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Ocean of Letters: Language and Creolization in an Indian Ocean Diaspora
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Author: Pier M. Larson.
Editors: Catherine Hall, Mrinalini Sinha, and Kathleen Wilson.
ISBN-10: 0-521-73957-8 (0521739578)
ISBN-13: 978-0-521-73957-3 (9780521739573)
Language: English
No. of Pages: xx + 378
Dimensions: 228mm x 152mm x 20mm

Item Identification Code (UID#): 3719
Shelving Location: Language
Estimated Value: £24.00
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Ocean of Letters

Language and Creolization in an Indian Ocean Diaspora

(Critical Perspectives on Empire)
Cambridge University Press (2009).
Softcover Book

About the Book from the Back Cover

Ocean of Letters is a remarkable history of imperialism, language, and creolization in the largest African diaspora of the Indian Ocean in the early modern period. Ranging from Madagascar to the Mascarenes, the Comores, and South Africa, Pier M. Larson sheds new light on the roles of slavery, emancipation, oceanic travel, Christian missions, and colonial linguistics in the making of Malagasy-language literacy in the islands of the western Indian Ocean. He shows how enslaved and free Malagasy together with certain European colonists and missionaries promoted the Malagasy language, literacy projects, and letter writing in the multilingual colonial societies of the region between the seventeenth and mid-nineteenth centuries. Addressing current debates in the history of Africa and the African diaspora, slavery, abolition, creolization and the making of modern African literatures, the book crosses thematic as well as geo-imperial boundaries and brings fresh perspectives to Indian Ocean history.

About the Author from Page i

Pier M. Larson is Professor of African History at The Johns Hopkins University, USA. A cultural and intellectual historian with interests in social history, he specializes in early modern Madagascar, the Indian Ocean, slavery, religion, literacy, and the global African diasporas. He is the author of History and Memory in the Age of Enslavement: Becoming Merina in Highland Madagascar, 1770–1822 (2000).

About the Series from Page iii

Critical Perspectives on Empire is a major new series of ambitious, cross-disciplinary works in the emerging field of critical imperial studies. Books in the series will explore the connections, exchanges and mediations at the heart of national and global histories, the contributions of local as well as metropolitan knowledge, and the flows of people, ideas and identities facilitated by colonial contact. To that end, the series will not only offer a space for outstanding scholars working at the intersection of several disciplines to bring to wider attention the impact of their work; it will also take a leading role in reconfiguring contemporary historical and critical knowledge, of the past and of ourselves.


  • Contents
  • List of figures
  • List of maps, tables and graphs
  • Archives abbreviations
  • Textual notes and acknowledgements
  • 1 Departures
    • Language and creolization
    • Empire, literacy, time
    • The Malagasy, their tongue, and their enslavement
    • Islam and literacy
  • 2 Conversation and the catechism
    • A mobile language
    • Exchanges and impressions
    • Diviners’ repertoires
    • Interplay of tongue and manuscript
    • Conversation and the catechism
  • 3 The work of the Word
    • Lazarists and the vernacular
    • A lexicon for merchant and planter
    • Slavery and the short catechism
    • The lessons and tensions of colonial linguistics
  • 4 The colonial study
    • Origins of a colonial-creole intellectual
    • Lexicographer and encyclopedist
    • An empire of Protestant letters
    • Divergent methods of cleric and savant
  • 5 The multilingual street
    • Prison and mountain
    • The vernacular life of the street
    • Créolité as agility
    • Listening through the census
  • 6 Renaissance: Reading and affiliation
    • Emancipation and evangelicals
    • Governors and unknown tongues
    • Forming Malagasy villages
    • Multilingual evangelism
    • Reading the vernacular word
    • Names and identities
  • 7 Ocean of letters
    • Epistolary conversation
    • Couriers and passwords
    • Commodities, news, and patriots
    • Imagining the nation at Mauritius
    • Figments of nation: the Comores
    • Arrested cosmopolitans
  • 8 Pathways of language and créolité
  • Index

Condition of Item

As new.

Refer to the glossary for definitions of terms used to describe the condition of items.


This item was kindly donated to the Madagascar Library collection by Diane Williams.
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