Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on ReligionInstitute for Studies of Relgion
IJRR :: 2022 Volume 18 :: Article 8
2022 Volume 18, Article 8
A ‘Sanctified’ Language: A Sociolinguistic Study of the Perception of Latin and its Role in the Mass for American Catholics

Author: David Johnson, Ph.D. (Kennesaw State University) and Jennifer Priestley, Ph.D. (Kennesaw State University)

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The perception of Latin as the “best” language has a long history in the West and in the United States. Many Americans view Latin as more logical and more grammatical than English. Other Americans view the study and use of Latin as elitist. When religious convictions are added to linguistic views of Latin, attitudes towards Latin take on a spiritual, and thus more spirited, edge. The present study examines sociolinguistic views about Latin’s status in the religious context of the Catholic Mass. Through a large-scale online survey, the authors examine how Latin as a language and its use in the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) are viewed by Catholics. Both quantitative and qualitative data reveal that a positive sociolinguistic view of Latin plays a role in some American Catholics’ affinity for the TLM. Proponents of the TLM support this form of the Mass primarily for religious reasons, but positive views of the Latin language undergird their support. American Catholics who prefer Mass in the vernacular often do so because they view Latin as an impediment to comprehension and participation in the Mass. In addition, they view the use of Latin as elitist and divisive, particular in the current religious climate. The data show a sharp religious divide between “conservative” and “progressive” American Catholics about the question of the use of Latin in Catholic Masses, which present a dilemma for religious leaders in establishing language policy for Masses.

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