[Historiographia Linguistica 42:2/3] 2015
► pp. 211–232
On the Linguistic Ideas Underlying the Work of 16th-Century Mesoamerican Missionaries
The purpose of these pages is to present the set of ideas regarding language and languages on which the work of the linguist missionaries was based. A corpus of works written in Mesoamerica, most of them in the 16th century, was selected, and authors and works of the Nahuatl, Purépecha and Zapotec linguistic traditions are examined. For the analysis of the texts, a historiographic approach was used that emphasizes the importance of the agent (the linguist missionary) in linguistic production and the epistemological importance of the phenomena of transtextuality, focussing particularly on the study of the authorial paratext of grammars and dictionaries. The analysis of the ideas of a general nature on language and the assessment of the indigenous languages that is induced from these ideas, documented in the texts that are analysed, leads to the establishment of a series of criteria shared by the missionaries that are presented, as a concluding statement, with their main arguments. The sources of these arguments are, above all, certain passages from the Bible, in particular texts of Saint Paul that the linguist missionaries cite and comment on repeatedly. They are further supported by biblical images that are used in a metaphorical sense and, occasionally, by historical figures that are presented as examples.