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date: 18 April 2024

Missionary Grammarslocked

Missionary Grammarslocked

  • Otto ZwartjesOtto ZwartjesLaboratoire d'Histoire des Théories Linguistiques, Université Paris Diderot


Missionary grammars are printed books or manuscripts compiled by missionaries in which a particular language is described. These grammars were mainly written as pedagogical tools for language teaching and learning in a missionary-colonial setting, although quite a few grammars have also a more normative character. Missionary grammars contain usually an opening section, a prologue, in which the author exhibits the objectives of his work. The first part is usually a short introduction into phonology and orthography, followed by the largest section, which is devoted to morphology, arranged according to the traditional division of the parts of speech. The final section is sometimes devoted to syntax, but the topics included can vary considerably. Sometimes word lists are appended, containing body parts, measures, counting, manners of speaking, or rhetorical figures. The data presented in the grammar are mainly based on an oral corpus, whereas in other cases high registers from prestigious texts are used in which the eloquence or elegance of the language under study is illustrated. These grammars are modeled according to the traditional Greco-Latin framework and often contain invaluable information regarding language typologies, semantics, and pragmatics. In the New World, Asia, and elsewhere, missionaries had to find an adequate methodology in order to describe typological features they had never seen before. They adapted European models to new linguistic realities and created original works which deserve our attention within the discipline of the history of linguistics alongside contemporary pedagogical works written in Europe. This article concentrates on sources written in Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin during the colonial period, since these sources outnumber the production of missionary grammars in other languages.


  • History of Linguistics

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