth services” or the services for “young-marrieds”, e.g.) and another for others. Such initially “special languages” may find their way into hymnals, sermons, “church” -sponsored outreach efforts, particular stage-of-life ceremonies (e.g., births, confirmations, marriages, comings of age, funerals) and, finally, even into the liturgy. With the passage of time what was originally considered “special” comes to be considered sociofunctionally natural and protected by (“haloized” by) tradition. In some cases, a functional reversal even occurs and the hitherto “special purposes” or “special audiences” varieties become the normal variety while the normal variety becomes the special (“sometimes”) one. The Greek Orthodox Church in the United States originally attempted to conduct its services in Katarevusa (the medieval “chancery” variety of Greek), as was the case in Greece itself. However, whereas in Greece the government and all reading and writing were in Katarevusa until past the middle of the 20th century, thus providing strong acquisition and reinforcement systems for Katarevusa in Church, no such auxiliary systems were available in the USA (or elsewhere in the Greek diaspora). Accordingly, as familiarity with Katarevusa waned, demotic Greek (“demotiki”) began to be introduced into Church services in the USA and, after a while, displaced Katarevusa almost entirely. Both the Greek churches and the Greek Church-schools in the USA were clearly demotiki-dominated well before this came to be the rule in Greece itself. Indeed, most recently the Greek Orthodox Church in the USA has received major assistance from the Church (and Government) in Greece for its efforts to continue operating in demotiki as English has come to the fore among the Church’s parishioners. Demotiki is now more haloized in the Greek diaspora (where Katarevusa has been well nigh lost sight of and forgotten) than it is “at home”. This strange turn of events is paralleled in certain other Orthodox churches of the diaspora, particularly those hailing from the Balkans, the Levant and the Caucuses, where the transitions and combinations of ecclesiastic holy tongues, their related and historically associated ethnic vernaculars and more  recently intrusive languages of extra-ethnic communication have both speeded up and increased in number. Nevertheless, these “nationality churches” find it extremely difficult to become entirely denationalized and equally open to all corners. Indeed, their status as churches functioning in co-sanctified languages, one of which is related to ethnoreligious origins, even if only vestigially (much like Hebrew in Reform Jewish services) seems to be destined for long-term continuation. Strangely enough, it is the international, interdenominational and interfaith status of English, which renders possible the intergenerational continuity of ethnoreligious repertoires that include vestigial ethnolinguistic varieties. Vestigial varieties also exist for legal and medical functions. In the West they involve Latin, the supraethnic variety of half a millennium to a millennium ago, when it had begun to lose its prior association with Christendom and begun its even longer prime association with esoteric literacy. The process of co-sanctification is particularly deserving of study because it provides con- temporary evidence of sanctification as an ongoing socioreligious experience. It is much more widespread than has usually been expected (Fishman 1997), going far beyond the confines of the West (or of English) and the modernization with which it is associated. It is also widespread within that half of the globe that rejects modernization but which, nevertheless, exports so many of its sons and daughters to diaspora communities throughout the West. It is there that their ethnoreligious linguistic repertoires undergo further expansion (viz., Islam via Arabic and English, rather than just Arabic and Urdu, Sikhism via Punjabi and English, rather than just Punjabi and Urdu, etc.).

