Making a genealogy of “American linguistics” with John Eliot’s Indian Grammar Begun (1666)
In the history of linguistics John Pickering (1777–1846) and Stephen Du Ponceau’s (1760–1844) decision to reedit and republish John Eliot’s (ca. 1604–1690) The Indian Grammar Begun is an important but underrecognized event. Eliot’s grammar was first published in 1666, but by the early 1800s had been mostly forgotten. Applying book history and critical discourse approaches, I argue the new 1822 edition assembled by Pickering and Du Ponceau was at the center of a newly emergent knowledge project aimed to establish an ‘American’ mode of comparative linguistics on the world intellectual stage. The grammatical analysis of Native American languages, especially Algonquin, and the critique of current European models and typologies of morphology and syntax, especially von Humboldt’s, were central to Pickering and Du Ponceau’s project. Du Ponceau may be “the father of American philology”, but he was not working alone nor did the concept of ‘Comparative Philology’ derive solely from Du Ponceau. Rather, Du Ponceau was the strategist for a more collaborative, organized approach based on the study of American Indian languages. The new edition of Eliot’s grammar reveals how Du Ponceau and Pickering were establishing an informal research network devoted to North American indigenous languages. The production and arrangement of their book depended on a broad, complex, and ultimately institutionally-supported network of scholars and amateur linguists. Their edition also shows how Du Ponceau and Pickering responded to the underlying ideological debate over “savage” languages with an emergent discourse grounded in Native American languages, ‘facts’, and ‘scientific’ linguistics.
Published online: 17 March 2020
Andresen, Julie Tetel
Blair, Ann M.
Du Ponceau, Peter Stephen
González Holguín, Diego
Goodman, Roy & Pierre Swiggers
Santo Tomás, Domingo de
Tooker, William Wallace
Unpublished. Grammaticalischer Aufsatz von der Delawar Sprache. MS Am 767 (6), Houghton Library, Harvard University.