Friday, October 26, 2018

Translating Tamil

First page of a letter from Levi Spaulding to his nephew Lyman Spaulding, August 22, 1863.
In June of 1819, a young man named Levi Spaulding embarked on a trip to South Asia that would ultimately lead him to the island country of Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka. The small nation had just been colonized by the British in 1818, and Spaulding's intent was to serve as a minister of God to its indigenous people. Spaulding had originally intended to be a farmer in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, where he was born in 1791, but his father's death in 1809 changed the trajectory of his life. Instead, he enrolled in Dartmouth College as a member of the class of 1815 and had a spiritual awakening there after several years of religious indifference. After graduating, he promptly attended Andover Theological Seminary and received his degree in 1818. Only a short year later, Spaulding was on a ship headed for India. He would return only once to his native country for a two-year furlough and spent his life ministering to the Tamil people of Sri Lanka and southern India. He died in Uduvil, a town at the north of the island, in 1873 at the ripe old age of 82.

The title page from Spaulding's Tamil translation of the New Testament (vol. 2).One of the most daunting initial challenges for Spaulding was a lack of suitable religious texts. When he wrote to his nephew in 1863 to describe his early days as a missionary, Spaulding mentioned that upon his arrival he discovered that there were only two grammars in the mission, no dictionaries, and no Christian texts. There weren't even enough English Bibles for the missionaries. Spaulding dedicated himself to translating various tracts, sermons, and other religious texts into Tamil, including Pilgrim's Progress. Spaulding recounted in his correspondence that he would often pick up new words during his conversations with the local community and then immediately pencil them on his shirt sleeves for later transcription. Eventually, the fruit of his labors was both a Tamil-English dictionary and a Tamil translation of the New Testament.

To see a volume of Spaulding's Tamil New Testament, come to Rauner and ask for Alumni S7393t v.2. To read his correspondence with his nephew, ask for MS 838563.1.

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