Stylistic Variation within the Religious Register

Betty Fay Lanteigne

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.


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Session: Paper session
Religion / Language Rights
Friday, April 4, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 16