Pushing the boundaries of Chinook Writing: How to write (more) Chinese

yawei chinese shorthand

The inventor of a different Chinese shorthand

(Image credit: ChinaDaily.com.cn)

Regular readers of my site probably recall a remarkable old Chinuk Wawa article showing how to count in southern Chinese. (See “Shaina Man Mamuk Kansih Kakwa“.)

That article was written in the “shorthand” Chinook Writing, i.e. the Chinuk Pipa alphabet of British Columbia. It was neat to get a glimpse of how that shorthand-based writing system, which many in the 19th century said was “universal”, could be applied to several one-syllable words in a very different language from Chinook Jargon.

Today we see it stretched further. Kamloops Wawa #198 (September 1901) carries a many-page article reporting on the Boxer Rebellion in China, and there we find plenty of multi-syllable Chinese proper names. It turns out there are some new twists.

Take a look.

Right away it’s clear that the multiple syllables in a Chinese name are connected by a symbol that you otherwise rarely see in Chinuk Pipa, a plus sign (* my asterisk indicates an unclear reading):

Page 76:

  • lisivik kopa Si+Chuin ‘the bishop in Szechuan/Sichuan’
  • Kun.g+Ton.g* ilihi ‘the Kwangtung/Guangdong/Canton region’

That style of punctuation has to be influenced by European style; for example, in various places, the Jargon text has section titles in English where we see the typical hyphenated Chinese names, for example “Tien-Tsin”.

Another noticeable feature is that, even though Chinuk Pipa has a symbol to represent the “ng” sound that’s so frequent in Chinese varieties, Father Le Jeune hardly uses it here. the “ng” symbol is the Chinuk Pipa “n” symbol plus a dot, and it’s often hard to distinguish the two. That may be why we see “n” plus “g” used instead (represented here as “n.g”):

Page 77:

  • kopa U+Chan.g+Ku ‘at U Chang Ku*’
  • Mõsinor Favrii*, lisivik kopa Pi+King, Shaina taii tawn ‘Monsignor Favrier, bishop at Peking, China’s capital’
  • Ukuk Twan, iaka drit ilo tiki kanawi tkop man ‘This Tuan really hated all Whites’
  • Kopa iht tawn iaka nim Kaw+Ló* ‘At a town called Kaw Lo…’
  • Ukuk man iaka nim Tu+Duk*, iaka taii  ankati kopa Ton.g+King ilihi… ‘This man named Tu Duk used to be the leader in the Tongking region…’

That “Kaw+Ló” shows you another way that Chinuk Pipa can be extended and used to represent sounds more precisely; you absolutely can place accent marks on the vowels of Chinook Writing. This was hardly ever done for writing the Jargon (as was true of writing Jargon with Latin letters too). But for some languages it was common. Sechelt and Okanagan, a couple of Salish languages, were written with hundreds of accent marks in Chinuk Pipa.

One symbol that exists with some frequency in Chinuk Pipa writing of the Jargon, but that gets used much more for Chinese, is the letter I’m transcribing as “c”. As in modern “pinyin” writing of Mandarin Chinese, this stands for a “ts” sound…

Page 79:

  • Tiin+Cin, Sip. <30>, <1900> ‘Tientsin/Tianjin, Sept. 30 1900’
  • Shaina wach min kopa tkop man, klaska nim Cun.g+Li+Ia+Min* ‘the Chinese guards over the White people are called Tsung Li Ya Min…’

In the following bunch of examples, we find not just proper names but also some spoken Beijing Chinese written down:

Page 82:

  • Naika klatwa nanich prins Cing ‘I visited Prince Tseng*’
  • iht tlus styuil haws iaka paia kopa tanas saia ilihi, Tun.g-An.g* ‘a nice church burned down in a nearby place, Tung-Ang’
  • kopa Nan-An.g* ‘at Nan-Ang’
  • Boksirs wik saia nsaika haws, ayu wawa: Sha, shamamuk mimlus; Shaw, chaw, mamuk paia. ‘The Boxers were near our house, saying “Sha, sha (kill!); Shao, shao (burn!)” ‘
  • <26> Shaina pan.g* haws paia ’26 Chinese “pang houses”* burned down’
  • Liplit kopa Si+Tan.g* iaka mimlus ‘the priest at Si-Tang has died’
  • Shaina taii wawa pus kanawi tkop man mash Pi<X>King tumoro ‘the Chinese leaders told all the Whites to leave Peking’

That last example above shows a rare alternative to the plus-sign punctuation, an “X” shape.

Here is one last bit of shorthand Chinese:

Page 89:

  • ayu fait kopa iht aias laport iaka nim Si+Hwa ‘there was heavy fighting at a gate named Si-Hwa’

Maybe some of my readers will have enough acquaintance with Chinese varieties to tell more about how well the Chinuk Pipa captures the language!