Saturday, December 14, 2013

Mormonese...

This morning, while slowly waking up on a pleasant Saturday morning, I was reading posts on RfM and I happened to come across one post written by a missionary who is "out in the field" and having doubts.  He's looking for support, knowing that while his parents tell him he can choose whether or not to go on a mission, they mean that they can also choose whether or not to give him financial support.  On one level, I don't necessarily have a problem with this.

A healthy young adult has to strike out at some point.  You could say going on a mission is "striking out" in a manner of speaking, but after the mission comes real life.  On the other hand, I think that Mormon youth may have it worse than other young people.  Especially if they are expected to go on a mission and spread the gospel when they don't actually believe in the gospel themselves.  What's more, they probably spent their whole youth looking forward to the mission with no idea of what being on a mission actually means.  They may have saved money that they could use for college or even launching into adulthood and spent it on their mission.

Anyway, one thing that I notice from people still in the church is the way many of them tend to write.  Others have referred to it as "Mormonese".  They use a lot of church jargon and high-falutin' words that come off as affected and stilted.  I noticed this especially from the young man whose post I was reading this morning.  He wrote as if he was addressing church members, even going as far as addressing everyone as "Bro/Sis".

The young man describes his companion as being "spiritually injured", which is an interesting term.  I don't know if the guy came up with it himself or if that's a new church term.  He writes with a serious earnestness which seems odd in someone his age.  I would expect someone between 18-21 years old to sound more like someone that age… but he sounds like he's much older than he is.  He seems very depressed and aggrieved about being on a mission and the prospect of having to stick it out another year in the field.  Making matters worse is that he has an injury that requires surgery and he expects his parents will want him to hurry up, heal, and go back out to the mission and finish his required volunteer church work.

Aside from the fact that launching into adulthood is difficult enough without that kind of religious pressure, that poor guy apparently never considered that trying to get converts to a church you don't believe in yourself is very wrong.  Especially when it's a religion like Mormonism, which requires many people to make drastic lifestyle changes.  Someone brought that up and the young man realized how true it was.  Deciding to be LDS doesn't just affect one person… it's kind of like alcoholism.  When one person in a family is LDS, it affects everyone… at least if the people within the family system love and care about each other.

But what struck me most about this guy's sad posting is the way he wrote it.  It was written in the stilted style of church authorities, by someone who apparently no longer has the spark of individuality or his own unique voice.  He was using words and phrasing that seems unique to Mormonism… phrases such as, "I feel impressed", "I would be remiss", "I don't know where I'd be without the church", and "I've prayed about it".  Additionally, it seems like many Mormons write in passive voice, which results in language that comes off as stiff, formal, and awkward.  Passive voice also gives writing sort of an archaic feel, which I suppose impresses some people.  But it's not the most efficient way to get the point across, is it?  Maybe that's by design.  If it takes you longer to get the point, maybe more information will get past you because you'll stop trying to understand and you won't catch on so quickly that you're being given information that might upset you or cause you to doubt.

I don't know… I guess I was just surprised by how church language seemed to permeate this guy's posting.  Yes, I know that in the mission, you eat, sleep, and breathe Mormonism.  You don't read books, magazines, or newspapers that aren't church approved.  You don't listen to music that isn't church approved.  You don't watch TV.  So maybe it's natural that you'd write like a church official after a year in the field.  I get the feeling, though, that this is somewhat normal in the church.  Members have their own language and those who are indoctrinated use it to identify themselves.  They probably have no idea that to someone outside of the church, it looks odd.

The thing is, I notice that a lot of folks, even years outside of the mission experience, still write in that Mormonese style.  Not everyone does, of course.  I have read some outstanding writing by people who were once Mormon missionaries and have since published books.  In fact, I have often been impressed by the excellent taste in music and writing that a lot of exMormons have, which makes me think that there are people in the church who are similarly connected and talented.  And yet, I have read many articles by Mormon Internet writers who have that same, stilted, "Mormonese" style that comes off like it was written by a pompous old windbag.  

Maybe it's just a simple question of people emulating people in authority.  After all, you'd think that in order to be an authority, there must be something special about that person, right?  If you write like they do, maybe you'll seem like an authority too.  Never having been an actual church member, I can't really say for sure.  But as an outsider, I sure do notice the "Mormonese" language and all its idiosyncrasies. 

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