The Role of Language in Accusations of Witchcraft in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Spain

Document Type: Research Paper

Author

Indiana University Northwest, USA

Abstract

Linguistic factors played a significant role in the origin and spread of accusations of witchcraft in Early Modern Spain. The preoccupation with witches’ words is at its root a preoccupation about the power of speech and, to a great extent, of female speech. Studies in some Early European countries have connected aggressive female speech styles with accusations of witchcraft, and this article offers evidence to this effect for Early Modern Spain. The speech of women with ‘ungoverned tongues’ is stigmatized as masculine, and the power it conveys is regarded with suspicion. Rumor, gossip, and reputation also played a key role in accusations of witchcraft in these oral societies. Once the accusation is launched, public reputation was often adduced as ‘proof’ of culpability. Rooted in the specific reality of the northern provinces of Early Modern Spain, this study shows how assumptions about women’s ‘linguistic place’, along with certain forms of linguistic performance played a significant role in transforming a woman into a witch.

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