An 1860 English-Hopi Vocabulary Written in the Deseret Alphabet
Salt Lake City, UT
University of Utah Press
In 1859 Brigham Young sent two Mormon missionaries to live among the Hopi, “reduce their dialect to a written language,” and then teach it to the Hopi so that they would be able to read the Book of Mormon in their own tongue. Young also instructed the men to teach the Hopi the Deseret alphabet, a phonemic system that he was promoting in place of the traditional Latin alphabet. While the Deseret alphabet faded out of use in just over twenty years, the manuscript penned by one of the missionaries has remained in existence. For decades it sat unidentified in the archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints—a mystery document having no title, author, or date. But authors Beesley and Elzinga have now traced the manuscript’s origin to those missionaries of 1859 and decoded its Hopi-English vocabulary written in the short-lived Deseret alphabet. The resulting book offers a fascinating mix of linguistics, Mormon history, and Native American studies.
The volume reproduces all 486 vocabulary entries of the original manuscript, presenting the Deseret and the modern English and Hopi translations. It explains the history of the Deseret alphabet as well as that of the Mormon missions to the Hopi, while fleshing out the background of the two missionaries, Marion Jackson Shelton, who wrote the manuscript, and his companion, Thales Hastings Haskell. The book will be of interest to linguists, historians, ethnographers, and others who are curious about the unique combination of topics this work connects.