Christian suggestion

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Mon Nov 8 18:36:01 UTC 1999

a follow-up on the sociolinguistics of "christian"...

to those who identify as such, being christian is a highly
valued identity, hence one not easily extended to people
who are distant from you in matters of religious practice,
or for that matter, socially distant from you.  in this
respect, being christian is a lot like being white, and
we find the same kind of variation in the use of "white"
as a descriptor.

during the past century in the u.s., jews have become
"white" - and have gotten a kind of honorary christianity
as well, in references to "judeo-christian" values and
traditions - but arabs have not (at least not in folk
usage; the practices of official agencies like the census
bureau and the eoc are another matter).  in the same
period, the irish, italians, and spaniards-from/in-spain
have become "white" (despite their roman catholicism),
but latinos/hispanics/etc. have not (instead, their
differentness has been codified in the official terminology
of race).

local usages of "white" have shifted in ways similar to
local usages of "christian".  linda gordon's The Great
Arizona Orphan Abduction (reviewed by joann wypijewski
in the most recent Lingua Franca) reports a (to me)
bewildering variety of racial classifications in the
arizona of a hundred years ago.  for the purpose of
expelling the chinese from the mines, mexicans and anglos
were grouped together.  but then there were "white man's
camps" - the terminology of the time - which excluded
chinese, mexicans, southern and eastern europeans, but
not blacks; wypijewski provides this marvelous piece
of self-identification from gordon:
  James Young, a black man at the Contention mine
  in nearby Tombstone, remarked 'Si White and I were
  the first white men in Tombstone after Gird and
[note that one thing the residents of the white man's
camps would have shared was protestant christianity,
probably a rather narrow range of it; those excluded
were "wild", "savage", "backward", "heathen", etc.]

arnold (zwicky at

More information about the Ads-l mailing list