Category Archives: Manuscripts

Christmas: earliest VIDC translation

Among the earliest VIDC translations of the New Testament and the Gospel Harmony we have seven versions of Luke 2: 1-21, the Birth of Jesus Christ. The earliest is 321 (manuscript by Böhner, about 1773) and is followed by 322 (manuscipt Böhner, before 1780), 315 (Magens’ printed New Testament), 3231 (1785-1790, Auerbach’s manuscript version), 3232 (about 1795, incomplete manuscript), 318 (1802, Moravian printed New Testament) and 3110 (1833, printed Moravian Gospel Harmony). Most of these texts are available in the Clarin-NEHOL database.

A comparison of these texts presents an interesting insight in the way the translators thought to connect as good as possible to their audience of Creole speakers. The following text is the oldest text, 321, without glosses, however to my opinion quite close to the German source text and therefore quite easy to understand.



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






Die Geskiednis 1833 available as scan

In a letter from 1773 we find the first clue that Johann Böhner had at least started to translate Samuel Lieberkühn’s Gospel Harmony (1768) into Virgin Islands Dutch Creole. In the following years he made at least two versions before 1780 (manuscripts 321 and 322). During a conference in 1784 it was decided that J.C. Auerbach should make another version for a better connection to the audience of (enslaved) inhabitants of the Danish Antilles. We think the unfinished manuscript 3231 is from his hand. A final manuscript version, from before 1795, is also incorporated in our corpus.

In 1833  Die Geskiednis van ons Heere en Heiland Jesus Christus, soo as die vier Evangelist sender ka skriev die op  is published in New York, financed by the American Tract Society. 2000 copies were distributed among 9400 Christianized slaves (Anon. 1836), so of lots of people it must have thought they had the skill to read Creole. Still it was the last printed Virgin Islands Dutch Creole text of the Moravian Brethren.

The content of the manuscripts is available in the digital Clarin-Nehol Corpus. On the Scanned Publications page, you will find the scanned version of this 1833 Virgin Islands Dutch Creole Gospel Harmony.


Dutch as a koine?

Aarhus Danish Atlantic 160116 Dutch as a Koine

On January 16, 2016, I presented this paper in Aarhus at the symposium The Danish Atlantic (Aarhus University). Next to papers in the field of history, anthropology, archives and museums, five had a linguistic subject. Robbert van Sluijs (Radboud University) about West-African grammatical influence on VIDC, Peter Bakker (Aarhus University) about Danish linguistic elements in West-African and Dutch Creole languages, Kristoffer Boegh (Aarhus University) about the differences between Dutch Creole lects and other Creole languages and Peter Stein (several universities, Emeritus) about Oldendorps reports on the life of enslaved people.

The Dutch language was the largest lexifier of VIDC, and to be be more precize: the influence of Western Flemish and Zeelandic dialects is obvious. However, we do not know exactly how these elements entered into the vernacular of the Danish Antilles. I already presented on this subject in Brussels (2012), which was published in Revue Belge, but in this presentation I focus on the exact variant of Dutch and not only on demographic information.

Further reading? This will be a part of my dissertation. Please feel free to send me an email about this subject.

Cefas van Rossem


Manuscript of Brandt 1799?

On February 17, 2003 Hein van der Voort received an e-mail from Poul Olsen of Copenhagen’s Rigsarkivet in which he presented a newly found manuscript of a hymn book. The text consists of 86 pages on which 76 hymns and a litany are written.  The print was stored in our archives and only a few hours ago, when I was working on the comparison of different versions of the hymn O! Planterman, it appeared to be different from the other hymn books by Danish translators.



Van der Voort thought this manuscript was likely to be of Andreas Joachim Brandt’s 1799 hymn book. A closer look shows a bulk of similarities, but also differences. The title, for instance, is never used for a printed hymn book.

An interesting incidental is the presentation of an alternative preposition like I described in my Aruba presentation (to be published). The author originally used the Dutchlike preposition in, but added the Creole preposition na above of it. The word in was not erased and so it seems as if a final decision about correct use was postponed. Eventually only Creole na was used in the titles of printed hymn books by Danish translators. In the rest of the manuscript we see erased and underlined words. In most cases of the underlined words, another word or form is added in one of the margins. For instance: regt skoon ‘truely fair’, is changed into heel skoon ‘very fair’ (p. 3). The word heel seems to be more according the vernacular than regt. In the same hymn ju Geest selv ‘your spirit himself’ is changed into ju Geest Selv, as if a capital was needed to clarify the relation between Geest and selv. Capitals are always used to indicate nouns.

