One of the most important contributions that William Carey achieved was his work in translating the Christian scriptures into various Indian languages and dialects. Secondary sources about Carey differ in regard to the number of translations he completed and his direct translation work vis-à-vis Indian pundits. In one source by an Anglican colleague at Fort William College, Claudius Buchanan referred to Carey as having managed the work of an Indian pundit on the Mahratta version of the Gospels (Christian Researches in Asia: with Notices of the Translation of the Scriptures into the Oriental Languages [Boston: Samuel T. Armstrong, 1811]), Title page 89 90 91 92 93 94
Carey rehearses part of his work on Bible translations in a July 23, 1816, letter to Dr. Thomas Baldwin, First Secretary of the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions. Reprinted in The American Baptist Magazine, and Missionary Intelligencer for March 1817 (p. 64 p. 65), Carey claims (p. 65):
"The number of languages into which the sacred Scriptures are translated, or under translation, are nearly forty."
With the exception of three or four languages, "every language in India is so entirely derived from Sangskrit, that making a proper allowance for local variations of spelling and pronunciation, one dictionary may with propriety suffice for all these languages."
And finally, "owing to diversity of termination, and other circumstances, it is a fact, that those languages in India which come nearest to one another, are as distinct as any two languages in Europe, which are derived from the same source. This, though it makes the language of one country unintelligible to the inhabitants of those which border thereon, yet leaves the successful study of them all to a comparatively easy task to a person who is acquainted with the Sangskrit."
"I do entertain the idea that I may possibly live to see the bible printed in all the languages of the East, especially those of Sangskrit origin."
One of the most extensive statements for the Bible translation project at Serampore appeared in 1818. In this statement, the Serampore Trio jointly published its rationale for Bible translation into local Indian languages: William Carey, Joshua Marshman, William Ward, "To all those who encourage the Translation of the Sacred Scriptures into the Languages of Eastern Asia" [December 17, 1818], in W. Carey, J. Marshman, W. Ward, College for the Instruction of Asiatic Christian and Other Youth, in Eastern Literature and European Science, at Serampore, Bengal. London: Printed for Black, Kingsbury, Parbury, and Allen, Leadenhall Street, 1819.
Later, in a December 31, 1827, reprinted letter to Robert Ralston in the Boston Recorder and Religious Telegraph, Carey discusses his career-long work on Bible translations and his weakening health at age sixty-six (p. 106).
Various reviews of the Serampore Trio's translation work appeared in Britain. In August 1810, the role of the Established Church vis-a-vis the British and Foreign Bible Society received review in The Quarterly Review and entitled, "Dr. Wordsworth & Ld. Teignmouth on the Bible Society," 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 Later in July 1816, The Quarterly Review published a review article on Brief View of the Baptist Missions, and Translations; with Specimens of various Languages in which the Scriptures are printing at the Mission Press, Serampore (London, 1815), 350 351 352 353.
A list of languages and discussion into which the Bible was translated into various Eastern languages was published in Quarterly Papers, No. 16 (October 1825) in News from Afar or Missionary Varieties; Chiefly Relating to The Baptist Missionary Society, 4th ed. (London: Printed and Published for the Society, 1830), pp. 61-64. Page 61 Pages 62 Page 63 Page 64
In the mid to late 1820s, The Quarterly Review published several articles dealing with the translations sponsored or supported by the British and Foreign Bible Society, which had been established in 1804. In "Management of the British and Foreign Bible Society," The Quarterly Review 36/71 (1827?):1-28, Carey came under suspicion and criticism for his translation procedure. To review this article, click on the links below:
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The American Missionary Register, November 1821, included an abstract of the May 2, 1821, British and Foreign Bible Society's report on the progress of Bible translation. The report includes work completed at both Serampore and Calcutta. To review this abstract, click on these links: title page, 165, 166, 167.
A religious newspaper article from 1821 details the translation and publication work of the Serampore Trio. To view this source, click on the link below:
(details of the translation work at Serampore)
In 1892, the Baptist Missionary Society, which William Carey helped establish in 1792, celebrated its centennial. Part of that celebration included the publication of The Centenary Volume of the Baptist Missionary Society, 1792-1892. The last chapter, written by Edward Bean Underhill, LL.D., is titled, "Bible Translation." To view this BMS sponsored history of Bible translation, including the work of William Carey and his colleagues at Serampore, click on the page images below.
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For a brief review of Carey's work on translation, see Thomas Armitage, "Bible Translation in India," In A History of the Baptists; Traced by Their Vital Principles and Practices, from the Time of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to the Year 1886, introduction by J. L. M. Curry (New York: Bryan, Taylor, & Co., 1887): Page 585 Page 586 Page 587
To view the various alphabets of languages, some of which Carey mastered, click on the links below:
To view a translation of Matthew 4:16 into various Eastern languages, click here.
Carey Center Home Page
Created: January 11, 2001 Updated: August 9, 2012