American English in a global church

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Recently, Church News staff writer, R. Scott Lloyd, wrote an article about correcting some inaccuracies in the gospel vernacular. Here are a couple of examples that stuck out to me:

Incorrect: high councilman, high counselor
Correct: high councilor

Incorrect: bishop’s councilor
Correct: bishop’s counselor

I’m not going to say he was incorrect in his corrections, but they are both American English. For example, in Canada (and presumable many other Commonwealth nations), they would be high councillor and bishop’s counsellor.

Like I said, I’m not going to go so far as to say he was wrong, but would it hurt to at least have a disclaimer stating what follows is based on American English usage?

After all, Americans are in the minority in the Church now.

35 thoughts on “American English in a global church

  1. he also used ‘apostatize’ whereas we (being another Commonwealth country!) would use ‘apostatise’, that old ‘substituting z for s’ thing.

    And I’m with you on the examples you gave.

    Time to relaunch the Deseret Alphabet?

  2. You’re probably right, but we don’t issue the signs for the doors in the meetinghouses. If we did, your library would be the Materials Centre. :)

  3. I used to annoy friends in Salt Lake by referring to the shopping centre (haha) as *Zed*See-Em-Eye. LOL

  4. Why should a writer publishing in a US publication have to issue disclaimers that he’s using US English? I’m sure you’re all intelligent enough to know that. The Church News is published in the United States. It does, and absolutely should, use the rules of English that apply there.

    1. Because he is trying to tell Latter-day Saints how to speak. Since he didn’t qualify that he was speaking to only American members of the Church, the reader can only assume he is referring to all members.

  5. I don’t mind the US spellings. Any professional writer uses a style manual of some kind or other. They are arbitrary but ensure uniformity. Many Canadians are so awash in US cultural imperialism that they no longer recognize the differences in spelling.

    I can’t wait until the official discourse of the church is in Spanish or Chinese.

  6. Actually, several years ago, I had posted on a mailing list asking subscribers what they thought of the idea of the Church one day being governed in Spanish. Spanish is rapidly advancing on English as the most widely-spoken language in the Church, and that is just for native speakers.

  7. It’s interesting that it’s an article called “English in a Global Church”….assuming that all English is the same as American English…but then again, I’ve grown used to that kind of thinking with Americans (What??? There’s another way besides OUR way?? No way!)

  8. I just wish that counselor and councilor were spelled the same. I have a tough time keeping them straight (or was that strait?)

  9. Language (and spelling!) is a part of culture. Though not as strongly as it used to be, the church is very much engaged in cultural imperialism. I wouldn’t expect allowances for or recognition of different ways of spelling.

  10. But isn’t that the point?? The American culture is actually the minority in this church…yet somehow the American spelling is the standard (I’ll leave culture out…I think culture is blowing it out of proportion).

  11. Why do you let this angst about spelling get you down? When I read a book by a British author I don’t mind British spelling or punctuation. I would be annoyed if the spelling varied from article to article in a magazine.

    It would be more than annoying if English was not my first language, which may well be the case with many people from Latin America who are probably much more familiar with American spelling.

    I strongly suspect that American English will be benignly dominant in the church for a long, long time. The church does more with Spanish all the time, but that does not mean American English will disappear any time soon.

    Please don’t let it get you down.

  12. When I read a church publication that’s published in England, I don’t get upset with the authors or publishers for using British spelling and expecting me, an American, to read it. I can’t understand why you would be upset with this article, published in the United States, for using the American spellings.

    I suppose he could have put in a chart showing the various alternative spellings for the words he was talking about, with a column for each country–New Zealand, Australia, UK, Canada, and on and on. But that seems a bit excessive, doesn’t it? If you’re reading this article and you see that the author is making a distinction between counselors and councilors, then surely you have the good sense to understand that he’s talking about the distinction between counsellors and councillors. I’m sure you don’t need a “disclaimer” or any other form of pandering.

  13. I think you’re missing the point. It’s okay if we accept that this is an American church. I would think most people would shrink away from that thought. It’s supposed to be a global church….so to publish articles on the right way (i.e. the American way) in a GLOBAL church….doens’t equate.

    It was published in The Church News – something that people around the WORLD subscribe to.

