Tongues of Fire: Language and Evangelization in Colonial Mexico

ISBN : 9780190884109

Nancy Farriss
416 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Dec 2018
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In Tongues of Fire, Nancy Farriss investigates the role of language and translation in the creation of Mexican Christianity during the first centuries of colonial rule. Spanish missionaries collaborated with indigenous intellectuals to communicate the gospel in dozens of unfamiliar local languages that had previously lacked grammars, dictionaries, or alphabetic script. The major challenge to translators, more serious than the absence of written aids or the great diversity of languages and their phonetic and syntactical complexity, was the vast cultural difference between the two worlds. The lexical gaps that frustrated the search for equivalence in conveying fundamental Christian doctrines derived from cultural gaps that separated European experiences and concepts from those of the Indians. Farriss shows that the dialogue arising from these efforts produced a new, culturally hybrid form of Christianity that had be.come firmly established by the end of the 17th century. The study focuses on the Otomangue languages of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, especially Zapotec, and relates their role within the Dominican program of evangelization to the larger context of cultural contact in post-conquest Mesoamerica. Fine-grained analysis of translated texts reveals the rhetorical strategies of missionary discourse. Spotlighting the importance of the native elites in shaping what emerged as a new form of Christianity, Farriss shows how their participation as translators and parish administrators helped to make evangelization an indigenous enterprise, and the new Mexican church an indigenous one.


Part One. Language Contact and Language Policy
Chapter One. Signs and Gestures
Chapter Two. Interpreters
Chapter Three. Confusion of Tongues
Part Two. Evangelization in the Vernacular
Chapter Four. Language Barriers under Siege
Chapter Five. Speaking the Word of God
Part Three. The Means and the Message
Chapter Six. Catechists and Catechism
Chapter Seven. The Word of God
Part Four. Lost and Found in Translation
Chapter Eight. The Problem of Meaning
Chapter Nine. Adoptions and Adaptations
Chapter Ten. The Art of Persuasion
Conclusion. Doctrinal Legacies
Chapter Eleven. Continuity and Convergence

About the author: 

Nancy Farriss has dedicated a half century to studying the history of the church in Mexico and the history and religion of the indigenous populations of Yucatan and Oaxaca. She is currently retired from teaching colonial Latin American History and Ethnohistory at the University of Pennsylvania and divides her residence between Philadelphia and Oaxaca.

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