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A LARGE portion of the present volume relates to the aboriginal inhabitants of the country, - a subject of great and increasing interest to the American people. They are rapidly passing away; and it is deemed wise and important to collect and preserve such peculiarities of the race as may be found worthy of the contemplation and analysis of philosophical minds. With this view, the attention of the Society has been called to an examination of the various dialects existing, or that have existed, among the different tribes of North America. "Until within a few years past,” remarks a learned writer, “ these neglected dialects, like the devoted race of men, who have spoken them for so many ages, and who have been stripped of almost every fragment of their paternal inheritance, except their language, have incurred only the contempt of the people of Europe and their descendants on this continent; all of whom, with less justice than is generally supposed, have probably boasted of their own more cultivated languages, as well as more civilized manners." *
The first step towards this investigation must be a correct knowledge of individual dialects; the second, a comparison of the various dialects with one another. And the greater the extent to which the latter process is carried, the more satisfactory will be the conclusions at which we arrive. This has been termed the “comparative science of language,” which was first successfully cultivated under the auspices of the Empress Catherine of Russia, who took measures to obtain vocabularies of all the languages in the world. " She directed her Secretary of State,” says the writer we have already quoted, “ to write to the powers of Europe, Asia, and America ; and application was accordingly made to President Washington for our Indian languages, several specimens of which were accordingly furnished.” A portion of the results of those inquiries may be seen in the Transactions of the Academy of St. Petersburgh, in the accounts of Russian voyages of discovery, and in the works of various men of science, who have flourished under the patronage of the Empress and her successors. From the materials thus collected, the celebrated production of the German philologists, Adelung and Vater, proceeded in part, which has been followed within a few years by the more finished and extended work of Balbi, published in France, but dedicated to the Emperor of Russia. In the former, the collection of American dialects was both incomplete and deficient in accuracy ; in the compilation of the latter, the author consulted the manuscript essay of Mr. Gallatin, in its original state, which is published in the present volume, after having been much enlarged by the addition of copious vocabularies and other appropriate matter.
* Mem. Am. Acad. Vol. IV. p. 320,
The labors of other writers, who at different periods have bestowed their attention on the Indian languages, are to be referred to the first branch of investigations, limited to the distinct consideration of individual dialects. The works of Eliot, Cotton, Roger Williams, and Edwards, in New England; the Dictionary of Father Rasle, illustrated by the learned and just discrimination of Pickering; and the researches of Heckewelder and Zeisberger, on whose data have been reared the philological hypotheses and acute disquisitions of Du Ponceau ; are all of this class. It remained for Mr. Gallatin to bring together, in a comparative view, the languages and dialects of all the nations, so far as authentic specimens of them could be procured, and to describe the various analogies of structure and characteristic features existing among them. This we regard as the second step towards a complete philosophical view of the whole ground, now for the first time attempted on a scale commensurate with its importance, and executed in a manner, which claims the merit of originality, while it brings to good account the labors of all preceding writers. *
At the request of the Committee, a list of books published in the Indian languages by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, was prepared by the Rev. David Greene, one of the Secretaries of the Board, and communicated for publication in the present volume; but, as it has been since given to the public through the medium of another work, which possesses a wide circulation, it is deemed sufficient to state here the number of books printed in each language. They are as follows: In Cherokee, 18 distinct works ; Choctaw, 19 do.; Creek or Musk hogee, 3 do. ; Osage, 1 do.; Ojibway or Chippeway, 5 do.; Seneca, 4 do.; Ottowa, 1 do.; Abenaki, 2 do.; Sioux, 1 do. With the exception of those in the Cherokee, which have been printed in the syllabic alphabet invented by Guess, one of the tribe, the works have been printed in the orthography proposed by Mr. Pickering, as a uniform method of writing the Indian languages. I This we regard as a most important improvement, which is calculated to obviate a very serious difficulty resulting from the various systems of orthography adopted by writers of different nations. In addition to the above list of publications by the Board, (which consist of elementary schoolbooks and religious works, prepared by the Missionaries, the Rev. Mr. Byington has composed a Grammar and Dictionary of the Choctaw language, the latter containing about 15,000 words, which may be hereafter published.
*In regard to the details of the publication, it may be proper to state that the correction of the press has been performed without the aid of the Author. The whole of the Introductory Essay, however, together with some other portions of the work, passed under the careful revision of a member of the Publishing Committee, (Mr. Folsom,) by whom the entire duties of the Committee, in reference to the present volume, have been performed, in consequence of the engagements of the other members.
† Missionary Herald, for July, 1836. Boston. | Mem. Am. Acad. Vol. IV.
It is unnecessary to speak here of the other portions of the volume now presented to the public. They will be preceded by distinct notices illustrative of their origin and design, where it may be desirable for the information of the reader. .
A considerable period has been suffered to elapse since the publication of the first volume of the Transactions and Collections of this Society ; but, in the mean time, its general interests have not been neglected. The munificent bequests of Dr. THOMAS, making provision, among other objects, for the support of a resident Librarian, whose attention should be wholly devoted to the duties of the office, enabled the Society to secure the valuable services of Mr. Baldwin, the late incumbent. just idea of what was accomplished by that gentleman, during the few years of his official labors, is conveyed in the well-deserved tribute to his memory, from the pen of Governor Davis, contained in the present volume.
But, while the flourishing condition of the Society affords good cause of congratulation, it should be borne in mind, that the active and zealous coöperation of its friends is required to develope and apply the resources placed at their command for the promotion of its objects. Original contributions, as well as rare documents, illustrative of the history and antiquities of any portion of the continent, will always receive the respectful attention of the Publishing Committee; and, as the causes that have retarded the appearance of the present volume are not expected to occur again, it may be confidently anticipated, that in future the publications of the Society will be made at regular and less protracted intervals.