Unscripted America: Indigenous Languages and the Origins of a Literary Nation

ISBN : 9780190492564

Sarah Rivett
336 ページ
156 x 235 mm
Oxford Studies in American Literary History

In 1664, French Jesuit Louis Nicolas arrived in Quebec. Upon first hearing Ojibwe, Nicolas observed that he had encountered the most barbaric language in the world—but after listening to and studying approximately fifteen Algonquian languages over a ten-year period, he wrote that he had "discovered all of the secrets of the most beautiful languages in the universe."

Unscripted America is a study of how colonists in North America struggled to understand, translate, and interpret Native American languages, and the significance of these languages for theological and cosmological issues such as the origins of Amerindian populations, their relationship to Eurasian and Biblical peoples, and the origins of language itself. Through a close analysis of previously overlooked texts, Unscripted America places American Indian languages within transatlantic intellectual history, while also demonstrating how American letters emerged in the 1810s through 1830s via a complex and hitherto unexplored engagement with the legacies and aesthetic possibilities of indigenous words.

Unscripted America contends that what scholars have more traditionally understood through the Romantic ideology of the noble savage, a vessel of antiquity among dying populations, was in fact a palimpsest of still-living indigenous populations whose presence in American literature remains traceable through words. By examining the foundation of the literary nation through language, writing, and literacy, Unscripted America revisits common conceptions regarding "early america" and its origins to demonstrate how the understanding of America developed out of a steadfast connection to American Indians, both past and present.


1. The 'Savage Sounds' of Christian Translation: How Missionaries Confronted the Limits of Universalism in Early America
2. Learning to Write Algonquian Letters: The Indigenous Place of Language Philosophy in the Seventeenth-Century Atlantic World
3. Local Linguistics and Indigenous Cosmologies of the Early Eighteenth Century Atlantic World
4. Imperial Millennialism and the Battle for American Indian Souls
5. The Nature of Indian Words in the Rise of Anglo-American Nativism
6. Franco-Catholic Communication and Indian Alliance in the Seven Years War
7. Unruly Empiricisms and Linguistic Sovereignty in Thomas Jefferson's Indian Vocabulary Project
8. Indigenous Metaphors and the Philosophy of History in Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales
Coda: Remembered Forms of a Literary Nation


Sarah Rivett is Associate Professor of English at Princeton University and the author of The Science of the Soul in Colonial New England (UNC Press, 2011), which won the Brewer Prize of the American Society of Church History.