Hyou dams!

Mirabile visu, a book review turns juicy!

God dam

Commenting at length on Horatio Hale’s 1890 revision of his 1846 (Wilkes) U.S. Exploring Expedition report, a Robert Brown tosses in some great s#!+ in Chinook that you’ve never read before. (The Academy [London, England], Vol. XXXVIII, No. 958, September 13, 1890, pages 225-226).

For one thing, as you might guess from my coded expletive, there is swearing — in a Christian missionary’s sermon, no less! That even beats the crap out of Lewis & Clark’s “damned rascal, son of a bitch, &c.”

I will sincerely tell you my analysis that the presence of obscenity alone renders this article of great scientific value, showing as it does by its rarity the deleterious effects of bowdlerization on the historical documentary record of Chinuk Wawa.

In plain words, back in the day, lots of English words got left out on purpose when those Victorian white guys wrote down their vocabularies of the Jargon. They skipped over both the vocabulary that their readers would already recognize from contemporary English (shot, law, etc.) and the stuff that would be perceived as naughty (some of that came from Indigenous languages too). Too bad, as Jay Powell has done a fine job of suggesting in a paper or two about words left out of CJ dictionaries. Here and there, but often enough and widespread enough to show that it’s genuine data, you find “obscene” words although quite often they lacked prurience, as with “shit lamachin” meaning a laxative (in a missionary vocabulary I dug up from an archive).

So attend to hyou dams below.

Secondly, the metalinguistic comments that Mr. Brown tosses in are gold. From personal experience during the peak of Jargon’s vitality in the Northwest, he proffers keen-eyed observations about what constituted good and bad Jargon. Because I was just now talking about moral judgments, let me explain that I’m shifting concepts, to an evaluation of people’s fluency. Contrary to the now-ridiculous claims that many (comma, many) linguists have pronounced over pidgins, these languages absolutely, positively have grammars and a sense of good spoken style. Some folks always exist who are recognized in the speech community as skilled at expressing themselves in e.g. Chinook Jargon.

Brown is quick to skewer those among the missionaries who were too lazy or unintelligent — I dearly love the turning of such condemnations away from Indigenous people back onto those who most often administered it! — to learn proper Chinook Jargon. He also favorably contrasts that old shibboleth, the “number of words in Chinook” (500 by his estimate) with the usual vocabulary of average white folks in rural England (400).

All of this evidence inclines me to evaluate Mr. Brown as an informed and even-handed observer of the Jargon. So when he quotes from memory a missionary who was “a good man, but deficient in humor” preaching about the betrayal of Jesus, I say it’s worth paying attention to. I’ll provide my own translation, which you can compare with Brown’s which is charitable to the known intent of the speaker:

“Peta yaka…mitlite
copa piah. Alkie tenass klotchman elita tyhee [SIC]
leplet wawa, ‘mika tillikum okok Jesus.’
Peta wawa, hyou silex, ‘nika wake kumtux
yaka, mika [SIC] wake kumtux mesika [SIC] pilton wawa.’
Alkie moxt elita wawa kahkwa okok [SIC], pe Peta
wawa hyou dams (hyas mesachie), ‘nika helu
kumtux yaka.’ Alkie tenass kellakala wawa
kahkwa okok [SIC]…
pe Peta mamook lapote pe hyou cly.”
“Peter…was
by the fire. Eventually a girl slave[,] the chief
priest[‘s] [SIC] said, ‘You’re this Jesus’s friend.’
Peter said, being very angry, ‘I don’t know
him, you [SIC] don’t know you folks’ [SIC] crazy talk.’
Eventually two slaves spoke like this one [SIC], and Peter
said [with] many swears (very evil), ‘I don’t
know him.’ Eventually a little bird made a noise
like this one [SIC]…
and Peter opened the door and was crying.”

Briefly, the stuff I’ve flagged with [SIC] looks a bit ‘off’ to me, and specifically it looks like the unskilled Chinook of a native English speaker.

  • There’s no possessive marking to show who the slave girl belonged to. The way the preacher expresses this would actually be ungrammatical in English too; someone probably told him the old saw that “there’s no word for ‘of’ in Jargon”, leading him to use no word for ‘of’ in Jargon. We’d expect a word in fact: elita kopa…leplet ‘slave to the…priest’ is possible, or more commonly there’s …leplet yaka elita ‘…priest‘s slave’.
  • Pronouns are confused. mika [SIC] wake kumtux mesika [SIC] pilton wawa would be expected to come out more like nika ( = I) wake kumtux mika ( = your [singular you]) pilton wawa. 
  • Kahkwa okok is literally ‘like this’, but only if you mean ‘this one, this thing’. So the second occurrence of this phrase confusingly seems to say ‘like this one [the girl slave]’. To express ‘like this, in this manner’ you simply say kahkwa

Other features here, although not mistaken, would probably be expressed differently in more fluent Jargon. To give one example, the use of alkie as ‘by and by; eventually’ is commendable — English speakers often try using it as future-tense ‘will’ — but for the seemingly intended sense of ‘in a while’, you might instead say tenass lili.  

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