Zanna Van Loon (KU Leuven) • How book history can contribute to Missionary Linguistics: the social materiality of early modern handwritten and printed missionary books on the indigenous languages of New Spain, Peru, and New France
As early as 1510, members of European religious orders travelled to the Americas to evangelize local indigenous populations. These missionaries all faced similar challenges when establishing contact: the language barrier presented an important obstacle to convert local indigenous peoples to the Christian faith. In order to teach the religious doctrine to groups of people unfamiliar with European culture and religion efficiently, missionaries did not impose European languages but, instead, learned local tongues. To facilitate their mission work and to help successors, missionaries codified their knowledge on these languages in linguistic tools (grammars, vocabularies and phrasebooks), and prepared devotional translations (including catechisms, sermons and confession manuals). This initiated an ever-developing process in which they produced texts containing knowledge on the large variety of indigenous languages spoken in the Americas. This lecture explores the conditions determining the physical making of missionary tools and how this process needs to be taken into account when studying the contents of these texts.