Handout on

Religion and Language

LING 540, Language Policy,

H. Schiffman, Instructor

  1. Religion and Linguistic Domain

    Communities expect their children to learn some of this language, have schools or weekend classes. Fundamentalists: language (texts) is holy, sacred cannot be tampered with. Orthodox Jews object to Hebrew in Israel; Roman Caths. object to dropping Latin mass; fundamentalists objected to revised standard version of Bible (King James 1911 version is only one.)

    Institutional Context: language is somewhat divorced from home, playground, street. Institution has goals for its survival independent of goals of language maintenance. If choice between institution and language, the language is dropped.

  2. Language and Ethnicity.

  3. Problem of Ethnic-specific Churches. Some denominations are specific to the ethnicity: Greek Orth., Armenian Orth., Missouri Lutheran, etc. They could not substitute an Anglicized theology without losing a great deal of the theology. When there existed another comparable English-speaking theological counterpart (Catholics, German Methodists, etc.) it was easier to merge, language issue was less crucial.

  4. Religion and Isolation. Some groups left the Old World to isolate themselves from other theologies and from the corrupting influence of the secular world: Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish, Hassidic Jews, Black Muslims, etc. Ideology is millenial: truth has been revealed, believers have to have a correct relationship with the deity, keeping the faith until Armageddon, when they alone (having kept themselves pure) will be saved. No need for new ideas, great need to isolate themselves from other theologies. Language is

    These groups control intermarriage, reject higher education, may resist military service, etc.. Sometimes can maintain a Sprachinsel (language island) where a small territory is zoned off from other langs. May even have some effect on public schools.

  5. Parochial Schools. When there exists a `national' church (German, Scandinavian, Baltic Lutheran churches; Armenian, Greek, Russian, other Slavic Orthodox churches; Judaic groups requiring Hebrew, etc.) the body often feels need to establish schools so children can learn language of the church. Protestants feel particular need to have an active ability to read the Evangelos, not get the message second-hand from priesthood. Protestants began with the Reformation to insist on need for schooling, and special need in THEIR language, not some other. Gradual de-ethnicization of these bodies: northern European Lutherans de-ethnicized to a Scando-German Americanized body, now one large ELCA; only Missouri Lutherans remain separate.

  6. Other parts of the world.

Harold Schiffman
Wed Oct 08/97