“Are you Spokan?” The Ladies’ Repository wants to know

Ladies Repository

One of the earlier popular-market features devoted to Chinuk Wawa is an unattributed piece……titled “The Chinook Jargon and the Oregon Indians“, in the Methodist Episcopal monthly periodical The Ladies’ Repository for October 1872 (pages 299-301).

That magazine was more substantial in its content than the title might lead to you to guess; it strikes me as being more like a National Geographic than a Ladies’ Home Journal, being devoted to factual reporting from farflung parts of the world as much as to the era’s stereotypically female-directed material, like poems and religion.

So this piece is actually very interesting. In fact it pretty thoroughly covers most of the ground that any “creolist” (linguist specializing in language contact) would feel a need to address in 2017, for instance its origins, structure, and the notion of engineering it for educational purposes.

The presentation of this article from a female point of view is just about unique in the Chinuk Wawa literature. It’s almost certainly one reason why it was never included in bibliographies of the language, which otherwise freely included the least scraps of data that had ever been published or even privately noted down — by men.

And, this article is not a scrap. There is a lot of the Jargon here. I reproduce it in full below…with the Wawa bolded for learners to find it fast.

ladies repository text 1


MYSELF.     What do you call this lingo that I hear you and the Indians use? It can not be a language, for I notice that you plentifully interlard it with English words; and, more strange still, I fancy that I can detect some of the small change so universally current among thieves and black-legs, and as a coinage known by the name of “Thieves Latin,” in your mixed talk. I am curious to know something about this very remarkable jaw; for I will not consent to call it a speech.

He.     You are right; it is not a language. And yet, as you perceive, it is a medium of communication between the white and red races all over Oregon. It was invented by the early settlers to facilitate the progress of commerce in this remote region, and among these savage peoples. It is neither fish, flesh, nor red herring; neither Indian nor English; but a sort of gibberish, or jargon, and certainly the lowest attempt at spoken language with which I am acquainted. It is just the kind of cryptic which one might suppose the gorilla folk would utter if they had vocal organs.

Myself.     I can not see why it was invented at all. The Indian language, mean and limited as it is at the best, would be more expressive, and more readily acquired, I should think. This base coinage is a wrong done to the majesty of human utterance. It is unspeakably base and degrading.

ladies repository text 2

He.     True again; but these early settlers did not care to learn the various languages of the various tribes of Indians which are located in this territory; for it is a singular fact, that in Oregon and Washington there are upward of forty tribes “habitated” — if I may coin another new word in this connection — no two of which, however nearly their lodges may be located, have a precise sameness of language. You will see, therefore, that the invention of some sort of a vocal utterance was a necessity of the place and circumstance. And what better than this promiscuous jargon could be expected from white ignorance and red savagery?

Myself.     ‘T is a misfortune, nevertheless; and one day we shall have the philosophers at loggerheads about it. These “Thieves’-Latin” words, these diabolical mud-gutturals, these pilferings from the patois of the streets and stables and beggars’ kennels, these robberies of the European slang speeches, shuffled abominably together with Indian words, of which the lingo is composed, present an example of philological fornication which has no match in all the bestialities of that copulation to be found in the history of language.

He.     I grant that speech is given to exalt and ennoble man, not to corrupt and degrade him; but it is done — the mischief I know is done, and there is no help for it but death. It will die out one day, and before long, too. The Indians are perishing like leaves in the Autumn forests; and the inrushing tides of immigration are fast sweeping away all traces of those early settlers who found it necessary to make a language in order that they might understand and be understood by their neighbors.

Myself.     Only think of the immeasurable gulf that separates this Yahoo jaw from the noble, all-seeing, all comprehending English language — the language of Shakspeare and the Bible.

He.     Do n’t [sic] mention it. Mine gorge rises at the thought.

Myself.     What do they call the jargon?

He.     The Chinook.

Myself.     Let me hear you speak it, so that I may set down the words.

He.      Kah-ta yock-a name mika il-la-he? That means, “What country are you from?” Pok-a [yok-a?] mi-ka ca-po o-cook men? means “Is that your brother?” Kah sun mi-ka cha-ko: “At what hour?” Sit-cum sun: “At noon.” Co-qua sit-cum sun: “In the morning.” Ten-as-sun, or a-lip-sun: “Early.” Mi-ka cum-tux Spokan wa-wa: “Do you understand Spokan?” Spokan nah mi-ka: “Are you a Spokan?” Copa tum-water: “To Oregon City.” Copa

ladies repository text 3

Poteland: “To Portland.” Nah mit lite mi-ka ka-nim: “Have you a boat?” Na-wit-ka: “Yes.” Nah close ni-ka clat-a-wa copa mi-ka: “Can I go with you?” Kata yock-a name: “What country?” Clat-a-wa al ta, cha-co ta-mal-la: “Go away till to-morrow.”

Myself.     In your talk with that big chief, with the zig-zag blue and red marks on his face, just before we had our dinner, I noticed that you used the words mem-mook and muck-a-muck, and that the former word to have two or three meanings. Is the “language,” as you call it, really so poor as that?

He I asked how to make a fire, thus: Mem-mook pi-a. “To boil the water:” Sic mem-mook lip-lip chuck. “To cook the meat: Mem-mook pi-a o-cook it-lu-il. ‘T is as you say a beggarly speech; but it answers its purpose. I’m a utility man, you see.

Myself.     Let me hear some more of these villainies.

He.     Wash o-cook la-pla: “Wash the dishes.”

