I posted earlier about a site that has the Anglican Book of Common Prayer online in various versions (including Welsh, Scots Gaelic, and Hawaiian); now I offer you a comprehensive history and discussion of translations of the BCP—well, comprehensive as of 1913, when William Muss-Arnolt, was a linguist at the Boston Public Library, published The Book of Common Prayer among the Nations of the World, online thanks to the Society of Archbishop Justus. Muss-Arnolt begins, as is only proper, with Latin and Greek (meaning, of course, Ancient Greek), continues with Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the Near East (beginning with Modern Greek and ending with Pashtu), The British Empire in India and the Far East (beginning with Hindi and ending with Ainu), Australia and the Pacific Ocean (“The Aborigines of Australia Sadly Neglected”), Africa (“The Land of Good Hope”), and The Amerinds or American Indians in North and South America (beginning with Mohawk—”The Mohawk were the most easterly tribe of the Iroquois confederation, the “Romans of the New World,” and hereditary foes of the Algonquians”—and ending with Yahgan, a language familiar to regular readers of LH). The book is very well presented:

The complete text of the book is presented here, as it was in the original, to the extent that HTML will allow. Additionally, the individual BCP’s discussed are identified by their reference number from Griffiths’ Bibliography of the BCP. Also, scans are included of a number of title pages of the BCP translations. Nearly all of these are from the web author’s collection.

The discussions of the men who produced the various versions are interesting and often touching (“A memorable figure under Magellan’s clouds was this solitary possessor of a language, who held, as it were, the spiritual life of a people in the scored and ruffled leaves of his version”), and the accounts of the peoples and languages, though sometimes inaccurate and condescending from our enlightened point of view, make lively reading. Who can resist a sentence like this? “The Right Rev. Alexander Charles Garrett, bishop of Dallas, Northern Texas, translated in 1862, while missionary at Victoria (1861-67), on Vancouver’s Island, portions of the Prayer Book into the Chinook jargon; but the jargon was so hopeless that he never printed a line.”

(My thanks to The Growler for alerting me to this via e-mail.)


  1. Chinook Jargon never gets a fair shake. He probably cause he couldn’t figure out how to write it.

  2. marie-lucie says

    I looked up the website indicated above, looking specifically at the Native American/Canadian languages, but not all of those listed (which are relatively few) are accessible from the web.
    About Chinook Jargon (a kind of pidgin): all kinds of people were writing Chinook Jargon at one time, each according to his own lights (there are numerous “dictionaries” of it, published at different times), but missionaries found its largely utilitarian vocabulary wanting when it came to preaching, and even more so when they tried to translate religious texts. That Rev. Garrett should have made the attempt while in Victoria, B.C. (Canada) is not surprising, since a number of different ethnic groups speaking a wide variety of languages were residing there at the time, and the Jargon was used (and developed) to communicate between groups (by both natives and newcomers). But missionaries dealing with specific groups in their own territories did the translations into the languages of those groups, which had much richer vocabularies (as well as more complex sound systems, which did not deter the translators).

  3. Note that the part about Chinese briefly mentions the need to produce a “spoken/colloquial” version to go along with the “written” version — and that they found that romanization was the best way to make sure that as many people understood the spoken version as possible.

  4. Oh no you didn’t!
    *ducks, covers*

  5. That “Bohemian” translation must be interesting. First, the place of printing is given as “we Swatem Ludowiku” (standard ortography: “ve svatém Ludovíku”). It took about two minutes of staring blankly at screen to figure out that they meant St. Louis. St. = svatý, Louis = Ludovík.
    But what follows is even more interesting: “Pulnocne Americe”, obviously meaning “North America”. Your standard Czech word for “north, northern” is “severní”. “Půlnoční” is a cognate to Polish “północny”. And while it is commonly used in the legendary Bible kralická, this is the first time I’ve seen it used in a non-biblical context.

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