Declensions: Conceptual Migrations across Empires

Elena Furlanetto, University of Duisburg-Essen:

The goal of this essay is to propose a new model for comparative analysis, the ‘declension,’ and test its applicability on two figurations that have traveled across contingent and competing empires: the creole and the renegade. Within grammar, a declension is the “variation of the form of a noun, adjective, or pronoun, constituting its different cases” (OED) and evokes the way in which words mutate as their function in the logic of the sentence changes. If transferred to the realm of literary and cultural studies, the declension can be used to map the adjustments that key concepts in Atlantic history and literature undergo as they traverse space, time, and language systems. Although some terms have remained essentially the same or have varied only slightly across centuries – as in the case of renegado/renegade or criollo/crioulo/creole – the politics attached to them changed significantly. The declension offers a tool to trace and document migrations of concepts along transatlantic and interamerican lines, gesturing at the interconnectedness of imperial spaces.

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