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1 - Indigenous Languages and the Origins of American Literary History

from Part I - Traces and Removals (Pre-1870s)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 September 2020

Melanie Benson Taylor
Dartmouth College, New Hampshire
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This chapter explores how European colonists in North America struggled to understand, translate, and interpret Native American languages by relying on indigenous interlocutors. European missionaries and indigenous people co-authored an extensive archive of texts in Wampanoag, Mi’kmaq, Mohawk, Abenaki, Illinois, Mahican, Cherokee, and Choctaw, to name just of few of the languages transliterated from the early seventeenth to the late nineteenth centuries. This chapter argues that within this archive language proves resilient, as native interlocutors established forms of rhetorical preservation despite this historical engine of cultural erasure. Moreover, this chapter demonstrates that indigenous and colonial linguistic knowledge exchange impacted the structure of European and Euro-American intellectual history as well as the rise of a national literary culture in the 1810s and 1820s. American letters emerged through a complex engagement with the legacies and aesthetic possibilities of indigenous words.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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