In most narratives of contact between Native Americans and European newcomers, communication begins with gestures, pantomime, and rudimentary sign language before increased familiarity enabled speech. Céline Carayon's Eloquence Embodied shows how this familiar sequence of events oversimplifies—and often ignores—the rich variety of nonverbal communication that occurred in the early modern Americas, including signs, ceremonies, gestures, and performances. Instead, this study of the first two centuries of French colonization in the Americas from 1500 to 1700 argues that, rather than evolving from “basic” nonverbal to more “sophisticated” verbal communication, “colonial America was the site of rich intersections between effective traditions of embodied expressiveness” (6–7). Furthermore, far from fumbling from one misunderstanding to the next, French colonizers and the Native Americans they met generally managed to understand each other quite well.

Carayon's chronological framing means that French encounters with Indigenous people in Florida, Brazil, Guiana, and the Caribbean receive significant attention alongside...

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