    It’s pretty standard for Americans though. Many don’t understand the frustration people feel regarding these kinds of attitudes. My family worked in the travel industry for years. The number of times I heard comments similar to: “I can’t believe you speak English so well here and yet have no allegiance to the American flag” made me want to dump a few Americans in the nearest lake.

  14. Dawn,

    I must respectfully disagree with you. This sounds more like knee-jerk anti-americanism to me. Can’t you please give it a rest? The vast majority of english speakers in the church are American. That is not likely to change. Sorry.

  15. Dawn: The article is about the difference between two words: Counselor and councilor. Unless he wants to go to absurd extremes, he’s going to publish in only one kind of English, not try to cover the spelling nuances in each English-speaking country of the world. He has to choose which kind of English to publish in, and trust in the good sense of English-speaking readers that use a different version to understand that this applies to their own version as well. Now, if he’s publishing in the United States of America, then it makes the most sense to write in the English that is current in that country. No matter how many people subscribe to the Church News in other countries, it’s published in one country, and the most obviously sensible thing for the Church News to do is use the English of the country where it’s published. If it were published in England, it would only make sense for English English to be used, as it is in the numerous brochures, programs and other publications the Church produces there. (Yes, Kim, the Church publishes things here in England. I read them all the time. For example, some of the missionary materials handed out here are specific to the UK, as are informational pamphlets about the temple in London. There’s also a UK-specific web site. You can look at it, but be warned!!! It uses English spellings, so someone may be offended.)

    One of the funniest things about this is that there’s not a single person from the UK or from Canada or any other country that had trouble understanding the article, or how to apply it in your own versions of the English language. You understood perfectly well that the distinction between “counselor” and councilor” would mean the difference between “counsellor” and “councillor” in your country. Yet you’re still choosing to be offended because the editors of a weekly paper use the English of the country where they publish.

    Here’s something even worse: There’s no distinction between “counselor” and “councilor” in French. They’re both “conseiller.” Does this mean the whole French-speaking population of Canada has been dissed?

  16. With regard to comment 19: You’ll have to take this with a grain of salt because it’s Wikipedia, but here are some Church population statistics indicating about 6 million members in the USA, about 140,000 in the UK, about 180,000 in Canada, about 100,000 in New Zealand, 125,000 in Australia, and a smattering of much smaller numbers in other English-speaking countries. If this info is at all accurate, I’d say Tom D’s intuition is correct.

    1. All that shows is the majority of members who live in English-speaking countries live in the United States. That does not take into account members who live in non-English-speaking countries and who speak English.

  17. Kim Siever said:

    Do you have a source, Tom, that shows the vast majority of members of the Church who speak English are American?

    This is like asking if someone who states that most apples in the grocery story are red has a source to back it up. You could do the research and find the numbers, but it’s actually pretty obvious to anyone who has been paying attention to the demographics of the church over the past several decades.

  18. Well, Kim, don’t you think the numbers of English-speaking members in non-English speaking countries are most likely to be quite minor compared with those in English-speaking countries? I don’t think we need any more than common sense to tell us that.

    I’d like to offer two clarifications for things I’ve written: First, I didn’t mean to say “the article” is about the distinction between two words; it’s really only one line of the article that’s about those words. Second, I didn’t mean that “there’s not a single person” who had trouble understanding, since of course, I can’t know that. What I meant, and what I should have written, is that no one who’s commenting on this ‘blog appears to have had any trouble understanding.

    1. don’t you think the numbers of English-speaking members in non-English speaking countries are most likely to be quite minor compared with those in English-speaking countries?

      It doesn’t matter what I think, ltbugaf. I’m not the one making the claim. Tom claimed that the vast majority of English speakers in the church are American, and I simply want to know how he knows this. For that matter, common sense doesn’t answer this question either.

  19. It’s hard to believe, though, that there could be enough English-speaking Mormons in non-English speaking countries to outweigh the nearly six million members in the USA, when the total membership of the Church is only around 13 million. In a vacuum of pure logic, I suppose you have a point, but I don’t see why we should ignore everything that our everyday knowledge and experience tell us. If that’s what you prefer, though, have fun.

