As long as it is not a black eye it will be all right

The very first issue of the Chinook Wawa newspaperKamloops Wawa, came out on May 2 of 1891.  From the very start, its editor Father Le Jeune’s sense of humor shows.  (Read on.)    

Kamloops Wawa ran for years, generating the largest single set of Jargon material ever.  It hasn’t been much studied.  My dissertation is a start at making all this great BC material accessible to you, the always-growing community of Chinookers.  This blog is an active continuation of that work, so let me guide you through issue #1.

Kamloops Wawa issue 1 of 2 May 1891-page 1

Above, you see page 1.  Le Jeune is anthropomorphizing the newspaper–“it is born”, “it wants to speak”.  

He says it will appear “every Sunday”, but this is symbolic language; it’s a Catholic missionary paper, after all, and the Father would want to reinforce its content with religious practices.  It’s also likely to be a bit of a loan translation from Chinook, where “Sunday” of course means “week” also.  We know it isn’t meant literally because May 2, 1891 was a Saturday!  

Le Jeune uses the English translation of the text here to play on anglophone (pretty much meaning white folks’) assumptions, contrasting “Indians” with “civilized people”.  Having read every issue of this paper and piles more of Le Jeune’s personal documents, I have the firm impression he engaged in a mostly open-minded way with Aboriginal people, so “civilized” people looks like his way of playing to a white audience who could potentially donate money to the cause of Christianizing the Indians.  In his Jargon version of this, he just says kaltash poos klaska tekop telikom, kaltash pous sawash (“no matter if they’re white people, no matter if [they’re] Indian”).  

Kamloops Wawa issue 1 of 2 May 1891-page 2

There’s page 2, where Le Jeune stops transliterating his Chinook Wawa into the Roman alphabet.  Since it’s now in Chinuk pipa shorthand only, I’ll transcribe for you whenever needed.  

We can see that Le Jeune is still new at writing extended texts in the shorthand, which is an idea he had come up with only months before.  For example, he throws in the word alki (future) as an afterthought above the top line: pus klaksta alki iskom… (“if anyone will take…”).  

He says “No credit!” (Ilo shabon) — which turns out to be a sad joke, since the dozens of issues to follow make clear that virtually all readers in the Aboriginal target audience required credit to subscribe, and had real difficulty paying.  That created quite a dilemma for Le Jeune, who then had to solicit white readers and church authorities for increased support.  

He goes on to advise Aboriginal readers on a cultural practice that wouldn’t necessarily be self-evident in a newly literate community: you should make a careful point to keep your reading materials someplace where they won’t get damaged.  Later issues testify that his Native readers sometimes created elaborate storage boxes and so forth, and when Le Jeune in the mid-1890s asked them to send in their old issues to be hardbound and sold to white collectors, he got excellent response.  

Kamloops Wawa issue 1 of 2 May 1891-page 3

Up there is page 3; here Le Jeune sensibly launches into an explanation of how the shorthand works, so people in all the scattered Aboriginal communities will have easy access to a guide when their new knowledge of reading hits bumpy spots.  

He give the shorthand letters English names, i bi si (A B C), which if you consider it, doesn’t make much sense…notice that there are extra letters for diphthongs like “ow” and “wa”!  And not every English letter has a corresponding shorthand letter.  

Le Jeune uses the words “vowel” and “consonant” in both English and Chinook, and as a linguist I admire his ambition to teach people the underlying concepts behind his shorthand.  Vowels have unique behaviour in this writing system…but I’ve never seen a hint that the Aboriginal people found it useful to use these fancy words 🙂 

Kamloops Wawa issue 1 of 2 May 1891-page 4

And that’s page 4, where Le Jeune make an implied reference to what I just pointed out–you have to know not just the letters, but how they connect to each other, kind of like cursive writing, or Arabic.  

He then begins a discussion of the sounds of each letter, to be continued in the following issues.  I like Le Jeune’s humour in advising shorthand writers that the letterneeds to be written small (this avoids confusion with o, which is a large circle)–but not too small, or it would look like “a black eye”!  (Blak ai in his Chinook Wawa, a perfectly believable term since the local Jargon borrowed freely from “street” English.)  

Another sign that he is still getting his Chinook up to speed is that he writes Mamuk drit tanas iaka for “Make it very small”.  This would translate more literally as “Make him very small”; later issues show Le Jeune often phrasing such things the way the fluent Aboriginal speakers did, with an inanimate direct object being left unexpressed.  (So something like Mamuk drit tanas, with no iaka.)  

I always welcome your questions!  FIre away.