Dating the VIDC Moravian grammar manuscript

Already in the eighteenth century two descriptions of Virgin Islands Dutch Creole were published: Magens’s Grammatica over det Creolske sprog, som bruges paa de trende Danske Eilande, St. Croix, St. Thomas og St. Jans i Amerika. Sammenskrevet og opsat af en paa St. Thomas indföd Mand (1770) and the description by Oldendorp in the ninth section of his Geschichte der Mission der evangelischen Brueder auf den caraibischen Inseln S. Thomas, S. Croix und S. Jan (1777).

In the first part of the beautiful edition of the manuscript of Oldendorp’s History (2000: 681-724, sections 112-117) we find the complete contemporary description of which Oldendorp (1777) was only a kind of summary.

In the Unitäts Archiv in Herrnhut (Germany) another grammar is preserved. This manuscript, Grammatik der Creol-Sprache in West-Indiën, ms. 214 according to Stein (1986b), is not dated, however it looks early nineteenth century. In some publications (Van Rossem & Van der Voort 1996: 288) it is dated as ‘shortly after 1802’. In 1903 D.C. Hesseling obtained a copy of this manuscript from A. Glitsch, the then archivist of the Unitäts Archiv in Herrnhut (Grammatik der Creol-Sprache in West-Indien 1903).

While working on the section on Creole word order of this Grammar it appeared to me that some examples must have been taken from biblical texts, of which most are dated. The Grammar should then of course be younger than the youngest example.

In the first example we focus on the use of function word dan ‘then’:

(1) Dan em a see na die ander: hoeveel joe ben skuldig.

then 3SG PST say to the other how much 2SG are owing

The Gospel Harmonies (before 1780) have daarna ‘next, then’:

(1a) Darnah em a spreek tot die ander: en joe, hoe veel joe ben skul=dig (na mi Heer)? (321: 75)

(1b) Daarna em a see na die ander: en joe, hoe veel joe ben skuldig? (322: 75)

The German source text (Lieberkühn 1820: 162) has Darnach sprach er zu dem anderen (…).  Magens’s translation of the New Testament (1781) has asteran ‘next, further’:

(1c) Asteran hem ha seg na die ander: en ju, ju veel ju skylt? (315: Luke 16: 7)

The youngest texts of the Moravian Brethren however, use dan:

(1d) Dan em a see na die ander: Maar joe, hoe veel joe ben skuldig? (318, 1802) Lucas 16: 7)

(1e) Dan em a see na die ander: En joe, hoe veel joe ben skuldig? (3110 (1833): section 75)

The example shows that the early sources were much more according to the source text  than the younger texts, which appear to be changed to connect to the audience of Creole speakers. Is that so? See the English translation of Lieberkühn (from 1771): Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? The change from darnah to dan may well be a change of German influence (from source text) or Dutch influence of superstrate into English influence of other source text or from new vernacular on the Danish Antilles. 

The next example shows something similar. Compare for instance the use of vor ‘in order to’ and the positioning of die ‘that’. The source text has: ‘Aber das Sitzen zu meiner Rechten und meiner Linken, stehet nicht bey mir, euch zu geben‘ (Lieberkühn 1820: 182).

(2) Maar vor set na mi rechter en na mi slinker Hand, die no staan bij mi, vor gie na jender

however to sit on 1SG right and on 1SG left hand, that NEG stand by 1SG, to give to 2PL

(2a) maar die sett na mi Rechter en na mi Slinker Hand, no staan bi mi, vor gie die na jender; (321: 83)

(2b) maar die Sitt na mi Rechter en na mi Slinker (Hand), no staan bi mi, vor gie die na jender; (322:83)

(2c) Maar vor set na mi rechter en na mi slinker Hand, die no staan by mi vor gie na jender, (318: Mark 10: 40)

(2d) maar vor set na Mi rechter en na mi slinker Hand, die no staan by mi, vor gie na jender, (3110: section 83)

A similar thing as in (1) happens here: the early text use die sett , the sitting’ for das Sitzen, while the younger texts use vor set ‘in order to sit’. Lieberkühn (1781) has: but to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them (…). Again this resembles the younger texts: the noun set of the early texts has changed into the verb set.

My last example is:

(3) Toen die Tien a hoor die, soo sender a koom ontoevreeden over Jacobus en Johannes.

When the ten PST hear that, so 3PL PST become displeased about James and John

(3a) En as die tien a  hoor die, sender a kom ontoevreden over die twee Broeders, Jacobus en Johannes. (321:83)

(3b) En as die (ander) tien a hoor die, da sender a neem die goe Qualik van die twee Broer, Jacobus en Johannes (322: 83)

(3c) Toen die Tien a hoor die, soo sender a kom ontoevreden over Jacobus en Johannes. (318 Marcus 10: 41)

(3d) Toen die Tien a hoor die, soo sender a kom ontoevreden over die twee Broeders, Jacobus en Johannes. (3110: 83)

The German source text has Da das die Zehen höreten, wurden sie unwillig über die zween Brüder, Jacobum und Johannem (Lieberkühn 1820: 182) The English has And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John (Lieberkühn 1781). The three Dutch Creole Gospel Harmonies and the German source text mention the brothers, while the English source text and the New Testament of 1802 do not.

These examples show that, unless an earlier manuscriptal version of the 1802 New Testament existed, the examples were from the New Testament of 1802. Examples (1) and (2) may leave a small possibility that 3110 was used, however the difference between 318 and 3110 in (3) gives a decisive answer.

This young text was prefered above the older texts which were available, which may point to the importance to use a more English related language in this period in which English (Creole) became the new vernacular on the prejudice of Virgin Islands Dutch Creole.

Cefas van Rossem







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