viii.      The power and ubiquity of sanctified and co-sanctified languages exert a major conservative influence on the speed and direction of corpus planning and frequently serve as a counterweight to modernization emphases in the language planning arena. Even religions that spread as a by-product of the intrusion of Western power and the vernaculars associated with such power (e.g., Portuguese as a carrier of Catholicism into the interior of Brazil) ultimately produce texts that initially influence and reinforce a particular vernacular variety (be it of an indigenous or of a Western-linked language). Ironically, it is the dominance of this very variety of religion, which must be overcome if modernization is also to be pursued under secular auspices. Modernization implies increased interaction with the modern world via education, the print and non-print media, commerce, industry, sports contests and countless other secular pursuits. Such interaction may be conducted via foreign (i.e., already modernized) or via indigenous (not yet modernized) languages, with the influence of the former upon the latter becoming stronger with the passage of time. It is the variety of religion (which in most pre-modern settings includes the court and the scribes in addition to the priests and teachers) that frequently provides the only organized counterweight to the modernization of indigenous languages along foreign lines alone. The need for corpus planning is obvious if modernization is to proceed, but there is no corpus planning without an overt or covert status planning agenda. If a maximum of the tradition is to be preserved (albeit modernization is to continue) then corpus planning models will attempt to do so by fostering rationales of classicization, archaicization, Ausbau and sprachbund, all of them based upon notions of greater” authenticity”, “purity” and fidelity to the indigenous tradition (Fishman 2000). This feat of attaining modernization of the language but doing so along traditional lines is, of course, a difficult one to undertake, but it has been attempted in Turkey, China, Japan, Indonesia, Hindu and Dravidian India and several other, smaller, late-modernization settings. It was even the initial rationale of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, which expressed a decided preference for preserving the “true Oriental [=eastern] nature of the Hebrew language”, by devising neologisms utilizing Biblical and medieval Hebraic roots, or drawing upon Judeo-Aramaic, Arabic and other Semitic tongues, rather than upon the languages of Europe. Germany also long followed a similar “indigenist” bent during the 19th and the first half of the 20th century and influenced several neigh boring Slavic language planning movements along similar lines. In every case, the language of religion was a decidedly important source (although not the only one) for the corpus planning enterprise as a means of embracing the modern West and still keeping it at arm’s length. This is a neat trick if you can do it! An intrusive foreign language of religion has a somewhat similar but, nevertheless, weaker impact on indigenous language planning, even if the foreign language is also the vehicle of modernization. Since such languages (e.g., of Christianity or Islam) have usually already worked out a modus-vivendi with modernization, and since they are generally exonormative insofar as any lever- age that late-modernizers may have to influence them in any way, their greatest impact on language planning within the indigenous languages per se may be in connection with replacement of scripts and vis-à-vis the lexicons peculiar to power function interactions, rather than in connection with corpus planning more generally or corpus planning in the religious fold more specifically.

ix.        However, the languages and varieties of religious functions are not as eternally unchanging as their custodians often imply. Notwithstanding all of their conservatism and all of their impact on other more changeable varieties, the reverse direction of change also obtains. Constant efforts to “update” the variety of English in which the Bible is published are a case in point, the King James Version now having many competitors utilizing more “contemporary” varieties of English and their end is not in sight. To some extent such efforts are self-defeating, not only because language change will never cease as long as a language is alive, but also because the act of rendering mysteries more understandable also demystifies and desanctifies them. The latter experience fuels movements of return to “old fashion religion”, “the religion of our fathers and mothers” and, inevitably, movements that return to some or all of the former language(s) of religion per se. The impact of the cloistered lives of some clergy and of the increasingly secular lives of others (and of much of the laity as well, of course) upon their own preferences vis-à-vis language/variety of religion is, for both populations, often a powerful one indeed. But clergy frequently need and take instruction as to how to communicate with their flocks, although the flocks do not speak with one voice and are sometimes ambivalent and even change directions in language preferences! The growing fundamentalism of our age has produced noteworthy influences in connection with the perceived languages of religion. The Jewish fold has seen the rise of Yeshivish (Yiddish and Hebrew impacted English) in both modern and, particularly, in Ultra-Orthodox student circles. Baleytshuve (returnees to religion) assume that Yeshivish is a legitimate or even desired variety of people who take religion very seriously and they increasingly carry it over into their everyday lives, particularly with family and friends. Some educated speakers of the Queen’s English have learned to speak Yeshivish too, both to signal group membership as well as for metaphorical purposes. Non- Arabic speaking Moslems have been doing the same vis-à-vis the Arabization of their vernaculars, but at the same time Koranic Arabic is being semi-vernacularized for modern intellectual, econotechnical and supra-dialectal functions, both orally and even in print. On the other hand, Latin is being used for translations of “Whinny the Poo” and “The Cat in the Hat”, resulting in forms that neither Cicero nor the Vatican would find comprehensible. Neither written Sanscrit nor written Mandarin have escaped the modernization impact of Hindi or of Potinua upon recent religious publications of their respective classics. The growing modernization (and, therefore, secularization) of the Afro-Asian world cannot but produce similar result with respect to the varieties of religion within those regions. The impact of languages of secular modernization on the languages of religion in the former “Third World”, may never rival that which the Protestant revolution brought about in Europe, particularly if the compatmentalization of religious behavior is better maintained there than it was in Europe, but great changes (both in the direction of greater traditionalization, for some, and in the direction of greater modernization, for others ( as the Tamil case reveals) are predictable.

