Category Archives: Manuscripts

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.

New Gospel Harmony files in Clarin-NEHOL

Only the first 35 sections are available in all four manuscript versions. In order to make linguistic comparison easier new files were entered into our Clarin-NEHOL database. These parts of the manuscripts were already used in several articles, like Hinsken & Van Rossem (1996, about pronoun sender), Muysken & Van der Voort (1991) and Van der Voort & Muysken (1996, both about reflexives). The pdf-files can be found in the Clarin database (see right column), NEHOL, Negerhollands missionary data, resp. 3.2.1., 3.2.2.,,, and are coded as follows: 321_1_35, 322_1_35, 3231_1_35, 3232_1_35. Please mail us when extra information is needed.

Joh. Christoph Auerbach translator of third Gospel Harmony?

From about 1780 on  Lieberkühns 1769 Gospel Harmony was translated five times into Negerhollands. The first two, both from about 1780 (321 and 322 in Clarin-NEHOL), were without doubt translated and written by Johann Böhner. Of the third and fourth translation (3231 and 3232) it was clear that Johann Böhner was not the writer. The texts are probably from around 1790, about five years after Böhner’s death. The fifth translation (3110, not in Clarin-NEHOL) is the printed version from 1833 which had a circulation of  2,000 to be distributed among the Christianized slaves.

Preliminary examination of the handwriting of the letter in which the missionary Joh. Christoph Auerbach (Van Rossem & Van der Voort 1996:  8-9) presents metalinguistic information about the languages of the Danish Antilles, show that it resembles the one used in manuscript 3231.  Manuscript 3232 looks a little different, especially the initial [s] differs from the one in the letter and in 3231.

Auerbach (1726-1792) arrived in the Caribbean together with Oldendorp in 1766. In Commented Edition of the Original Manuscript of C.G.A. Oldendorp (Herrnhut 2002) his name appears a few times  in the second part/3, from p.1666 on. The most important metalinguistic remark, from 1767, is:

“Auerbach, der zum Dienst am Evangelio unter den Schwarzen, sobald er ihre Sprache könnte und insonderheit zur Besorgung der Rechnungbücher und anderer schriftlichter Sachen bestimmt war, trat gleich in diese Arbeit ein, legte sich auf die criolische Sprache die er bald fasste, (…)” (Oldendorp 2002: II, 3, p. 1682)

This quote means that Auerbach learned the language in the Danish Antilles and mastered it quickly. Unfortunately we do not have other information about his knowledge of Negerhollands, apart from the very interesting letter from 1774.

Auerbach passed away in Friedensberg, St. Croix on January 21, 1792. If he is the translator of text 3231, we can be certain it is from before that date.  If he spend his last year mostly on St. Croix, this may be the answer to the question why manuscript 3231 seems to show more English elements than the other Negerhollands Gospel Harmonies.

Please compare the examples yourself in the added file.

Auerbach 3231 3232


The Mysterious Leyden Böhner Manuscripts

In 2007/2008 the Leyden National Museum for Ethnology donated 19 notebooks to the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV). One of the notebooks contains a typoscript of a Gospel Harmony, the other ones are manuscripts of several large liturgical texts, and all are written in Negerhollands.  The librarian/archivist contacted Hans den Besten to find out the importance of these texts. Den Besten immediately recognized the texts and their value for future research.


The texts appeared to be copies of Negerhollands manuscripts that had been kept in the Unitäts Archiv in Herrnhut, Germany. The notebooks have, as far as I know, been manufactured in the Netherlands, but it remains unclear who transcribed these texts. In the catalogue of KITLV these texts are dated around 1940, but I could not find a date in any of the notebooks.

In the beginning of the twentieth century D. C. Hesseling contacted Archivist A. Glitsch of the Unitäts Archiv and ordered a copy of the Negerhollands Grammar, which is kept in Herrnhut. He got the copy, paid for it and after his death, his widow donated this manuscript to the University Library of Leyden. All letters with regard to this copy are still available in the University Library of Leyden. However, unfortunately we cannot find a single clue who copied these other texts in any of Hesseling’s letters or other manuscripts. The handwriting resembles that of Hesseling, but I think it is too early to draw a conclusion about that.

A first glance in the notebooks reveals complete paragraphs of the Old Testaments that were illegible in the original eighteenth century texts we used for our Clarin-NL NEHOL corpus.


It is a nice coincidence that the typoscript is a copy of Gospel Harmony 3.2.2., the one with the metalinguistic comments in the preface.


The texts still leave us with a lot of questions, which will hopefully be answered in a next quest.

Photos by KITLV

Unknown Negerhollands Manuscripts Library KITLV

Only a few months ago I found out that in 2008 about 18 notebooks with texts of the German missionary translator Johann Böhner were presented to the library of the KITLV (see last weeks post).

On Friday January 10th I investigated these texts. It was amazing, among other reasons, because the late Hans den Besten already examined some pages of these texts in 2007, discussed them with Sirtjo Koolhof in an e-mail correspondence and considered them of high interest.

The note books contain in total about 1280 pages of twentieth century transcriptions of eighteenth century liturgical texts. Of one of the eighteenth century Gospel Harmonies, 3.2.2. according to the code Peter Stein introduced in 1986, and which we use in our Clarin database, a typoscript is preserved.

All manuscripts were unfortunately anonymous, no writer, transcriptor or owner were mentioned, nor in the notebooks, nor on the covers. The originals of these manuscripts are stored in the Unitäts Archiv in Herrnhut, Germany, and as far as we know, no letters or bills considering these texts exist to search for a provenance. Like Hans den Besten wrote in one of his related e-mails, I ask myself: Did D.C. Hesseling, who did not use these texts for his 1905 publication, got renewed interest and ordered these transcriptions? Did he plan a new publication? It seems unlikely he transcribed these extensive texts himself. The notebooks  seem to be made by a Dutch and not a German manufacturer however…..

I hope to publish a few photographs and a list of contents of these notebooks soon.

Example of an opened page in manuscript 3.2.2. by Johann Böhner.

Negerhollands 322

De Josselin de Jong’s St. Thomas diary in library KITLV

De Josselin de Jong’s diary of the 1922-1923 archaeological expedition to St. Thomas, St. John, Saba, St. Eustatius, Curacao and Aruba is preserved in the library of the KITLV. It consists of one notebook in which De Josselin de Jong never uses a word of Negerhollands, but in which the process  of finding and interviewing informants (on St. Thomas and St. John), and finding older texts is presented more or less clearly. He even mentions an unknown Jesaiah manuscript, which he tried to copy during his last week on St. John. I hope to publish some examples from or pictures of the diary soon.

Click on logo for more information about the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies.



The only page left of Nelson’s notebook

New Negerhollands manuscripts!

In 2008 the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) obtained 18 notebooks with texts of Johann Böhner, the most important eighteenth century translator of Negerhollands liturgical texts.  These manuscripts  are probably copies made shortly before 1940. I hope to study these texts in a few weeks.