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Research in Language and Religion: Approaches, Descriptions and the Advent of New Identities in Post-colonies

Research in Language and Religion: Approaches, Descriptions and the Advent of New Identities in Post-colonies

Publié le par Esther Demoulin (Source : Michel N. Ntedondjeu)

Research in Language and Religion : Approaches, Descriptions and the Advent of New Identities in Post-colonies


The themes surrounding language and religion colony are of recent in sociolinguistics and discourse analysis[1]. An overview of works that have been done in this field shows that it was only after the 1990s that sociolinguists truly became interested in linguistic practices within religious communities. The few sociolinguistic studies that have been carried out are mostly on the differentiation of linguistic modes specific to religion than in the manner in which the appropriation and selection of these modes function as a means of socialisation in communities. Authors who address the question of religious language in this way aim at seeing “in what ways language is [...] exploited for religious purposes” Juillard (1997) and how in return, religion impacts on the latter’s vocabulary, forms, its use and the representations that are formed. Papers on this topic consider religion as one of the variables taken into consideration to explain the sociolinguistic processes at work in communities whose members share the same religious belief. It is in this vein that Fishman et al (1966) research on the maintenance or displacement of languages in contact were carried out, considering religion as a variable just as family, school, work, etc. Similarly, works inspired by the research of Ominiyi and Fisman (2006) have shown that religious affiliation is a relevant linguistic factor that could be associated with differentiated language practices in complex sociolinguistic communities. In other words, this research tends to show that the social differentiation of language is legitimised by religious identity. In the African context or in other countries that were colonized, it has been proven that religion was identified as “a movement of resistance and opposition to colonial domination when people could not contest through more conventional political channels” (Samson 2017). Today, this type of concern, which no longer have the same intensity, is being replaced by linguistic problems in communities. Thus, based on the principle that “every speech act is identity-based, marking at the same time membership, setting the difference with others and embracing a set of values” (Yanaprasart 2009), among other questions, how identity is constructed in religious language practices? How is it preserved, valued, taught and disseminated in situations of multilingualism and mixing of distinct groups? How are social identities claims grounded in the field of language and religion?  Which language(s) for which religious community(ies) and why?  Can religious actors claim a bi-religious identity and according to which modality of language coexistence? All these concerns are still relevant today.

Other studies (Kouega, 2018, 2008; Afutedem, 2015; Abdallah Ly, 2009, etc.), have attempted to show how language usage in the religious domain is affected by the (socio)linguistic attitudes and representations of a given community. Long before, Darquennes and Vandenbussche (2011), used Spolsky's (2006, 2009) theoretical framework on the study of language and religion as well as the works of Ominiyi and Fisman (2006), showed that language and religion constitute a field of research in sociolinguistics. These authors have insisted on the fact that “the religious factor affects languages as well as usage, and contributes to social diversity at the lexical, discursive and stylistic levels” (Amedegnato, 2018; Diallo 2009), or as Tsofack (2010) wrote, to the constitution of “a variable personality, combining communication needs, mutual understanding and the construction of a regional identity”. However, there are not many studies on this situation, especially in the Francophone literature. This raises the question on how the concept “religion” is perceptible in the established practices of speakers in religious and non-religious communication. In other words, what glottopolitical actions does religion exert on language? What are the attitudes towards the languages of religion and the management of linguistic minorities? Is religion a factor of socio-linguistic exclusion or inclusion?
Far from the effects of religion on language, we observe that religions are currently practised in generalized contexts of plurilingualism, which not only lead to questions of language choice, but also of management and regulation of linguistic and cultural diversity. Recent research works by Ntedondjeu (2020 and 2022) have, among other considerations, shown how linguistic diversity, as a consequence of language contact in religion manifests itself in religious rites. Baimaga Gigla (2020) insisted on the socio-linguistic identification and correlation of languages used by the Muslim faithful in both macro and micro-structures of communication in Northern Cameroon. However, only the presence of languages in a divided environment with, on the one hand, languages used for religion and, on the other hand, languages used outside religion that create dynamic tensions between them. These tensions are further accentuated by the fact that the languages families, social communities, “communities of practice” and of the various groups to which believers belong are not necessarily those of their respective religions. As result, the question that arises is how will the switch and reswitching of actors and languages between these different poles of human activity or between sociolinguistic spheres with open borders be managed? What dynamic tensions are created as a result of the use of some languages in religion and not in families, let alone in other social spaces? What is the relationship between the languages families and those of religion and vice versa? What are the motivations for choosing languages in a situation of generalised plurilingualism and what are the consequences on the management of relationship between linguistic and cultural “sameness” and “otherness”, between the Here and the Elsewhere? Which languages for which religious rites? In which languages do we talk of God in post-colonies and why? Are there specific languages for certain rituals or for certain religions? If so, how can this be understood and what is the place of mother tongues or national languages in the evangelization process? Are these languages in conflict with foreign languages or simply in a functional partnership? Can we talk about language contacts or conflicts in the religious field? How are the diverse groups there structured linguistically? What are their language norms? Are there solidarities/disagreements within religious communities based on the languages used? Or are there solidarities/disagreements that arise in other social spaces on the basis of religion and language? What language usage enable religious communities to resist the invasion of modernism and competition from competing churches? What discourses on languages support these practices? In a word, what do religious actors do with languages and how are they significant for them, their communities and for their rites?

