To Pray or Not to Pray in English

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In the studies of American indigenous languages by linguistic anthropologists, there has been attention paid to the various attitudes that community members have toward the use of language in their communities. The analyses have focused on how language users regard tribal languages vis-à-vis non-tribal languages, such as English and Spanish, in different areas of life in the community. This paper seeks to shed light on how language ideologies play a role in shaping community members’ attitude toward their traditional and non-traditional languages when religious events are held. What language ideologies are at play, and what factors shaped them? What complexities and challenges have arisen in the use of traditional and non-traditional languages in religious ceremonies? In-depth interviews were conducted with three traditional language users belonging to three different indigenous communities in the United States. The results were examined to identify how certain language ideologies influence the ways that religious ceremonies are conducted and how they could affect language revitalization projects. I argue that religious ceremonies have become the site where conflicting views on language hold sway, and due to certain historical, sociological, and linguistic circumstances, crucial decisions have been made whether to use only tribal languages or a mixture of tribal and non-tribal languages in religious ceremonies. Both tribal and non-tribal languages have been used for sacred purposes in religious events, and this sheds light on how language use is dynamic and goes beyond the essentialist view on which proper language should be used in religious ceremonies.