ABSTRACT: Malagasy speakers probably formed the single largest native speech community among slaves dispersed into the western Indian Ocean between 1500 and 1900. In the eighteenth-century Mascarenes, Malagasy parlers (dialects) served as a contact language, understood both by persons born in Madagascar and by those with no direct ties to the island. Catholic missionaries working in Bourbon and I ˆ le de France frequently evangelized among sick and newly disembarked Malagasy slaves in their own tongues, employing servile interpreters and catechists from their ecclesiastical plantations as intermediaries in their ‘work of the word’. Evangelistic style was multilingual, in both French and Malagasy, and largely verbal, but was also informed by Malagasy vernacular manuscripts of Church doctrine set in Roman characters. The importance of Malagasy in the Mascarenes sets the linguistic environment of the islands off in distinctive ways from those of Atlantic slave societies and requires scholars to rethink the language and culture history of the western Indian Ocean islands,
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