Friday, June 1, 2012

George Pratt, Samoan Language Champion

In my opinion the patron saint of the written Samoan language is the Reverend George Pratt, who lived in Samoa for 40 years as a missionary for the London Missionary Society.

Though other missionaries preceded him to the Samoan archipelago, including the venerable John Williams, it was Pratt who first documented the Samoan language.

His most enduring contributions to the language are his grammar and dictionary, which went through four editions, and the translation of the Holy Bible into Samoan.

In his day the Rev. Pratt stood "pre-eminent as a student and master of the Samoan language." (1) He

spoke it like one of the natives of a generation now passed away, before the language had suffered from modern corruptions. He was so familiar with the classic traditions of the people, and could illustrate and give points to his speech by such telling references and allusions, that it was always a treat to the natives to hear Palati speak. He had no uninterested hearers. (2)

Concerning his work on the Bible, one of his colleagues, the Rev. Samuel James Whitmee, eulogized Pratt with the following:

To him, more than to any other person, although several rendered efficient aid, the excellence of the Samoan version of the Scriptures is due. I think I may say he did more than all the rest put together. The translation, and then the revision of the Samoan Bible, was the great work of his life. To this he devoted almost daily attention for many years, with the result that the Samoans have a Bible which, as a classic, is, and will be to them, very much what the Authorized Version has been in England. (2)

I think it's safe to say that anyone who learns Samoan as a second language is indebted in some way to the Rev. George Pratt. That all Samoan-speaking Christians are indebted to him for the Samoan Bible goes without saying. His work will stand as an eternal memorial to his dedication to a noble cause.

1. George Cousins, The Story of the South Seas, London Missionary Society, 1894.

2. Richard Lovett, The History of the London Missionary Society, 1795 - 1895, H. Frowde, 1899.

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