    1. Get offended all you want, ltbugaf, but I don’t see why you are so hung up on an argument based solely on assumption and speculation. Besides, how does my asking for a source for Tom’s claim ignore everyday knowledge and experience? I’m not saying Tom is wrong after all.

  20. Kim, what makes you think I’m offended? I haven’t expressed any offense, and I’m not offended. I’m also not “hung up.” All I say is that reliable common knowledge and common sense are enough to tell us that most of the English-speaking Mormons in the world are concentrated in the English-speaking countries of the world. You’re free to question that all you want, and it won’t offend me, or give me any hangups, even if I think it’s a bit silly.

  21. Kim,

    If you want hard data, I recommend getting a copy of the 2010 Deseret News Church Almanac.

    I’m afraid that I don’t have a copy myself, but I am fairly sure that my assertions are correct. My conservative review of the Wikipedia entry on LDS membership statistics suggests this possible breakdown of potential English usage:

    8,776,040 American English spoken natively or taught

    (United States 5,974,041; Mexico 1,158,236; Philippines 614,585; Guatemala 215,186; Honduras 131,098; Japan 123,225; Dominican Republic 110,036; El Salvador 102,043; South Korea 81,251; Nicaragua 63,964; Taiwan 49,054; Panama 43,703; Costa Rica 36,666; Puerto Rico 20,064; Russia 19,946; American Samoa 14,740; Ukraine 10,557; Liberia 5,093; Guam 1,874; Virgin Islands (US) 543; Kazakhstan 135)

    805,270 British English spoken natively or taught

    (United Kingdom 183,672; Canada 177,600; Australia 123,650; New Zealand 99,488; Nigeria 88,734; South Africa 48,112; Hong Kong 23,223; Zimbabwe 17,241; Kenya 8,416; India 7,576; Jamaica 5,990; Malaysia 5,646; Belize 3,430; Singapore 2,890; Ireland 2,772; Sri Lanka 1,277; Swaziland 1,132; Bahamas 810; Barbados 696; Lesotho 606; Namibia 562; Aruba 458; Saint Vincent 427; Antigua and Barbuda 181; Saint Kitts and Nevis 162; Cayman Islands 145; Malta 132; Bermuda 126; British Virgin Islands 111; Falkland Islands 5)

    3,278,395 Unknown English taught in South America

    (Brazil 1,060,556; Chile 554,749; Peru 462,353; Argentina 371,885; Ecuador 185,663; Colombia 163,764; Bolivia 163,119; Venezuela 144,089; Uruguay 92,117; Paraguay 74,802; Guyana 3,935; Suriname 1,057; French Guiana 306)

    189,826 Unknown English taught in South Pacific

    (Samoa 67,120; Tonga 54,672; French Polynesia (Tahiti) 21,567; Fiji 15,242; Kiribati 13,475; Marshall Islands 4,476; Micronesia 3,841; Vanuatu 3,783; New Caledonia 1,883; Cook Islands (Rarotonga) 1,834; Northern Mariana Islands 757; Palau 423; Niue 268; Solomon Islands 246; Tuvalu Islands 131; Nauru 108)

    650,069 Unknown English taught in Europe & Asia

    (many, many countries)


  22. Thanks for the update, Tom. I appreciate your clarifying your previous statement of “the vast majority of english speakers in the church are American” as being simply possible and potential.

  23. I honestly don’t understand what you mean when you say this his assertion–borne out by the data he’s provided–is “simply possible and potential.”

    However, even if the statement were–somehow, miraculously–untrue, it wouldn’t really be relevant to the question of whether the article should use American English. An American publication should publish in American English, irrespective of who reads it. The same is true for a Canadian publication.

  24. Language (and spelling!) is a part of culture. Though not as strongly as it used to be, the church is very much engaged in cultural imperialism. I wouldn’t expect allowances for or recognition of different ways of spelling.

  25. I’m only now seeing this, more than four years after publication of my article. But I can’t resist making a comment. Even though I was (and still am) a Church News staff writer, the article in question was, in fact, published in “Mormon Times,” which is a section of the Deseret News, and is very much an American publication and does not (yet) have a global circulation (except on the Internet of course).
    Now, it will be interesting to see if this response gets posted after this much time has passed!
    — Scott Lloyd

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