Myself.     La-pla! Come now, that is impudent. La is stolen from the French, I suppose, and pla is a corruption of plate — is n’t it so?

He.     I dare say it is. There are bits of all sorts in this hodge-podge; and la-pla for a plate, a cup, a saucer, or a vessel of kind. “Kah” is the interrogative sign; copa kah “In what?” Copa o-cook la-pla: In that vessel. “Pi-a” means fire, steam, heat, etc. Lo-lo o-cook lack-a-set co-pa pia-ship: “Carry this trunk to the steamboat.” O-cook means “this,” “that,” “the,” etc. Mi-ka tick-ey ma-kook o-cook salmon: “Will you sell that salmon?”

     Wake means “No,” and wake si-ah “A short distance.” Here is a specimen of the jargon in a traffic doing. After asking the Indian if will sell a salmon, the Indian asks, Clax-ta: “Which of them?” The reply is, O-cook hi-as salmon: “That large one.” Ic-ta mi-ka pot-latch, or con-ze-a: “For how much?” Ni-ka pot-latch shoes: “I ‘ll give you a pair of shoes.” Wake: “No.” Ni-ka pot-latch ict coat: “I ‘ll give you a coat.” Pus-sis-y: “A blanket.” Se-ca-lux: “A pair of pants.” Wake co-qua ni-ka tick-ey tol-la: “No, I want money.” Nika pot-latch moxt bit: “I ‘ll give you two bits.” No; he won ‘t take two bits; but he says: Is-cum o-cook moxt pe pot-latch quin-im bit: “Take the two for five bits.” Muck-a-muck means bread, meat, game, any thing eatable. Yock-qua mit-lite mi-ka muck-a-muck: “Here is some meat.” Yock-qua mit-lite sap-i-lel muck-a-muck: “Here is some bread.” La-see, “a saw;” la-hash, “an ax.” The same form of words is used for “good morning,

ladies repository text 4

friend,” “good evening,” “good day” — sic: Kla-how-iam-six. lct tol-la: “A dollar.” Nah? ol-o mika: “Are you hungry?” Nah? ol-o chuck mi-ka: “Are you thirsty?” Na-wit-ka: “Yes.”

Myself.     Not a very attractive language, I think. And yet, I dare say I shall find it useful before I leave these hunting-grounds. But it really grieves me to think that it is so barren and limited. It is made to express wants, and “to get along” with; and ‘t is a pity that those early settlers you speak of did not also invent a language for the expression of ideas and the transmission of history. Are there any words in the lingo which stand for any thing higher than muck a muck?

He.     “Good Spirit” and “Sah-ha-le Ti-ee,” which last means God, are the only words I am acquainted with which go out of the range of muck-a-muck; and yet there are one thousand words in the jargon.

Myself.     It would be worth while to set to work and invent a few thousand more words, to teach these poor savages who it was paid salvage for them, and how they may receive the benefit of that priceless benefaction. If one thousand words can be invented to express beaver and muck-a-muck, ten thousand, or more, can be invented to paint the picture of Christianity and proclaim the Gospel of the blessed Christ.

He.     You would find it hard work, and it would take a good many years to complete the vocal formula.

Myself.     How many years since those early settlers began to make the Chinook tongue?

He.     Perhaps thirty-five.

Myself.     And how long do you think it would take to add to it the requisite words to represent the Christian story and the plan of salvation? If we had the old Jesuit zeal, courage, energy, and indomitable will in us, another thirty years would give the New Testament to all those forty tribes you spoke of awhile ago as inhabiting Oregon and Washington, in what might then be called the Theo-Chinook language. It would be a great and almost a divine work to graft upon the rude, coarse, brutal basis of the Chinook, the Christian architecture of the Gospels. I believe it could be done. It only wants faith and hard work.

He.     I have lived a good deal, as you know, among these savages, and I have very little hope that any thing could be done with those portions of them, at all events, who have been, and are, in continual contact with the white races. I am ashamed to own it, but we have built up a wall of adamant between them and

ladies repository text 5

the Gospel, and have dug around and about it a deep moat of corruption and abominable uncleanness. We Christians, so called, have done this wicked thing for these wild, untutored Indians, and they are lost beyond all hope of redemption. The savages further north are more likely, as they have seen but little yet of the white man, and think they are far superior to him in numbers and in warlike deeds. These may be reached, for they are, so far as I have seen them, a teachable and quick-witted people; but for the rest, I give them up.

Myself.     I am well aware of the truth of what you say about the Oregon and Washington Indians who speak the Chinook, and the difficulties, I know, are immense; but they are nothing to the man who has the true faith in him, and God for his helper. There are many such alive, thank God! and some who read this will yet offer themselves for the work, and say to this mountain, “Be ye cast into the sea;” and the brine shall cover it.

One question I’m leaving unresolved here is to what extent the author cribbed the above Chinuk Wawa material from other sources. I was easily able to discover that at least some of it matches “examples of use” in JK Gill’s dictionary, cf. page 80 of this edition. Gill’s first edition came out, as far as I understand, a few years after the article I’m featuring today. And it’s known that Gill built on the previously published work (first edition 1852) of Archbishop Francis-Norbert Blanchet. Sure enough, I find matches there, not just for some of the sentences (dishwashing, salmonselling), but also for the spellings used. However, some of the other material, like the bit about Spokan(e) — what White reader would care to ask if someone could speak Spokane Salish? — remains untraced for the moment; maybe it’s original with the article’s author…

Future research idea!