Posts by tag: Lewis and Clark

Extraordinary Early American Relay Translations

“In 1748, the Oneida Sheckellamy, an intermediary on the Indian-white frontier in the Ohio Valley, went to considerable lengths to converse with a German visitor. A colonist translated the German’s words into Mahican, then a Mahican woman translated them into Shawnee for her husband, who in turn translated them into Oneida. Shickellamy’s reply went through the several translators in reverse order: Onedia to Shawnee to Mahican to German. More than two thousand miles to the west, in what is now Montana, the American explorers Lewis and Clark encountered similar problems in opening diplomatic relations with the Flathead or Salish Indians in 1805. No one in the American party spoke Salish. To communicate, the Americans delivered their speech in English, which François Labiche, one of the party, translated into French. Toussaint Charbonneau translated the French version into Hidatsa; his Shoshone wife, Sacagawea, who had lived among the Hidatsas, translated the speech into Shoshone. Finally, a Shoshone boy living with the Salish translated it into their language. One wonders how much of the original speech remained intact after traveling the length of this elaborate linguistic chain.”

– Colin G. Calloway’s New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America (2nd ed., Johns Hopkins UP, 2013. P. 129.)