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Canadian Native languages, the last to adopt the Devanagari script

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For decades missionaries held a love-hate relationship with the native knowledge systems across the world. For example, in the19th century, they created new alphabets for the languages of the Canadian Natives. Initially, they tried to use European language scripts. Soon, they found how their alphabets were a misfit because the natives followed Phonetically oriented scripts earlier. In fact. the languages used by Canadian natives phonetically resembles languages from India. In 1827 James Evans arrived to do missionary work in Ontario. He wanted to teach the Ojibwe Indians the gospel in their tongue.

His first challenge was to produce the sounds of the Ojibwe language with European alphabets. Immediately, he remembered the Devanagari script. Secondly, Europeans were associated with India and its languages for several decades by this time. Thirdly, Devanagari suits Ojibwe Indian sounds well. There is one other similarity. Ojibwe language sounds are constructed by appending a vowel sound to a constant sound. This is similar to all Indian languages. James Evans, therefore, proceeded to create a new script, deriving directly from the Devanagari alphabet. He innovated further by borrowing ideas from short hand writing. The Ojibwe tribe adapted well to this.

Alan Evans – Missionary or Linguist?

A Printing Press for Ojibwe Indians

Because of this success, the Church decided to transfer Alan Evans. He came to the Swampy Cree Indians in 1840. Immediately, he made them adopt the new script for their language too. Before his death in 1846, he wanted to secure a printing process for the new writing system. Here starts another story!

The colonial authorities refused to export printing press technology. Europeans in the continent, held s different opinion about native literacy. They believed that literacy can hamper task of “civilizing” the natives. Therefore, Evans had to assemble a printing press by himself. Definitely, this was not an easy task. Ironically, a few years after his death, the literacy rate of the native Canadian population surpassed that of the English and French speaking population. Consequently. the British and Foreign Bible society printed the first Bible in the Cree language script in 1861. Today, most native Canadians derive their alphabets from the Swampy Cree script which developed from the effort on Ojibwe Indian script. 

Devanagari source of initial and independent Cree consonants
Devanagari full
half forms
pa प्‍ pa/ba
ṭa ट‍ ta/da
ja ज्‍ cha/ja
ga ग्‍ ko/go
ma म्‍ ma
na न्‍ ne
sa स्‍ sa*
ya य्‍ yo
Incidental consonants
la ल्‍ -l
ra र्‍ -r
va/wa व्‍ -w
-h -h

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