Sarah Rivett

Savage Sounds and Missionary Linguistics in Seventeenth-Century North America

This talk examines one of the more prolific periods of missionary linguistics in seventeenth-century North America.  I argue that the practice of missionary linguistics arises out of a fragmented theological and philosophical context in which transatlantic ideas about language splinter into a variety of mystical ideas as well as emergent proto-Enlightenment notions of a separation between human words and divine knowledge. Missionary encounters in the New World become language laboratories of a sort, where we see the confluence of as well as epistemic ruptures engendered by these disparate ideas about the significance of words, particularly in the work of John Eliot and Chrétien Le Clercq.