Edited by Ali H. Al-Hoorie
[Journal of Asian Pacific Communication 32:2] 2022
► pp. 236–253
Religion plays a pivotal role in some societies, but the interaction between language and religion as a sociolinguistic field of study has not fully been explored. The overlap between the two has recently been considered by Omoniyi and Fishman (2006). Many studies have been conducted regarding language use within institutional settings, such as schools, universities, workplaces and courtrooms. However, less attention has been paid to language use outside of these settings, such as within religious contexts, although mosques are viewed as institutional in nature. In particular, imams may switch between languages in their sermons in the mosque. To explore this phenomenon, a qualitative study was undertaken by means of simulated recall interviews and non-participant observation with imams (n = 10) and mosque audiences (n = 7) where the participants are of Asian pacific origins (Pakistan, India & Indonesia). The study reveals that employing more than one language in one-way religious speech is a means of increasing historical authenticity, exposing audiences to Arabic, overcoming a lack of easy equivalents in English, emphasizing religious authority, assuming audiences’ knowledge of some Arabic features, or accommodating the diverse backgrounds of the audience, some member of whom have knowledge of Arabic. This has been described as having spiritual, historical and emotional significance, invoking religious links associated between Arabic and Islam. Stakeholders, especially audiences, claim benefits beyond the language used in the sermons themselves. Imams, in addition, tend to see the use of both English and Arabic as socially and culturally salient, a means of uniting people in an otherwise often fractured world, or one frequently presented as such in the media.