David Zeisberger’s Description of Delaware Morphology (1827)
This article proposes an analysis of the linguistic work of the Moravian missionary David Zeisberger (1721–1808), and more particularly of his grammar of the Delaware language (= [Lenni-]Lenape), which was published in 1827 in an English translation by Peter S. Du Ponceau (1760–1844), on the basis of the author’s German manuscript. A life-sketch and a short presentation of Zeisberger’s missionary work are intended to place the Delaware grammar in the context of his scholarly output, thus allowing the reader to adequately appreciate the practical orientation of the work. The analysis of the grammar, which is essentially a description of Delaware verb morphology, focuses on the parts-of-speech model, and on the treatment of the various word classes, with special attention being paid to the verb. The article offers a detailed study of the organization of the verb paradigms, of the division into conjugations and into ‘forms’ (positive, negative, etc.), and of the description of verbal ‘transitions’. The practical and analytical outlook of Zeisberger is confirmed by the lexicographically oriented treatment of the undeclinable parts of speech: the adverb, the preposition, the conjunction and the interjection. The conclusion insists on the fact that Zeisberger’s grammar was an important source for 19th-century linguists interested in language typology and more particularly in the structure of polysynthetic languages.