The Cultural Imaginary of Foreignness in the Larousse Universel of 1922

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Cècile Mathieu Université de Picardie Jules Verne

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This article explores French imaginaries of different human groups between the world wars through a study of the Larousse universel of 1922. Dictionaries are generally assumed to be reliable tools for understanding language, reflecting a single, universally accepted, and neutral norm. In fact, as this article demonstrates, the Larousse universel of 1922 conveys an imaginary of otherness very specific to the time and place of its publication. Analyzing ethnonyms (names of peoples or ethnic groups) and demonyms or gentilics (names for residents or natives of a particular place) as well as the associated illustrations, I provide a typology of the dictionary’s treatment of the otherness of different peoples. Exoticism, colonization, war, and zoology emerge as the four themes around which human groups are concentrated. In particular, the predominance of the semantic feature warlike reveals the worry suggested by 20the “foreign” in the aftermath of World War I.

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