LINGUIST List 6.481

Sat 01 Apr 1995

Sum: Language and Religion

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  1. "Dr. Ahmad Shehu Abdussalam", sum. Language and Religion

Message 1: sum. Language and Religion

Date: Thu, 30 Mar 1995 11:07:03 sum. Language and Religion
From: "Dr. Ahmad Shehu Abdussalam" <>
Subject: sum. Language and Religion

A couple of weeks ago, I sent out a query on classification of languages
according to religious belief of the speakers, such as Islamic language,
Christian language, etc. I received within a week to my posting valuable
responses and messages indicating special interest in the subject.

Since other responses are not coming I decided to send this summary. I am
sorry for sending it late due to my engagement out side my station.

Profound thanks to the following colleagues for their constructive
comments and suggestions as well as interest in this subject:

Eoin Shalloo (
William Armour (w.Armourunsw.EDU.AU)
Prof. zev bar-Lev (
Candace Rodman Zhang (00crzhang
David A. Good (
Daniel Hedrick (

My hypothesis is that it is possible to classify languages on religious
basis, considering religious components of the culture of language
community. It is observed that existing classifications are on racial,
regional, geographical and linguistic basis. Religious or cultural
classification might also be possible.

The notion "language" in this context will imply either linguistic
system underlying the shared spoken, written or signed behavior of a
whole community, or a particular variety or level of speech, writing or

Religious influence on mode of expression of a cultural group is easily
identified despite scarcity of relevant data on this. Religious
classification of linguistic system, on the other hand, is more
problematic. I wonder if cultural identification, religious inclination
and religious communal memory all together can help in this regard.

This classification will surely cut across all sorts of other linguistic
classifications, as prof. Zev bar-lev saw it. It will also lead to
discrimination between linguistic systems of expression of some communities
and consequently lead to classification of language variety or dialect.

(Mike) observed that there is ample evidence that the views on language
of a given culture are reflected in both their religious beliefs and
philosophical positions. This is especially noticeable in the epistemology
and ontology of religious view.

Eoin Shalloo provided examples in Irish where religious figures play an
important role in language use in normal dialogue and social interaction.

William Armour connected classification of languages on religious beliefs
of the speakers with the influence of the beliefs of the people on both
oral and written text. The belief system created by the people is
directly influenced by the context of culture in which they live and
communicate. This situation will bring out references to God and other
religious references when there is is a need for it, something that
features in Arabic and English. He referred to M.A.K. Halliday's work.

Prof. Zev bar-lev opined that any religious classification would
cut across all sorts of other linguistic classifications and might offend
linguists as well as speakers of a language who might hold different
religious beliefs. To him major connections found in the history of
languages with specific religions are not in central aspects of languages
(grammar, core lexicon) but at peripheral level (most especially in
specialized lexicon). He queried: "Why would one classify languages as if
they emerge from religions, where historically religions emerge within a
particular language context?"

Candace Rodman Zhang related the topic (language and religion) to his
work on language use in the religious society of friends.

Above responses provided valuable guide on the subject. The points raised
will be considered in modifying my hypothesis. Comments on this summary
might even generate more ideas.

My regards to all.

Thank you.


Ahmad Shehu Abdussalam
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