Daily Archives: 18 January 2013

Native Language Evangelism in New England

From Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830, by John H. Elliott (Yale U. Press, 2006), Kindle Loc. 1407-1421:

Roger Williams, whose `soul’s desire’, as he wrote, was `to do the natives good’, published his A Key into the Language of America in 1643. In 1647 Governor Winthrop reported in his journal that the pastor of Roxbury, the Reverend John Eliot, had taken `great pains’ to learn Algonquian, `and in a few months could speak of the things of God, to their understanding’. At the same time Thomas Mayhew, who had settled on Martha’s Vineyard, achieved some important conversions and was acquiring proficiency in the native language. The 1640s, then, saw the beginning of a major effort, although small-scale by Spanish standards, to win the North American Indians to Christianity.

This effort benefited from the triumph of the parliamentarians in the English Civil War, which created a more favourable official climate in the home country for the support of Puritan missionary enterprise overseas. In 1649 the Rump Parliament approved the founding of a corporation, the Society for Propagation of the Gospel in New England, to promote the cause of the conversion of the Indians by organizing the collection and disbursement of funds. The enterprise was therefore dependent on voluntary contributions from the faithful – a reflection of the growing tendency in the English world to rely on private and corporate initiative and voluntary associations to undertake projects which in the Hispanic world came within the official ambit of church and state.

As in Spanish America the missionary effort supported by the Society involved the compilation of dictionaries and grammars, and the preparation of catechisms in the native languages. It also included something that did not figure on the Spanish agenda – the translation into a native Indian tongue of the Bible, a heroic enterprise completed by Eliot in 1659 and published in 1663. The fundamental importance of the written word to Protestantism strengthened the arguments for the schooling of Indians, and considerable effort – including the construction of an Indian College at Harvard in 1655 – was to be devoted to the teaching of Indian children. But the most spectacular, if not the most successful, feature of the New England missionary enterprise was the establishment of the `praying towns’ – the fourteen village communities set up by Eliot in Massachusetts for converted Indians. The practical purpose behind their foundation was similar to that which inspired the creation of the so-called reducciones in the Spanish colonial world from the mid-sixteenth century: it was easier to indoctrinate Indians and to shield them from the corrupting influences of the outside world if they were concentrated in large settlements, instead of living dispersed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, language, migration, North America, religion

Spanish Colonial Language Policies

From Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830, by John H. Elliott (Yale U. Press, 2006), Kindle Loc. 1598-1612:

Already the process of linguistic change was under way in New Spain, as Indians who moved into the cities picked up a working knowledge of Castilian, while Castilian words were simultaneously being incorporated into the Nahuatl vocabulary on a massive scale. Large numbers of the Indian vassals of the Spanish crown, however, either resisted the imposition of Castilian or remained to all intents and purposes outside its orbit, while many friars were inclined to ignore the crown’s decree. At the same time, creoles with indigenous nurses learnt in childhood the language of the conquered, and in the Yucatan peninsula, which had a high degree of linguistic unity before the conquest, the Maya language, rather than Castilian, became the lingua franca in the post-conquest era. The crown, for its part, was driven in particular by religious considerations to recognize realities. In 1578 Philip II decreed that no religious should be appointed to Indian benefices without some knowledge of the language, and two years later he set up chairs of indigenous languages in the universities of Lima and Mexico City, on the grounds that ‘knowledge of the general language of the Indians is essential for the explanation and teaching of Christian doctrine.’

The English, on finding themselves confronted by the linguistic barrier between themselves and the Indians, at first reacted much like the Spaniards. Indians showed little inclination to learn the language of the intruders, and initially it was the settlers who found themselves having to learn an alien tongue, both to communicate and to convert. Indians in areas of English settlement had less inducement than those in the more urbanized world of Spanish America to learn the language of the Europeans, although by degrees they found it convenient to have some of their number who could communicate in the language of the intruders. As the balance of forces tilted in favour of the settlers, however, so the pressures on the Indians to acquire some knowledge of English increased, until the colonists were securing promises from neighbouring tribes to learn the language as a requirement for submission to their rule. Here there was no question, as there was in Spanish America, of a policy of actively promoting, at least among a section of the colonial community, the learning of indigenous languages – a policy which had the concomitant, if unintended, effect of encouraging not only the survival but also the expansion of the major languages, especially Nahuatl, Maya and Quechua. The powerful impulse to Christianize that worked in favour of the toleration of linguistic diversity in Spain’s American possessions simply did not exist in British America.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, language, Latin America, Mexico, migration, religion, Spain

Origins of the Guarani–Spanish Alliance

From Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830, by John H. Elliott (Yale U. Press, 2006), Kindle Loc. 1580-1584:

Unique local circumstances made Paraguay an extreme example of the more general process that accompanied the colonization of Spanish America. The Guarani Indians needed the Spaniards as allies in their struggle to defend themselves against hostile neighbouring tribes. For their part, the Spaniards, moving inland from the newly founded port of Buenos Aires a thousand miles away, were too few in number to establish themselves without Guarani help. An alliance based on mutual necessity was sealed by the gift of Guarani women as wives, mistresses and servants. The continuing isolation of the settlement, and the almost total absence of Spanish women, led to the rapid creation of a unique mestizo society. Mestizo sons succeeded their fathers as encomenderos, and races and cultures mingled to a degree unparalleled elsewhere on the continent.’

Leave a comment

Filed under language, migration, military, Paraguay, Spain