Mohawk Language Dictionary

A tool of evangelization became a repository of linguistic history.

Written by Anne-Gaëlle Weber

Posted February 14, 2023

This dictionary in the Mohawk language was compiled by Jesuit fathers around 1660. Ordered alphabetically, it lists everyday words in French and their Mohawk translation. This dictionary testifies to the efforts at evangelization deployed by priests such as Father Pierre-Joseph-Marie Chaumonot, who in 1673 founded the mission of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette near Quebec City. An expert in the Huron-Wendat language, Chaumonot lived for more than fifty years with Indigenous people with the aim of converting them to Christianity.

This object demonstrates the Jesuits’ determination to carry out an in-depth conversion of the Indigenous peoples. Baptism alone was not enough; the missionaries sought a transformation of Indigenous peoples’ daily behavior — the only means, they believed, of assuring the salvation of the soul. This transformation would require mutual linguistic understanding between French and Indigenous peoples, a need that this dictionary was intended to meet. Today, it contributes to the preservation of the Mohawk language of the time.

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This object resides at the  Musée de la civilisation

This article originally appeared in Cinquante Merveilles de nos musées: les plus beaux trésors de la Francophonie Canadienne. The special interest publication was part of Projet Portage, a five-year initiative to connect history lovers in French and English Canada, generously supported by the Molson Foundation.

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