Alfred Downing, “I Signal an Indian from Opposite Shore”
The superbly readable naturalist-historian Jack Nisbet of Spokane has a column “Boundaries” in the free North Columbia Monthly, out of Colville. Thanks to Jack for this find…
His current (April 2012) column is “Sketching the New World: The Art of Alfred Downing”. Downing was born in England in 1848. He immigrated to the United States at age 24. His drawings are in the collection of the Washington State Historical Society, and look to be worth a closer look.
Jack reproduces three of Downing’s many sketches made in Moses-Columbia / Chelan country, while working as a ‘topographical assistant’ in the first half of the 1880s. One of these images piqued my interest; when I got hold of a larger copy of it, I found that the two figures are speaking Chinook Jargon to each other!
Downing and a Native man are engaged in attempted barter, with humorous effect:
- Downing: “Watch all same as chick-a-min” (Watches are just like money.)
- Indian man: “Wake cum-tux” (I don’t understand.)
This is good stuff. This sort of Jargon, with (Chinese-influenced?) pidgin English mixed in, seems to me characteristic of the Okanogan Highlands generally:
- “All same” is common in Chinese Pidgin English. U.E. Fries, whose book “From Copenhagen to Okanogan” I’ve been excerpting here, has Indians’ CJ including terms like “takee”–apparently ‘to take’–which also looks like CPE.
- Fries also has them using bits of what some scholars have called American Indian Pidgin English.
- You can even find South Seas pidgin English-looking words like “stop” and “by-and-by” in their CJ, at least on the Canadian side.
I get the impression that the late-settled interior border region also came late to CJ, and that non-Natives and Natives blended in whatever kind of foreigner talk they could dream up.
What do you think?
This type of language reminds me a bit of reading Pauline Johnson’s Vancouver stories. If you haven’t read them, there’s quite a few cases where the conversations look like they took place in CJ – I remember “by n by”.for sure.
Another point of reference is the Chilcotin region of BC. Many memoirs I’ve read (RD Symons is fascinating), and the Kamloops Wawa newspaper, portray Chinook Jargon in the Chilcotin as blended with pidgin-English style material.
What’s so striking to me is the resemblance of (southern) Okanogan CJ to Chinese pidgin English. Rarely do you find any indication whatsoever of Chinese impact on the Jargon–despite certain published claims.