Beyond these concerns, some of which are still in progress, one of the major weaknesses of the work that has explored language in religion is that typically traditional religious practices (so-called pagan rites, tribal or traditional religions) have been little studied by sociolinguists, let alone by discourse analysts. Works in the field of intercultural studies, anthropology and sociology of religions have explored the interrelation, or better still, the cohabitation between pagan rites and classical religions (Christianity, Islam, etc.). Moreover, many ethnomusicologists (Tallotte, 2010 and Weinstein-Tagrina, 2007 for example) have studied the place of music and song in traditional rites. Nevertheless, the question of the languages used in these religions (rites, songs, speeches), which exist and are practised according to a certain period in post colonies, has, to our knowledge, hardly been the subject of (socio)linguistic studies. In order to fill this gap, it could be possible to look at the linguistic usage of their practitioners to see whether we are in the context of multilingualism, maintenance or change of languages in contact. Among other questions, we could ask how these religions are structured based on the actors, actions, the languages mobilised and the objectives pursued. In other words, how are languages used in the performance of these rites and how are they meaningful to those who perform them, given their relationship with others, their stories and their aspirations? Are the languages of these traditional religions same as those of a few decades ago? If they are practised in several languages, what could justify this? Is it the language profile or biography of the actors involved in their practices, or simply mutations related to social changes? Is it also because the younger generations do not master the initial languages of these religions and are more inclined towards the languages of the cities and foreign languages? These questions could contribute to this paper.

Finally, the theoretical and methodological questions raised by the study of language and religion are not the least important, given the disparity in the approaches. Whether it is the theory of language and religion proposed by Spolsky (2006, 2009), the structural-functional approach (Kouega, 2008, 2018), the variationist approaches inspired by Labov (1976) and Ekert (2012) or, the discourse analysis (Maingueneau 2009), the fact remains that they have not sufficiently accounted for what the study of language and religion could contribute to sociolinguistics in particular, and to language sciences in general. In turn, how could sociolinguistics and related disciplines (e.g. discourse analysis) be used to account for the language phenomena that occur in religious situations, especially when they involve plurilingual communities? What approaches and methods for analysing language phenomena in relation to religion or religious cultural practices and why? How can they be linked to the new communicative possibilities imposed by competitiveness, social networks and the Internet?