x.         Religious emphases ebb and flow and, as a result so do their religious varieties too, as well the impacts of these varieties on non-religious usage and the impact of non-religious usage upon them. In addition, different social groups within any speech community will differ from each other in all of these respects. Although it has not yet been studied, the Sanscrit of cloistered Sanscrit-speaking communities (there are such in India!) must differ from communities that use Sanscrit only for traditional religious purposes such as ritual, prayer or study (Shukla 2002). What is more, the impact of Sanscrit upon the Hindi used by these two types of communities must also differ (and sometimes in surprising directions). The modern Hebrew spoken by the Ultra-Orthodox in Israel to their less religious or non-religious compatriots may actually be more modern and less “pure” (more intermixed with Anglicisms, e.g.) than is the modern Hebrew of their interlocutors who are outside of the ultra-traditional fold. In this manner both “sides” signal group membership: the Ultra-Orthodox indicate that “real Hebrew” (= “the holy tongue”) is not to be profaned, while the less- or non-Orthodox indicate thereby that they are just as “good guys” as anyone else even though they are religious and wear yarmulkes. The expanding use of “Jewish English” among Reform Jews in New York City is a related attempt to become regular (rather than discrepant) members of the Jewish mainstream and to decisively set aside the hypercorrect English of some of their rabbis in an earlier era (and of some even now). The three communal varieties of Baghdadi Arabic (Jewish, Christian and Moslem) similarly signaled group membership (Blanc 1964), but the Jewish variety disappeared upon the resettlement of its speakers in Israel, because no “Jewish signal” was needed there, thereby robbing it of its main function. Similarly, the communal varieties of Bengali (Hindu and Moslem) first weakened with mutual secularization and then strengthened with the renewed outbreak of intergroup hostilities. The almost completely underground movement to revernacularize and modernize Geez and expand it functionally at least into within-group secular functions in home and community settings, corresponds to local Christian “resistance” to identity loss in a context of long-standing mainstream harassment in Egypt. The above examples all pertain to interactive religious sub-cultures, most of whose members have a repertoire of other varieties beyond the contrastive ones that have been mentioned. However, main streams also emphasize and de-emphasize religiously (or anti-religiously) tinged varieties in tandem with large-scale social change. Widespread anti-Ataturkism (=anti-secularism) in Turkey has reinstated a more tradition-anchored Turkish usage, just as anti-Shahism (=anti-secularism) in Iran has rejected the “excessive modernism” and “Americanisms” of the pre-Ayatollah regime. Resistance to and advocacy of either fundamentalism or modernization cannot but be reflected in the corpus of everyday speech. These reflections are socially patterned and it is the task of the sociology of language and religion to reveal both the linguistic patterns and the societal patterns that ubiquitously accompany one another.


Ten theoretical propositions, largely drawn from the sociology of language, have been proposed for the study of the sociology of language and religion. These propositions need to be fleshed out, modified, selectively abandoned or added to in order that a theoretically anchored and empirically supported sociology of language and religion can ultimately develop.



1. I will not pause to define either sociology, language or religion. To undertake to do so would be a daunting task. Rather, I will assume that all three terms will be understood, as “primitives”, in roughly similar ways by the average lay and scholarly reader. I hope to return to this task in the not to distant future and fully expect that, even thereafter, the behaviors, beliefs and values that are deigned to be “religious”, somewhere in the world’s speech communities, will be found to be much more diverse than any of us (myself included) are currently aware of.

2. I also want to avoid any discussion at this stage of the essentially perspectival nature of lay discussions of the “dialect”l”language” distinction. I will use the more neutral designation “variety” to refer to either or both of them.             \


Blanc, Haim. 1964. Communal Dialects in Baghdad. Cambridge, Harvard University Press. Bruce, Steve. 2002. God is Dead: Secularization in the West.. Oxford (UK), Blackwell. Durkheim, Emil. 1915. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Trans!. J. M. Swain. London, Alien & Unwin.

Fenn, Richard K., ed. 2001 Sociology of Religion. Oxford (UK), Blackwell. Ferguson, Charles A. 1959. Diglossia. Word. 15: 325-340.

Ferguson, Charles A. 1968. St. Stefen of Perm and applied linguistics, in J. A. Fishman, C. A.

Ferguson and J. Das Gupta, eds. Language Problems of Developing Nations. New York, Wiley,253-256.

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