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In Their Own Words

December 30, 1734

Difficulty Learning Indian Language Recorded

From Ebenezer, Salzburger minister Johann Martin Boltzius felt a responsibility to teach the Indians about Christianity but was unable because of the lack of a translator. On this day, several Indian families visited the Salzburgers, leading Boltzius to write in his journal of his difficulties in learning their language:

“From the Indians themselves, who like to visit us, we have acquired many words which we have collected in a little book. But this presents a number of difficulties. 1) One can learn from them only the names of objects which can be shown them, e.g., bread, appalasko, meat, suck-hah, hand, tzeuky, etc. But verbs, adjectives, etc., cannot be learned from them because they know little or nothing about the English language. Thus one cannot learn to put the words properly together without regular instruction from someone. 2) Most of the words they pronounce so low and so far back in their throats that it is often impossible to distinguish the vowels and consonants or to express them with our letters. If one asks too often for the same word, they either become bashful and silent or they start to laugh so long and loud that nothing can be done afterwards.

“Sever times I have found, on reading some of the words I had learned to some other Indians, that the latter pronounced them quite differently and I did not know who was right, the first or the last… .”

Source: George Fenwick Jones (ed.), Detailed Reports on the Salzburger Emigrants Who Settled in America … Edited by Samuel Urlsperger, Vol. Two, 1734-1735 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1969), pp. 29-30.