The study of language and religion thus raises problems that are as varied as in sociolinguistics in particular and human sciences in general. Despite the body of existing work, Amedegnato (2018) has recently insisted that religion is a “neglected variable in sociolinguistics”, that is not sufficiently taken into account like gender, age, geographical location or situation, and more. Amedegnato's comments are also justified by the fact that linguistic practices within religion (or religious communities) have so far been little investigated. Henceforth, the aim of this book is to question this poor relation between (socio)linguistics and discourse analysis, which is the stated ambition of this work, which intends to provide answers to the questions asked above and summarised here for information purposes.

1.    Theoretical and methodological foundations of the study of the relationship between language and religion
2.    Languages, identities and identity strategies within religious communities
3.    Religious practices, linguistic variation and glottopolitical actions on languages
4.    Discrimination and linguistic integration within religious communities
5.    Religion, management of linguistic minorities and translation problems (the place of translation)
6.    Languages and religions in times of crisis (health, political, security, etc.)
7.    Languages and religions in the media and social networks
8.    Multilingualism, language contact/conflict and code choice in places of prayer
9.    Construction of religious communities through languages and expression of diversity
10.      Stereotypes, attitudes and (socio)linguistic representations under the influence of religion
11.      The place of languages in religious choices / The place of religion on languages choices
12.   Effects of religion on language policies (family, associative, regional, national, etc.) and on literacy or educational processes
13.   Animist, pagan and tribal languages and religious practices
14.   Religious history, linguistic differentiation and migrant languages in communities
15.   History and development in the use of languages in places of worship (Judaeo-Christian, animist, etc.)
16.   Languages, religions, literatures and interculturality 

In addition to proposals from (socio)linguistics and discourse analysis, works in history, sociology, anthropology, etc., which address linguistic issues in religion are also accepted.
Articles[2] in French or English (12-17 pages and 6 key-words), and a brief bibliography of the author(s) (name, affiliation, e-mail) will be sent to: and 

Important dates:
·         Lunch of the Call: 1rst January 2023
·         Deadline for Submission of articles:  30 April 2023
·         Return of evaluated articles to the authors: from 30 March to 30 June 2023
·         Date of publication : December 2023

Coordinating Committe : 
Michel Narcisse Ntedondjeu (University of Buea)
Jean Paul Kouega (University of Yaoundé I)
Michelle Auzanneau (Université de Paris)

Scientific Committee :
Albert Jiatsa Jokeng (École Normale Supérieure de Maroua), Angéline Djoum Nkwescheu (University of Buea), B. Sala (University of Yaounde I), Bernard  B. Nankeu (Université de Maroua), Blaise Tsoualla (University of Buea), Bruno Maurer (University of Lausanne), Charles Teke (University of Buea), Edourad Mokoue (University of Buea), Emmanuel A. Ebongue (University of Buea), Esaïe Djomo (University of Dschang), Gigla François Baimada (University of Maroua), Gratien Atindogbé (University of Buea), J.J. Rousseau Tandia (University of Dschang), Jean Michel Eloy (University of Jules Verne -Picardie), Jean Paul Kouega (University of Yaoundé I), Joseph Ngangop (University of Dschang), Henry Kah (University of Buea), Ladislass Nzesse (University of Dschang), Leslie C. Moore (The Ohio State University), Miriam Ayafor (University of Yaoundé I), Martine Fandio-Ndawouo (University of Buea), Michelle Auzanneau (University of Paris), Mouhamed Abdallah Ly (UCAD- Sénégal), Ndile Roland (University of Buea), Blasius Chiatoh (University of Buea), Nol Alembong (University of Buea), Lionel Obadia (University of Lyon 2), Paul N. Mbangwana (University of Yaoundé I), Pierre Fandio (University of Buea), Pierre M. Abossolo (University of Ebolowa), Richard Ndongo (University of Buea), Robert M. Fotsing (University of Dschang), S. Mforteh (University of Yaoundé I), Eunice F. Fondze-Fombele (University of Buea), Valentin Feussi (University of Angers), Zachée Denis Bitja’a-Kody (University of Yaoundé I).

