Languages without subjects: On the interior(s) of colonial New Guinea

Courtney Handman


The Protestant interior linguistic subject expressed through language or speech is often predicated upon a contrast with languages or forms of speech that deny subjectivity. That is, linguistic subjectivity or interior depth is often produced through the contrast with linguistic surfaces, with languages that in one way or another are considered incapable of supporting subjectivity. In colonial Lutheran New Guinea early missionaries felt they had to cut through both a tropical rainforest and a linguistic forest. In the latter case they used church-promulgated lingua francas to do so, even though many speakers would not have the fluency that Protestant theories of spontaneous sincerity usually assume. The Lutherans hoped to establish the subject-making depth of their lingua francas through comparisons with and promulgation of a form of Pidgin English that they argued could never produce a (Christian) self. In this article I examine how Lutheran missionaries tried to construct Pidgin English as a despised semilanguage in order to contrastively shore up the possibilities of sincere spontaneity that they were so concerned about for speakers of their church lingua francas.


linguistic subjectivity, missionaries, Christianity, pidgins and creoles, Melanesia

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau7.1.017