Vol. 25 (2022): Cromohs

Entangled Histories, Catholic Missions and Languages: Mapping Amerindian, African and Asian Languages Through Portuguese in Early Modernity

Angelo Cattaneo
Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche - CNR
Thomas Coryat, Coryat’s Crudities: Reprinted from the Edition of 1611. To which are Now Added, His Letters from India, &c. and Extracts Relating to Him, from Various Authors [...] Together with His Orations, Character, Death, Etc. [...] (London: Printed for W. Cater, et. al., 1776), vol. III, n.p., ‘Coryat’s Letters from India’. Copy at The British Library, digitised by Google books.

Published 2023-01-31


  • Global and entangled histories,
  • Cross-Cultural translations,
  • Multilingual communities, spaces and places,
  • Missionaries,
  • Native mediators,
  • Knowledge brokers,
  • Portuguese Language
  • ...More


This essay focuses on the heterogeneous missionary contexts connected to the Portuguese Empire, in the hemisphere assigned to Portugal by the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) and Zaragoza (1529), ranging from Brasil, Sub-Saharan Africa, to India, Vietnam, China and Japan. In these plural missionary contexts, between ca. 1540 to 1650, Portuguese was used, mostly by the Jesuits and their more numerous local native mediators, as translational language for several idioms unknown in Europe. These early modern linguistic and cultural translations of living languages based on Portuguese as translational language, have largely been overlooked outside of the field of missionary linguistics. This essay highlights instead their strong documentary potential, meaning and implications, beyond linguistics, with respect to current debates on early modern global history and its periodization.