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16. Language and Colonization


Subject Philosophy
History » Intellectual History

Place Americas » Central America, South America

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1700-1799

Key-Topics colonization, language

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405179799.2010.00017.x


Some years ago, I wrote an essay called “Translation and Identity” (2000) , in which I tackled the role that the Spanish language played during the conquest of the Americas. I pondered the fact that the arrival of the Iberian conquistadors forced a reconfiguration of almost every aspect of life in the New World: political, religious, sexual, military …; but I expressed dismay that another important aspect, language, was seldom contemplated in textbooks. What kind of verbal negotiation took place as conquistadors, explorers, missionaries, and other Iberians interacted with the native population? What was the reaction of the local population to the arrival of a foreign tongue whose cadence was unlike anything they had heard before in the Aztec and Incan empires? I also discussed the strategies used by interpreters such as Melchorejo and Julianillo, and by mistresses like Doña Marina, who functioned as cultural bridges between both civilizations. My essay concentrated on the campaign by Hernán Cortés in the capture of Tenochtitlán, narrated by, among others, Bernal Díaz del Castillo in his book The Conquest of New Spain . My intention now is to take my disquisition a step further, investigating the role that language played during the almost three centuries that constitute the colonial period in the region: from 1521, when the last of the Aztec rulers, Cuauthémoc, is tortured and ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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