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Method of learning the Indian language.

The most successful method I have taken for instructing myself in any of the Indian languages, is, to translate English discourses by the help of an interpreter or two, into their language as near verbatim as the sense will admit of, and to observe strictly how they use words, and what construction they will bear in various cases; and thus to gain some acquaintance with the root from whence particular words proceed, and to see how they are thence varied and diversified. But here occurs a very great difficulty; for the interpreters being unlearned, and unacquainted with the rules of language, it is impossible sometimes to know by them what part of speech some particular word is of, whether noun, verb, or participle; for they seem to use participles sometimes where we should use nouns, and sometimes where we should use verbs in the English language.

But I have, notwithstanding many difficulties, gained some acquaintance with the grounds of the Delaware language, and have learned most of the defects in it; so that I know what English words can, and what cannot, be translated into it. I have also gained some acquaintance with the particular phraseologies, as well as peculiarities of their language, one of which I cannot but mention. Their language does not admit of their speaking any word denoting relation, such as, father, son, &c. absolutely; that is, without prefixing a pronoun-passive to it, such as my, thy, his, &c. Hence they cannot be baptized in their own language in the name of the Father, and the Son, &c.; but they may be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and his Father, &c. I have gained so much knowledge of their language, that I can understand a considerable part of what they say, when they discourse upon divine things, and am frequently able to correct my interpreter, if he mistakes my sense. But I can do nothing to any purpose at speaking the language myself.

And as an apology for this defect, I must renew, or rather enlarge, my former complaint, viz. That “while so much of my time is necessarily consumed in journeying,” while I am obliged to ride four thousand miles a year, (as I have done in the year past,) “I can have little left for any of my necessary studies, and consequently for the study of the Indian languages.” And this, I may venture to say, is the great, if not the only, reason why the Delaware language is not familiar to me before this time. And it is impossible I should ever be able to speak it without close application, which, at present, I see no prospect of having time for. To preach and catechise frequently; to converse privately with persons that need so much instruction and direction as these poor Indians do; to take care of all their secular affairs, as if they were a company of children; to ride abroad frequently in order to procure collections for the support of the school, and for their help and benefit in other respects; to hear and decide all the petty differences that arise among any of them; and to have the constant oversight and management of all their affairs of every kind, must needs engross most of my time, and leave me little for application to the study of the Indian languages. And when I add to this, the time that is necessarily consumed upon my Journals, I must say I have little to spare for other business. I have not (as was observed before) sent to the Honourable Society less than two copies of every Journal, for more than two years past; most of which, I suppose, have been taken by the French in their passage. And a third copy I have constantly kept by me, lest the others should miscarry. This has caused me not a little labour, and so straitened me for time, when I have been at liberty from other business, and had opportunity to sit down to write, which is but rare, that I have been obliged to write twelve and thirteen hours in a day; till my spirits have been extremely wasted, and my life almost spent, to get these writings accomplished. And after all; after diligent application to the various parts of my work, and after the most industrious improvement of time I am capable of, both early and late, I cannot oftentimes possibly gain two hours in a week for reading or any other studies, unless just for what appears of absolute necessity for the present. And frequently when I attempt to redeem time, by sparing it out of my sleeping hours, I am by that means thrown under bodily indisposition, and rendered fit for nothing. This is truly my present state, and is like to be so, for aught I can see, unless I could procure an assistant in my work, or quit my present business.

But although I have not made that proficiency I could wish to have done, in learning the Indian languages; yet I have used all endeavours to instruct them in the English tongue, which perhaps will be more advantageous to the Christian interest among them, than if I should preach in their own language; for that is very defective, (as I shall hereafter observe,) so that many things cannot be communicated to them without introducing English terms. Besides, they can have no books translated into their language, without great difficulty and expense; and if still accustomed to their own language only, they would have no advantage of hearing other ministers occasionally, or in my absence. So that my having a perfect acquaintance with the Indian language would be of no great importance with regard to this congregation of Indians in New Jersey, although it might be of great service to me in treating with the Indians elsewhere.

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