Reading Commitee :
Michel N. Ntedondjeu (University of Buea), Fogue Kuate Francis (University of Buea), Adeline Simo-Nguemkam (University of Buea), Blaise Ngandeu (University of Buea), Pierre Essengue (University of Buea), Clebert A. Njimeni Njiotang (École Normale Supérieure de Maroua), Gaston F. Kengue (University of Dschang), Omer Takam (University of  Buea), Anne Kameni W. (University of Buea), Arlette M. Afouodjio (University of Buea), Félicité T. Epongo (University of Buea), Flaubert Yanta (University of Buea), Valentin R. Nkouda (École Normale Supérieure de Maroua), Stéphane Peuleu Djoua (University of Maroua), Achille Zango (University of Bamenda), Laluh E. Ernest (University of Buea), Solanch Nayah Ndokuo (University of Buea), Nwaha Séverin (University of Buea), Jean Baptiste Ndjoh Olité (University of  Buea), Ernest D. Mvondo (University of  Buea), Samson Mengolo Mbel (University of Buea).

Références :
Abdallah Ly, Mouhamed 2009, Langues et religions au Sénégal. Une étude sociolinguistique des attitudes linguistiques, Thèse de doctorat en sciences du langage, Université de Montpellier 3.
Afutendem, L.N., 2015, « Language Choice in Christian Denominations in the Northwest Region of Cameroon », Nka’ Lumière : Revue Interdisciplinaire de la Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines, Université de Dschang, N°14, pp.75-91.
Amedegnato, O. S., 2018, « De la variable ‘religion’ en sociolinguistique », in Rivista semestrale di studi comparati e Ricerche Sulle Avanguardie, Solfanelli, p. 85-98.
Baimada Gigla, F., 2020, « The (Socio)linguistic Identities of Islam in Northern Cameroon », English Language Teaching and Linguistics Studies, Vol. 2, N° 2,
Darquennes, J. et Vandenbussche, W. 2011, « Language and religion as a sociolinguistic field of study: some introductory notes », in Sociolinguistica - International Yearbook of European Sociolinguistics / Internationales Jahrbuch für europäische Soziolinguistik, Lusebrink.
Diallo, A.T., 2009, « Religion et innovation lexicale en Afrique », in SudLangues, N°7, p.96-106.
Dialtuvaite, J., 2006, « The role of religion in language choice and identity among Lithuanian immigrants in Scotland»”, in Ominiyi, T and fishman, J. (éds), Exploration in the sociology of language and religion. Discourse approaches to politics, society and culture, John Benjamins Publishing Compagny, vol 20, p.79-85.
Ekert, P., 2012, “Tree waves of variation Study”, in Annual Review of Anthropology, p. 87-100
Fishman, J.A. et al., 1966, Language Loyalty in the United States. The Maintenance and Perpetuation of non-English Mother Tongues by American Ethnic and Religious Groups, The Hague, Mouton.
Fishman, J.A., 2006, « A Decalogue of basic theorical perspectives for sociology of language and religion », in Ominiyi, T. and Fishman, J.A, (eds), Exploration in the sociology of language and religion. Discourse approaches to politics, society and culture, John Benjamins Publishing Compagny, Vol 20, pp.13-25.
Haque, S., 2012, « Place des langues sacrées chez des immigrants indiens en Europe : quelles compétences, quels rôles et quels usages ? », Langage et société, Vol.4, N° 150, p.117-135.
Julliard, C., 1997 : « Religion », in Moreau, M.-L., Sociolinguistique - concepts de base, Mardaga, p.239-246.
Kouega, J. P, 2018, « Language Management in “International” Pentecostal Churches in Cameroon », Open Access Library Journal, No5, en ligne :
Kouega, J. P., 2008 « Language, religion and cosmopolitanism: language use in the Catholic Church in Yaoundé-Cameroon, International Journal of Multilingualism, N° 2, Vol 2, p. 44-58.
Labov, W., 1976, Sociolinguistique, Paris, Minuit.
Mainguenau, D., 2009, « Introduction. La difficile émergence d’une analyse du discours religieux », Langage et Société, vol 4, No 130, Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’homme, p.5-13.
Moore, L. C., 2015, “Change and variation in family religious language policy in a West African Muslim community”, in
Ndzotom Mbakop, 2021, “The Language of Evangelization in ‘Foreign’ Territories: The Case of Maroua, Cameroon”, The International Journal of Language and Cultural (TIJOLAC), Vol. 3, N° 2, p.29-45., URL:
Ntedondjeu, M. N., 2022, « Traduction, communication et diversité linguistique dans trois communautés de pratiques religieuses au Cameroun », Glottopol, No 36,
Ntedondjeu, M.N., 2020, Langue et religion : une étude sociolinguistique au sein de communautés religieuses camerounaises, Thèse de doctorat, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3. 
Samson, F., 2017, « Une anthropologie politique du religieux », Cahiers d’études africaines, N° 228, en ligne :
Spolsky, B., 2009, Language management. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Spolsky, B., 2006, « Introduction. Part II », in Omoniyi and Fishman (eds.), Explorations in the sociology of language and religion, Amsterdam, John Benjamins, pp. 4-9.
Tallotte, W., « Sans excès. Musique et émotion dans un culte śivaïte du pays tamoul », Cahiers d’ethnomusicologie [En ligne], 23 | 2010, mis en ligne le 10 décembre 2012, consulté le 01 octobre 2016, URL :
Tsofack, J-B, 2010, « Le français langue pluricentrique : des aspects dans quelques pratiques à l’Ouest-Cameroun », Le français en Afrique, No 25, p. 243-258.                                                                                        
Weinstein-Tagrina, Z, 2007, À propos du chant rituel tchouktche, Études/Inuit/Studies, 31 (1-2), 257–272.
Yanaprasart, P., 2009, « De la dynamique linguistique à la dynamique identitaire », Synergie, No 4, Chine, p. 119-131, en ligne :