Some metalinguistic comments from early nineteenth century

It is unclear from what period on Dutch Creole was replaced by English or English Creole. At the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century, missionaries still translated and published large texts into Dutch Creole. However, the manuscript which shows best that English became the most important language of the Danish Antilles is Wied’s Confirmations Unterricht of september 1843 (3.3.2  in Stein’s 1986 bibliography of Herrnhuter manuscripts). The first 60 pages of the catechism are in Dutch Creole, but the questions 4, 11, 18 and 25 are already written in English. The final 23 pages, from 1847, are in English.

In 1833, when the Gospel Harmony was published, the edition numbers give the impression the language was still vivid. Among the about 9000 Christianized slaves, 2000 copies of this large book were distributed.


(Anon. “Moravian Brethren’s Tract Operations”. In: Twenty-second Annual Report of the American Tract Society, Boston, presented at Boston, May 25, 1836, showing the facilities enjoyed for enlarged operations in foreign and pagan lands, and in our own country. Together with lists of auxiliaries, benefactors, depositories, publications, &c. Boston: Perkins & Marvin, 1836. P. 34.)

With regard to the use of language in the church of the Moravian Brethren, in 1829 the following is published:


(Anon. Periodical Accounts relating to the Missions of the Church of the United Brethren, established among the heathen. Volume XI. London: McDowell, 1829, p. 241-245.)

Van Rossem about Word Order Change and Audience Design (ROLD, Amsterdam 2015)

On thursday June 11th, 2015 I have presented my paper ‘Numbers to change word order, Philogical aspects of Negerhollands texts to study audience design’ at the Revitalizing Older Linguistic Documentation meeting at the University of Amsterdam. The contents will be published in my dissertation. My PowerPoint can be found here.

ROLD 11 juni 2015 Numbers SHORT DEF

Announcement: Revitalizing Older Linguistic Documentation VI

Workshop VIth International Meeting
of the ACLC Research group
“Revitalising older linguistic documentation” (ROLD)

June 11th, 2015
Bungehuis, room 015, Spuistraat 210
1012 VT Amsterdam, The Netherland


You will find the programme here: programme_workshop_June 11th, 2015

Gospel Harmony 1833 digitally available

The Creole  version of Lieberkühn’s Gospel Harmony is digitally available here. It was financed by The American Tract Society and was  printed in New York in 1833. The edition of 2000 copies was distributed among the Christianized slaves of the Moravian Brethren on the Danish Antilles. If all copies were distributed, one out of every four to five  above mentioned slaves owned a copy.

The first version was translated by Johann Böhner in or just before 1780 (coded 321). A second version, which had an interesting preface (322), was made only a short period after the first one. The third version (3231) was translated around 1790, probably by Johann Auerbach. About five years later a fourth version was made (3232). Just like 3231, this text is not complete. All manuscript versions can be consulted in the Clarin-NEHOL database.

The manuscripts are obviously written in the same tradition, but differ slightly. Manuscript 3231 seems influenced by the English translation of Lieberkühn’s Gospel Harmony. This can be due to the fact that English became the most important language in the Danish Antilles at that moment.

Manuscript 3232 and the printed version hardly differ. However, since 3232 is not complete, it cannot be the version which was used by the printer.


New manuscripts in Corpus Negerhollands Texts

In 1995 Frans Hinskens published “Some of the documents concerning Negerhollands in the Archives of the Moravian Brethren in Bethlehem Pennsylvania. A first impression” in Amsterdam Creole Studies. In the fieldnotes of his visit to the Moravian Archives, which are included in our Corpus Negerhollands Texts, he mentions at least two interesting booklets.

In the new digital entrance to these archives, these works could easily be found and through the help of archivist Thomas McCullough we obtained photocopies of them yesterday.

The first booklet is the earliest Negerhollands Hymnal known: Isles, Samy & Georg Weber. Criol Leedekin Boekje voor gebriek Van de Neger broer gemeente Na St Thomas St Crux Overzet üt de Hoog deutse taal door Broer Samy Isles en George Weber, en een deel mee Assistantie Broer Johañes Van de Jaar 1749 tot Jaar 1753″. small format, 87 pp. >EN: Creole hymnal. >In Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in box: “Ms. Translations into Danish (Creolan). 1.) Hymn book for the Negroes of St. Thomas & St. Croix (Transl. by Sam Isles & Georg Weber, (1747-1753)”. (see our Bibliography above).

The translators are mentioned in Oldendorp’s history and we suspect the Johannes who is mentioned on the title page to be Johann Böhner, who translated several large texts into Negerhollands around 1780.

Isles&Weber 1753

The second booklet is Geskiednis na die Martel=Week en tee na die Hemelvaart van ons Heere en Heiland Jesus Christus. 132 pp. >EN: History of the Passion week to the Ascension. >In Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in box: “Ms. Translations into Danish (Creolan). 2.) The Passion Week-Ascension”.


The manuscript is not dated, but since the handwriting looks like the one of Johann Auerbach, it cannot be ca 1753, as mentioned in the Moravian Archive, but must be somewhere between 1766 and 1792.