Lists of words and expressions in translation from European languages to “savage” idioms – and sometimes viceversa – have been been a key feature of travel accounts since the earliest contacts between European travellers and American societies.
These vocabularies today tell us a lot about how European observers saw, represented, and interacted with their Amerindian interlocutors. Under a typographical organisation which usually suggests an objective registration of equivalences between different languages, these lists more often reflect trade jargons and pidgins, and inclusions and absences might reveal prejudices and curiosities that shaped the European explorers’ – and later colonial administrators’s – perspectives on the “New Indies” (as the telling quote in the title, from Jacques Sagard’s Grand Voyage du Pays des Hurons, 1632, suggests).
Preparing this paper for 2020 edition of Translating Cultures gave me the chance to focus on the linguistic issues connected with the conceptualisation of Amerindian societies in eighteenth-century European culture.
About Translating Cultures (from the official website): “Started in 2009 by Rolando Minuti and Antonella Romano as a joint seminar for History PhD students in the Dipartimento di studi storici e geografici (University of Florence) and the Department of History and Civilization (European University Institute), the workshop is now developing into an extended, permanent programme and a network of projects and initiatives that converge on the topic of cultural interaction”.