From Bulmer’s Preliminary geographical notes on the US

This blog’s reader Sam Sullivan sent in a draft translation of some really compelling material — a unique early attempt at education in Chinook Jargon:

“From Bulmer’s Chinook, Vol. 5: Preliminary Geographical notes on the U.S.” in the Kamloops Wawa newspaper.  (See my recent posts on an article on the same mimeographed page, and on Bulmer, for background.)

Incidentally, I’m always amused that Father Le Jeune saw fit to teach his Aboriginal readership about US rather than Canadian geography!  I can imagine their confusion.

Sam did a nice job extracting the gist from the shorthand Chinook Jargon.  His quick progress at reading it shows that you can indeed get yourself direct access to that treasure trove of firsthand material.

Bulmers Chinook geographical notions

With Sam’s blessing, I’m reproducing his translation, which you can compare with my rendition of the Chinuk Wawa and its meaning.  I’ll remind you that “=” is not an equals sign but a section-dividing punctuation mark in the Chinuk pipa shorthand.  I’m putting asterisks next to a couple of notable points that I’ll discuss at the end. My suggested translation is in quotation marks.

From Bulmer’s Chinook Volume 5.
Preliminary geographical notes on the US.

Nsaika mitlait kopa iht ilihi iaka nim Boston Ilihi, iaka Boston nim Yunaitid
We live in one land that is called Boston land, it’s Boston name is United
“We live in one particular*[1] place called White Man’s Land*[2], whose white-man name is the United”

Stits.  Ukuk Boston Ilihi iaka mitlait kopa iht aias ilihi iaka nim
States. This Boston land it is a big land whose name is
“States.  This White Man’s Land is located in this one big(ger)*[3] land [continent] called”

Amirika.  Amirika iaka mitlait wik saia iht kwata ilihi kopa kanawi
America. America is not far one like all
“America.  America has*[4] almost one-fourth of the land out of all”

ilihi kopa kanawi kah.  = Boston tilikom klaska aias skukum:
the land everywhere. Boston people are very strong,
“the land everywhere.  = The White people are very powerful:”

ayu klaska: 62 000 000 Boston tilikom mitlait kopa Boston Ilihi.
there are many 62 million Boston people living in Boston land.
“there are a lot of them: 62,000,000 White people live in White Man’s Land.”

     Amirika iaka mitlait mokst aias ilhi: iht ilihi iaka nim Nort Amirika,
     America is among the big lands whose name is North America.
     “America has two big lands: the one land is called North America,”

pi iht ilihi iaka nim Sawt Amirika.  = Nort Amirika iaka mitlait tlun ilihi:
And one land is named South America. North America it is three countries.
“and the other is called South America.  =  North America has three countries:”

Kanada, ayu kol pi ayu snas kol*[5] mitlait: Yunaitid Stits, kah nsaika mitlait
Canada many call and much rain, United States and we are
“Canada, [where] there’s a lot of cold and snow: the United States, where we are,”

pi Miksiko, kopa kah iaka drit wam.  = Mokst taii haws kopa nsaika taii tawn
and Mexico is very hot. Among the biggest buildings of our biggest cities
“and Mexico, where it’s very hot.  =  [There are] two leading houses in our capital city,”*[6]

Washington iaka nim.  Klaska mamuk lo kopa nsaika pi nsaika aias taii Prisidint
Washington is the name. They make law for us and our elesetant
“which is called Washington.  They make laws for us, and our great chief the President”

kanamokst klaska.  Ukuk los*[7] iaka*[8] tlus kopa mamuk tlus kanawi tilikom pi
together they this loss. This is good for every person,
“[does so] together with them.  These laws are good for making everyone behave and”

tlus nanich kanawi tilikom, Boston tilikom pi Sawash tilikom.
Boston people and Indian people.
“[they] protect everyone, the White people and the Indian people.”


  1. iht, literally ‘one’, normally connotes ‘a particular one’ in Kamloops-area CJ.
  2. Boston is one of the words used for ‘white people’ in the Kamloops area, not necessarily implying a US identity.  For Bulmer, a Briton who I infer picked up much of his Chinook Jargon by reading, this word probably meant ‘citizen of the USA’ unambiguously.  But for Le Jeune’s readers this wouldn’t necessarily have been entailed by its association with whites.
  3. aias for ‘bigger’: it’s incredibly hard to find examples of overt comparative-adjective formations in the Kamloops area.  Most often, degrees of scalar adjectives are left implicit. All this is to tell you that Le Jeune’s readers could easily have inferred exactly what Bulmer intended, namely that one ilihi was part of another bigger ilihi.  
  4. mitlait ‘has’: note that the preceding uses of mitlait were locational, while this example, also legit, is possessive.
  5. snas kol: I find it hard to imagine that either Bulmer or, recopying him, Le Jeune, would make a grammatical mistake of this order in expressing ‘snow’.  This seems perhaps one of Le Jeune’s rare–given his enormous published output–writing mistakes.  Intended was surely kol snas, literally ‘cold rain’.
  6. taii haws…taii tawn:  both straightforward in that taii routinely modifies other nouns to convey ‘main, primary, leading’.  But just try nailing down the sense of taii haws if you were a BC Indian unfamiliar with the USA’s bicameral legislature!  And even taii tawn doesn’t necessarily convey the same idea as ‘capital’; it’s got a more pragmatic sense of the main city of a district, such as Vancouver as opposed to Victoria.
  7. los: the wholesale importation of an English-language plural, ‘laws’, is pretty uncharacteristic of Father Le Jeune’s quite fluent CJ use.  This looks like an earmark of Bulmer’s authorship.
  8. On the other hand, iaka (literally ‘he/she/it’) to refer to a plural noun (‘laws’) is characteristic of Kamloops-area, and Indigenous people’s, Chinook Jargon!

Overall, there are internal clues in this short text that show Bulmer’s distinct authorial voice in Jargon, as well as those that indicate Le Jeune acting as not only his copyist but his editor.

This late 1800s text provides a fascinating little study in that time’s approaches to Western-style education of Aboriginal people.  It definitely demonstrates that Bulmer and Le Jeune shared the notion that Chinook Jargon wasn’t a mere useless trade lingo, but instead a tool for conveying real and valuable information.