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Linguistic power in mid-19th century correspondence from the Church Missionary Society Yorùbá mission

Nickel, Sandra Michelle Ingrid (2015) Linguistic power in mid-19th century correspondence from the Church Missionary Society Yorùbá mission. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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This thesis explores how the religious encounter between 19th century missionaries of the Church Missionary Society and the Yorùbá in the Southwest of, what today is, Nigeria was shaped through linguistically constructed power dynamics in the missionaries’ correspondence. The source material for this thesis consists of European and African missionaries’ letters, journal entries, and diaries, which are archived in the Cadbury Research Library in Birmingham. In an inductive approach to these documents, I apply methods from the fields of translation studies, sociolinguistics, pragmatics, and discourse analysis to the analysis of the construction and expression of linguistic power. I explore the linguistic and religio-political considerations behind the commission of Yorùbá to writing and the choice of Yorùbá words for Christian concepts in translation work. They reflect that the missionaries had to relinquish some of the interpretational authority over their message in order to accommodate already existing linguistic forms. The linguistic remapping of the Yorùbá world meant a shift of control over the shape of Yorùbá Christianity, as the re-interpretation of elements of ‘traditional’ belief allowed them to be incorporated by converts into their new faith. I discuss the African agents’ linguistic means of positioning themselves in the European-dominated missionary world. Negotiating their identity as African Christians by disaffiliating themselves from past relations, positioning themselves as part of the in-group of missionaries, and indicating their new group affiliations through intertextual links with Christian texts, they constructed a new space and agency for themselves. Finally, the source material is part of the missionary institutional discourse, to which generally only male missionaries and their superiors could contribute. These discursive gatekeepers excluded other voices, and made it possible to construct and tell a narrative of missionary work as successful and necessary. The discussion of correspondence from two members of excluded groups shows that the social control exerted by means of these restrictions was not absolute, and allowed for alternative forms of agency. I conclude that the power dynamics constructed and reflected in the missionaries’ correspondence must be considered adaptable and responsive to individual and group agency.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Church Missionary Society, mission, linguistics, critical discourse analysis, construction of reality, identity, translation of religious texts, Yorùbá
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.679806
Depositing User: Sandra M. I. Nickel
Date Deposited: 09 Feb 2016 11:25
Last Modified: 26 Apr 2016 15:44
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/11801

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