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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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1. Native Voices   

1. Native Voices

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Activities: Author Activities

Roger Williams - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension: What does Williams say about the religion of the natives?

  2. Comprehension: According to Williams, why did he write A Key into the Language of America?

  3. Context: What is the effect of Williams's constructing his book as "an implicit dialogue" that "respects the native language of it"? Keep in mind that there was a range of seventeenth-century opinion about how the Indians should be treated, with some advocating negotiation and partnership and others arguing for their elimination. Do you think Williams implies a value judgment when he describes the Narragansett language as "exceeding[ly] copious"?

  4. Context: Compare Williams's attitude toward the Indians with Thomas Harriot's (below). What message about Native Americans does each try to convey to his Renaissance English readers?

  5. Exploration: To what extent is Williams "ethnocentric"? That is, to what extent does he seem to assume that European culture and beliefs are true and correct and that, therefore, alternative cultures and beliefs must be inferior?

  6. Exploration: Compare Williams's portrait of the Narragansetts to Mary Rowlandson's (Unit 3). What, besides circumstance, seems to account for his greater sympathy?

  7. Exploration: Spanish American grammars of the New World from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries tended to be organized in the same format as Latin grammars. Williams's grammar, on the other hand, is startlingly new in that it organizes its linguistic information by situation. What impact does this structure have upon the message Williams hopes to make?

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