Language, the Colonial, and the Postcolonial


Panel co-organizers: Tim Cassedy, Department of English, Southern Methodist University        

                                    Sean P. Harvey, Department of History, Seton Hall University


Language – like race, ethnicity, nationality, and sex – is a category of human difference that reflects ideology and buttresses social hierarchies. Edward Gray, Christopher Looby, David Simpson, and other scholars have noted the sociopolitical importance of linguistic discourses. Yet rather than exploring the mutually constitutive functions of discourses about Euro-American languages and Native American languages, critics have tended to separate them (Julie Andresen and Jill Lepore are notable exceptions). The language encounter with Africans has been largely ignored. This panel will juxtapose studies of “American” languages – both indigenous and transplanted – to understand how Americans engaged the complexity of colonial and postcolonial identities in the New World. Studying, monitoring, and regulating language was crucial for officials and intellectuals interested in justifying imperial rule and slavery, for provincials eager to maintain metropolitan standards, for immigrants concerned about assimilation, and for newly independent citizens anxious about cultural bonds with the mother country deteriorating or impatient to sever such ties entirely.

We are seeking papers that treat seventeenth- and eighteenth-century North American discourses and practices, including but not limited to

  • shifts in linguistic norms and expectations
  • French-, German-, Spanish-, Dutch-, or otherwise “foreign” publications
  • performances and representations of nonstandard language
  • projects for language invention, improvement, or pedagogy
  • vocabularies, dictionaries, primers, and translations
  • pidgins, creoles, or episodes in linguistic contact
  • language encounter among slaves or between them and masters


Send your 250-word paper abstract to Sean P. Harvey at by Friday, September 7, 2012.