VERMILLION, S.D. – Angela Helmer, Ph.D., associate professor of Spanish in the University of South Dakota Department of Modern Languages & Linguistics, along with scholars from across North and South America and Spain, contributed to a book that explores language and culture of the Americas during the Spanish Colonial Era, which lasted from the 16th to the 19th century.
The book, “Textos, imágenes y símbolos: Lengua y cultura en la América virreinal,” or “Texts, images and symbols: Language and culture in colonial America,” is a collection of essays in honor of Claudia Parodi, a professor of Spanish and Portuguese at UCLA and Helmer’s dissertation director while she was a graduate student there. “Claudia was a wonderful person who passed away two years ago,” Helmer said. “She and I were working on this project until she became very ill and could not continue. It felt so good to be able to complete it.” Helmer not only contributed to the book, but also edited the publication.
The book focuses on the discipline of socio-linguistics—or the relationship between language and society. Helmer’s contribution discussed the use of Latin by black residents of the Spanish colonies when they petitioned for citizenship during deliberations before the ratification of Spain’s first constitution in 1812.
“Latin in Peru was a language of prestige,” Helmer said. “When the Spaniards came to Peru, they brought their way of thinking, their institutions, their religion, and language. But they also brought another elite language, which was Latin.”
In addition to the Catholic church, the Spanish crown’s administrative bodies conducted affairs in written and spoken Latin, said Helmer. Latin was also the language of scholarship—men had to pass a Latin test to attend the university in Lima. “It was one way of dividing society,” she said.
Helmer said her archival research on the use of Latin in Colonial Peru fills a gap in the knowledge about that era. “People who study Hispanic or Spanish history don’t necessarily know Latin and Latinists often don’t have an interest in this period.”