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Tongues of FireLanguage and Evangelization in Colonial Mexico$
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Nancy Farriss

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190884109

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190884109.001.0001

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The Problem of Meaning

The Problem of Meaning

(p.197) Chapter 8 The Problem of Meaning
Tongues of Fire

Nancy Farriss

Oxford University Press

Missionaries and Indian elites cooperated in translating the gospel message into the indigenous languages. They faced an inevitable trade-off between fidelity to Christian orthodoxy and intelligibility within the alien Mesoamerican culture. The result was either a deficit of meaning for the neophytes or a surplus of meaning created by attaching alien indigenous connotations to the Christian discourse. Zapotec and other indigenous doctrinal texts reveal a range of choices: at one extreme, terms deemed untranslatable, like “God” and “soul,” were imported as loan words; at another extreme, difficult terms were given elaborate explanatory glosses (periphrasis) in the target language, which elucidated meaning but at the expense of economy and fluency of expression.

Keywords:   translation, loan words, calques, periphrasis, dialogic, Zapotec, catechisms, Dominicans

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