Rewritten rites: language and social relations in traditional and contemporary funerals

G Cook, Tony Walter

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39 Citations (SciVal)
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Despite their personal and social significance, life-course transition rituals (marking, for example, birth, marriage, death) have received scant attention in discourse analysis. Yet radical changes in them, including a growth in secular ceremonies, can provide insight into contemporary discourse and society. This article considers the case of funerals. By contrasting the openings of a traditional religious (Christian) funeral, an updated version of the same, and a secular alternative, it seeks to elucidate the nature of pragmatic, semantic and linguistic changes. The argument is that the most significant contrast is not between religious and secular, but between traditional and contemporary, with the latter being marked by the reduced authority of the celebrant, greater personalization and choice, euphemistic reference to death, less poetic language, and diminished ritual movement. The article concludes with discussion of possible connections between these dimensions of change, and of the extent to which contemporary funerals can be regarded as rituals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)365-391
Number of pages27
JournalDiscourse & Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2005


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