 Consigne pour la soumission des articles / Guide of presentation of articles :
1) La première page doit comporter les informations suivantes :
- Titre de l’article en minuscules, corps 14, gras ;
- Nom et adresse de l’auteur ;
- Résumé en français et en anglais (de 100 à 200 mots) ;
- Mots-clés en français et en anglais (au maximum 6).
2) Taille des articles : 12 à 17 pages.
Police : Times New Roman, corps 12, interligne simple.
Intertitres : Taille 12, minuscules, gras.
Numérotation : chiffres arabes. Ex. : 1., 1.2. ; 2., 2.1. ; 2.1.1, etc.
Citations : Plus de 4 lignes : retrait de 0.5 cm à gauche et à droite sans guillemets, interligne simple, caractère normal, taille 11.
3) Notes : Numérotation consécutive du début à la fin de l’article.
4) Références : Appel de note dans le texte suivi immédiatement de (auteur, année : page).
Ex : (Diop, 1954 : 12).
5) Les photos, tableaux et figures sont numérotés en chiffres arabes. Ils sont titrés en haut et les références sont en bas.
6) Bibliographie
Par ordre alphabétique d’auteurs. Exemples :
a) Mandela Nelson, 2000, Le chemin de la liberté, Le Cap, Freedom Edition.
b) Taguem Fah G.L., 2007 « The War on Terror, the Chad-Cameroon Pipeline and the new Identity of the Lake Chad Basin», Journal of Contemporary African Studies, Vol. 25, Issue 1, (January 2007), pp.101-117.
c) Fishman Joshua A., 2006, « A Decalogue of basic theorical perspectives for sociology of language and religion », in Ominiyi, Topo and Fishman, Joshua A, (eds), Exploration in the sociology of language and religion. Discourse approaches to politics, society and culture, John Benjamins Publishing Compagny, Vol 20, pp.13-25.

 [1] In 2009, Maingueneau wrote that we are facing a “difficult emergence of religious discourse analysis”.
[2] See Guide of presentation of articles in page 8.