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The Social History of a Linguistic Learning Curve: French Missionaries and Amerindian Languages in New France

The Social History of a Linguistic Learning Curve: French Missionaries and Amerindian Languages in New France
73 Queens Park Crescent East, Northrop Frye Hall Room 205
Time: Mar 4th, 3:30 pm End: Mar 4th, 5:00 pm
Interest Categories: History (FAS), Historical Studies (UTM), Historical and Cultural Studies (UTSC), French and Linguistics (UTSC), French (FAS), 1500-1800
Talk by Paul Cohen, University of Toronto

The Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies presents:

The Social History of a Linguistic Learning Curve: French Missionaries and Amerindian Languages in New France

The linguistic apprenticeships of French missionaries studying Amerindian languages in North America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries followed a complex cultural trajectory, one that was shaped not only by the purely linguistic dimension of this task, but also by the social experience of language learning and the cultural dialogue it necessarily implied, and one that was itself the object of intense reflection by missionaries themselves. In particular, Jesuit priests, shaped by their rigorous philological and humanist education - one of the best in Europe -, their intense self-consciousness, their vigorous discipline, as well as their propensity for leaving written accounts of their own activities, offer a particularly interesting case with which to study the language encounter in the Americas. This talk proposes to trace the outlines of an ethnography of linguistic apprenticeship among French missionaries working and living among Amerindians. Prof. Cohen will unpack the linguistic experience of French Catholic clergy in their North American missions, focusing on three aspects in particular: 1. The social and cultural practices missionaries deployed to learn Amerindian languages; 2. The meanings which missionaries themselves assigned to this apprenticeship; 3. How the study of Amerindian tongues inspired some to call into question European linguistic cultures.

Paul Cohen is Associate Professor of History at the University of Toronto. After completing his Ph.D. at Princeton, he first taught at the Université Paris-8 (Vincennes-St Denis), before joining the University of Toronto in 2005. A historian of early modern France, he pursues research interests in a range of distinct areas: the formation of nation-states; the social history of languages; and early modern empire. His first book, Kingdom of Babel: The Making of a National Language in France, 1400-1815, is forthcoming with Cornell University Press. He is currently working on two book projects: a history of the mediation of linguistic difference in French North America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and a history of the linguistic cultures of the early modern maritime world. He has also published on issues of contemporary concern in France, including higher education in modern France, postwar state economic planning, and the history of food and wine. Cohen is currently the Director of the Centre for the Study of France and the Francophone World at the University of Toronto.

This event is free and open to all. Registration is not required. For further information, please contact the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies at (416) 585-4468.


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