Penn Library

CULTURAL READINGS: Colonization & Print in the Americas

Missionaries and Indian Languages

Understanding and being understood required linguistic common ground. Missionaries studied and codified native languages in western forms that permitted them to be taught and assimilated by neophyte missionaries and, in some cases, by converts.
Trilingual catechism
In New Spain, the printing press played a fundamental part in the conversion effort. Missionary presses were active both in Lima and in Mexico City, where Molina produced a substantial dictionary in Nahuatl and Pareja printed a catechism for the Timucuans in Florida.
French Jesuits struggled to comprend and write the languages of Indians under their dominion, both in the Caribbean, and in Canada, as the Jesuit Relations testify. Some Indians adopted the written form of their language taught by Jesuits, as reports about the Montagnais suggest.
Jesuit Relation, 1641
John Eliot's Bible
The New England missionary effort also depended upon translation and printing. In the 1660s, John Eliot published a complete translation of the Bible in Massachusett, and a grammar of that language. In the 18th century, the British continued similar work among the Mohawks.
Mohawk primer

[See related essay on Indian languages by Daniel J. Slive]

Religion and Print

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Last update: Monday, 05-Oct-2015 00:01:50 EDT
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