Linguistics and English Language

Language in context seminar

Speaker: Dr Benjamin Molineaux (University of Edinburgh)

Title: “…more copious and elegant than expected from an uncivilized people”: Admiration and othering in colonial descriptions of Mapudungun

Abstract: Mapudungun, the ancestral language of the Mapuche people, has a fairly robust historical record for a language of South America. This documentation, which begins at the turn of the seventeenth century, is overwhelmingly the work of Jesuit missionaries with diverse provenances from across Europe. A common thread in their descriptions is admiration at both structural features of the language and at the richness of the people’s linguistic practices. However, the missionaries struggled to reconcile these attitudes with their basic view of the Mapuche as intellectually, culturally and morally inferior to Europeans.

In this talk I examine how this pattern of admiration and othering is apparent in missionaries’ structural analyses of Mapudungun, but also how it bleeds into cultural attitudes, both then and now. My focus will be on the Mapuche in Chile, where the largest population with said ancestry live today; increasingly engaged in cultural and linguistic reclamations. I will conclude with a return to the matter of structural description of the language and how we can try and break the cycle of colonial othering, both in looking at the historical materials and in describing the language today.

Title quote:

“This language is much more copious and elegant, than could have been expected from an uncivilized people.” Fr. Thomas Falkner, 1774. A Description of Patagonia. Hereford: C. Pugh, p. 132.


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József Wells

Co-ordinators of LinC

Jun 10 2022 -

Language in context seminar

2022-06-10: “…more copious and elegant than expected from an uncivilized people”: Admiration and othering in colonial descriptions of Mapudungun

Online via link invitation