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Christianese: A sociolinguistic analysis of the evangelical Christian dialect of American English

Leiter, Sarah Ilana (2013)
Honors Thesis (114 pages)
Committee Chair / Thesis Adviser: Hary, Benjamin
Committee Members: McGraw, Dee (Dana Beth) ; Tamasi, Susan L
Research Fields: Language, Linguisitcs; Religion, General
Keywords: English; Sociolinguistics; Christianese; evangelical; language; Religiolect; Religiolinguistics
Program: College Honors Program, Linguistics
Permanent url: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/d6msv

Abstract

Evangelical Protestants in the American South refer to their variety of English as "Christianese." Although speakers recognize Christianese as distinct from Standard English, little formal research has thus far been conducted on the subject. Through sociolinguistic analysis, this paper argues that Christianese is, in fact, a dialect and that speakers' use of Christianese effectively constructs and maintains a collective identity.

In the first chapter of this paper, the intersections between religion and language are explored, and Christianese is classified as a religiolect. In the second chapter, Christianese items taken from various evangelical websites are analyzed for their linguistic implications. Specifically, these terms and phrases indicate that metaphor, allusions to biblical passages, semantic shift, preservation of archaic language, and personification of God are all distinguishing features of the religiolect. The third chapter discusses the results of a survey on Christianese use and religious affiliation. In chapter four, the ways in which Christianese constructs a communal identity are studied in depth. In chapter five, dating profiles of evangelical individuals on ChristianMingle.com are analyzed for their Christianese articulations of gender roles. Recurring themes on the site include scripturally derived expectations of male leadership and female submission in marriage.

As revealed through analysis of the aforementioned data, Christianese speakers use their dialect to effectively erect an exclusive boundary between themselves and non-speakers. This paper thus explores the role of the religiolect and its linguistic attributes in forming and affirming the collective identity of Christianese speakers.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Intersections of Language, Religion, and Identity......................1

Chapter Two: What is Christianese?............................................................14

Chapter Three: Survey on the Use of Christianese Features............................36

Chapter Four: Insiders and Outsiders...........................................................52

Chapter Five: Gender Roles in Christianese...................................................66

Towards Future Research...........................................................................85

Appendix A: A Selection of Christianese Features..........................................88

Appendix B: Glossary of Christianese Terms.................................................89

Appendix C: Survey on Christianese and Religious Affiliation...........................92

Appendix D: Demographics of Survey Participants.........................................100

Appendix E: Excerpts from ChristianMingle.com User Profiles..........................101

Works Cited.............................................................................................104

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