Colonial New Englanders would have found our modern notions of free speech very strange indeed. Children today shrug off harsh words by chanting "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me," but in the seventeenth century people felt differently. "A soft tongue breaketh the bone," they often said.
Governing the Tongue explains why the spoken word assumed such importance in the culture of early New England. Author Jane Kamensky re-examines such famous Puritan events as the Salem witch trials and the banishment of Anne Hutchinson to expose the ever-present fear of what the puritans called "sins of the tongue." But even while dangerous or deviant speech was restricted, Kamensky points out, godly speech was continuously praised and promoted. Congregations were told that one should ones voice "like a trumpet" to God and "cry out and cease not."
By placing speech at the heart of familiar stories of Puritan New England, Kamensky develops new ideas about the relationship between speech and power both in Puritan New England and, by extension, in our world today.
"'Speech history' is a topic scarcely imagined as recently as a few years ago. But now, with Jane Kamensky's pathbreaking new book in hand, scholars and students of the American past must take it very seriously indeed. With the utmost care, with great interpretive finesse, and in consistently sparkling prose, Kamensky shows us a new side of that venerable target--colonial New England--and provides as well an excellent model for other studies of other
places."--John Demos, Yale University
"Jane Kamensky's Governing the Tongue is a fascinating study of the spoken word in seventeenth-century New England. At once meticulously researched and elegantly argued, it combines trenchant analysis with writing so lively and fresh that it is a must read not only for early American scholars but for anyone interested in an absorbing account of the relationship between speech and power."--Carol Karlsen, Harvard Divinity School
"Recovering the sounds in our silent sources is one of the most challenging tasks facing historians. Jane Kamensky has been enormously resourceful in her seeking and finding an astonishing range of ways to do this. Recreating the pervasive ranked-and-gendered hierarchisms of early America for our epistemically equalitarian world is another daunting task which Jane Kamensky has most persuasively accomplished. This is a highly original work that synthesizes of a
vast body of historiographical and theoretical scholarship into a compelling narrative--for which readers will be immeasurably grateful."--Rhys Isaac, LaTrobe University, Melbourne, Australia
"Governing the Tongue is an orignal piece of scholarship. And the gravity of the discussion is leavened by Kamensky's occasional what-do-I-think-is-happening questions, which have the welcome effect of making the reader a participant in her historical quest."--Boston Globe
1: The Sweetest Meat, the Bitterest Poison
2: A Most Unquiet Hiding Place
3: The Misgovernment of Woman's Tongue
4: "Publick Fathers" and Cursing Sons
5: Saying and Unsaying
6: The Tongue is a Witch
Appendix: Litigation over Speech in Massachusetts, 1630-1692