Delaporte's Nauruan Dictionary (1907)

A - C      D - G      H - O      P - S      T - Y

The Rev. Ph. A. Delaporte, a German born American Protestant Missionary, was sent to Nauru with his family in November of 1899. They came from Hawaii via Kusaie under the auspices of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, sent by the Central Union Church of Honolulu.1 The mission had been started some ten years earlier by a Gilbertese pastor, Tabuia, and it maintained a school, which along with the Catholic mission's school, comprised the only formal educational system on the island for more than two decades.2

Delaporte (the Delaportes?) translated numerous religious texts into Nauruan, including the New Testament, stories from the Old Testament, a catechism, a hymn book, school text, and history of the Christian church.3 The Boston Board of Missions Church on Nauru was taken over by the London Missionary Society in early 1917, and the Delaportes returned to the US.4

In 1907, Delaporte published his pocket German-Nauruan dictionary (Taschenworterbuch Deutsch-Nauru), on which the Nauruan data in this list is based. The dictionary is small, appx. 4½ x 5" (10.5 x 14 cm), with 65 pages devoted to the glossary and an additional dozen to phrases, arranged alphabetically by the German. Approximately 1650 German words are glossed in Nauruan, often by phrases or synonymous forms. There are some 1300 'unique' Nauruan forms in the glosses, including all those occuring in phrases, and ignoring diacritical marks.

In the dictionary, Delaporte uses an orthography consisting of the following 32 characters: 5

      b   p     d   t     g   k   q     j   r   w     m   n  ñ

      c   f   h   l   s   z

      i   e     a   à   â     o   ò   ô   ö     u   ù   û   ü

As there is no explanatory section to the dictionary, the phonetic values for the symbols are left to the reader's devices. The text shows 3 types of a, 4 of o and 4 of u, along with one i and e. With the exception of  ò and  ù, the marked vowels account for a relatively small percentage of the vowel inventory, as can be seen in the distribution chart. This suggests that Delaporte's system may actually be representing only two forms each for a, o, and u. Additional evidence seems to bear this out: There are frequent examples of the same word spelled with different vowel markings in the dictionary, and the Nauruan bible, including Delaporte's New Testament, shows only two vowel forms, one marked (with a tilde), and one unmarked. Perhaps the Mission Press font set did not include enough tilded forms, and so umlauted and accented forms were substituted.

The appx. 2,500 English-Nauruan-German entries are alphabetized by my English translations of the German glosses. The numerals, which were a separate list at the end of the dictionary, have here been moved to the top.

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    1 Vivani, Nancy. Nauru, Phosphate and Political Progress, UH Press, 1970, p 25.
    2 Petit-Skinner, Solange. The Nauruans, Some Press, San Francisco, 1980, p 23.
    3 ibid. p 27.
    4 Along with young Timothy Detudamo, one of the students, to help with Nauruan translations. Detudamo remained in America four years, and returned to Nauru where he became politically active, and eventually "the father of Nauruan Independence". (Viviani p 61.)
    5 This list indicates the vowels  â  ô and  û (with a circumflex). In the dictionary they are marked with a tilde (~).
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Distribution of Nauruan Characters in Delaporte's Dictionary

lettertotalaloneinitialmedial final
i14971382853261
e19000724967209
a202543181323380
à481161912
â2822150
o691180434176
ò5430162253128
ô620351116
ö140473
u3691527390
ù1540513712
û5602495
ü2203172
b47909235037
p104029687
d480012433026
t6300115346169
s158031505
g30704123432
k436012324568
q64014455
m735014654841
n876718282569
ñ337049185103
j20901916327
w53104339197
r877058669150
l90261
f40031
c120390
z20020
h100055
321366917263683792637
(top)

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