American University of Sharjah
A particular social variation of language use is that different registers are used for different social settings (Denison, 1997; Biber, 1995), and even within registers there are variations. Of specific interest to this study is the religious register, one aspect of which has been identified as preacher talk (Wright, 1977), sermonic discourse (Hillis, 1989; Dzameshie, 1995), and public address (Wuthnow, 1988; Szuchewycz, 1994). Trudgill (1995) and Beebe (1985) discuss stylistic variations that occur in response to social context changes, and within the religious register, it has been demonstrated that there is stylistic variation within individual religious services, Christian services in particular (Wright, 1977; Clark, 1977). In a more specific investigation of formal/informal stylistic manifestations, Levin and Garrett (1990) researched the use of left-, center-, and right-branching sentence structure and found that both left-branching and center-branching sentences occurred more frequently in formal speaking contexts and right-branching sentence structure was used more often in informal speaking contexts. This study investigated how different Christian churches vary in the degree of formality used by priests/ministers in their sermons, as evidenced by left-, center-, or right-branching sentence structure. Transcripts of seven Sunday morning sermons given by Caucasian male priests/ministers in Catholic, Episcopal, United Methodist, Wesleyan Methodist, and Assembly of God churches in Pennsylvania and Missouri and on a national broadcast were analyzed in terms of sentence branching structure, and it was found that the more formal the church setting, the more formal the sentence-branching structure.
Beebe, L.M. (1985). Reservations about the Labovian Paradigm of style shifting and its extension to the study of interlanguage. ERIC Document No. 268799.
Biber, D. (1995). Dimensions of register variation. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Denison, N. (1997). Language change in progress: Variation as it happens. In F. Coulmas (Ed.). The handbook of sociolinguistics (pp. 65-80). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Clark, T. D. (1977). An exploration of generic aspects of contemporary American Christian sermons. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 63 (4), 384-394.
Dzameshie, A. K. (1995). Social motivations for politeness behavior in Christian sermonic discourse. Anthropological Linguistics, 37 (2), 192-215.
Hillis, S. R. (1990). Rhetorical components within a model for preaching. Dissertation Abstracts International, 50 (11), 3413A.
Levin, H. & Garrett, P. (1990). Sentence structure and formality. Language in Society, 19, 511-520.
Szuchewycz, B. (1994). Evidentiality in ritual discourse: The social construction of religious meaning. Language in Society, 23, 389-410.
Trudgill, P. (1995). Sociolinguistics: An introduction to language and society. London: Penguin Books.
Wright, R. L. (1977). Language standards and communicative style in the black church. Dissertation Abstracts International, 37, 5797A.
Wuthnow, R. (1988). Religious discourse as public rhetoric. Communication Research, 15 (3), 318-38.
Session: Paper session
Religion / Language Rights
Friday, April 4, 2008, 15:45-17:15