Clattewah, or, how variant spellings led me to a mixed Spanish-English-CJ pidgin

[ *** Edited for clarity — because I posted this late last night 🙂 *** ]

A humorous bit about the high cost of living in San Francisco — how timely!

A racist one — er, how retro!

One supposedly documenting the mixed pidgin speech of nearby Native people — why, you’d have to turn specifically to Hutching’s California Magazine No. 23 (May 1858) for that.

By the way, this periodical was published by Hutchings and Rosenfield, who also put out one of the earliest popular-market Chinook Jargon dictionaries. Because, gold rushes.

This number of HCM includes a column titled the “Editor’s Table”, page 527 of which reprints the jocular piece of which I speak.

(It’s taken from a recent Placerville (CA) Index piece penned by that newspaper’s editor Wm. Frank Stewart.)

*** I found this by searching on less-common spellings of Chinuk Wawa words, and I’m extremely pleased at the result, viz.: ***

The speech of the Native man that it quotes uniquely blends at least these:

  • what some linguists call American Indian Pidgin English, some of it resembling the West Coast style of Chinese Pidgin English (“l” pronunciation for English “r”; “heep”)
  • Chinook Jargon
  • (pidgin?) Spanish

This mahala means squaw, excuse my French.

Do I think all this is for real?

Well, Placerville, a.k.a. Hangtown — no, really — is indeed at the southern limit of the territory I’ve ever noticed Chinook Jargon to have been used in. The general Sacramento area there was certainly tied in with the Pacific Northwest in the days of fur-trade brigades.

And printers in SF promoted the Jargon as a necessary preparation that would-be gold prospectors should include in their outfits.

And Jargon should have been on its way out in that region as English became overwhelmingly dominant and Indian languages faded due to genocide. We do see an apparent transition mainly to English below — and I think a reference to CJ as “Indian”, not understood by whites.

Without further ado, here’s an image of the article followed by a transcription for the record.

Clattewah-page-049 (2)

Me putty good Ingin. Me heep ketchum
all same day; klicket jump up on a log;
heep ketch em glasshopper; Ingin John
John putty good too. Hyack clattewa Big
Canon; gittum little oro–two bit–one dol-
lar. One day no ketchum klicket; no 
muckemuck velly good; me cum Hang-
town; Melican man heep sellim two bit 
carna; shank no good! cheat him Ingin 
mahala! Melican all bad; heep cheat him 
poor Ingin; Clagwin cheat him; Tonny 
cheat him; butcher man all cheat him 
heep! White man hala kum-tux, Ingin 
waw-waw. Niker clat-te wa sy-ah mim-
me-loos hy-you Melican man: 

One day Ingin ketch heep glasshopper ….. 02
One day heep klicket ….. 01
One day buy him carna ….. 25
One day shank ….. 12 
One day mash heep acorns ….. 0
One day heep dog ….. 50 
One day whisky ….. 2 50 

Total for one week ….. 3 40

HY-USE TY-EE (Captain John)

As I typically do in this blog, I’ve bolded what’s recognizably Chinook Jargon.

For contrast, I’ve underlined the Spanish or pidgin Spanish stuff (Cañon ‘canyon’ [then a very new loan in English], oro ‘gold’, carna ‘meat’, mahala < Sp. mujer ‘woman’). One source on the life of Ishi, the famous “last of the Yahi” tribe, claims there was a widespread Spanish pidgin. I’ve also read that there was a pidgin called “Chileno” (‘Chilean’) used by California Indians, maybe one and the same.

The rest is straight-up pidgin English, with maybe a couple of signs of an anglophone editorial hand; I wouldn’t expect the indefinite article “a” to appear in most pidgin Englishes.

This article is a nice find. I think I could say a bit more about it, but I’ll leave you to puzzle out what our “Ingin” narrator is telling us.