This essay will discuss contending language ideologies in early twentieth-century efforts at translating Warao into Spanish. It will analyze the linguistic and semiotic collision between the Warao and the emerging Venezuelan nation-state. Its main focus will be on the Catholic missionaries' production of dictionaries, grammars, and other forms of linguistic descriptions, and the Warao's own interpretation of the language encounter. At the beginning of the twentieth century, missionaries regarded Warao as incompatible with modernity and with the political developments of that time. It was considered too underdeveloped and illogical to be the language of Venezuelan citizens. Hence the missionaries wanted to give the Warao the tools for interpreting modernity, and paramount among these tools was Spanish. At the same time, the Warao interpreted the encounter with the nation-state as a mistranslation. This lack of communication with the new nation-state found expression in Warao narratives and as a common discursive topic. From a Warao standpoint, the encounter with missionaries and modernity was full of confusion and misunderstandings. This essay will argue that an increasing awareness of subordination among the Warao paralleled the naturalization of semiotic misunderstandings at the moment of encounter with the state. The analysis of the linguistic ideologies that this situation produced will prove useful in illustrating how the Warao internalized their subordinate position.

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