Not with a bang: solidification of ‘ice’

Many Chinuk Wawa dictionaries have declared that the way to say ‘ice’ is ‘hard water’. (Demers 1871 has ‘hard hard water’ to reinforce the point.) Actually…

Actually, the English word ‘ice’ has existed in the Jargon for quite some time. From the Lytton-Thompson River area of British Columbia, John Booth Good had it in his 1880 vocabulary. Well, he gives hyyu ice for ‘ice’. (Literally ‘lots of ice’.)

The word was also current in the Kamloops, BC area, written phonetically as ais in the shorthand-based Chinook Writing.

And you can pick out more evidence from Frederick Whymper’s words here, relating an incident from circa 1864 in the Bute Inlet area of the BC coast — we’ll translate back into English of course, and give commentary after:

Ice Whymper

…afin de me rendre au Grand Glacier. Le dialecte chinouk (1), le seul que comprissent les Indiens n’a pas d’équivalent pour rendre le sens de glacier; je crus y suppléer en employant les mots hyou-ice, hyou-snow (amas de glace, de neige), c’était une vaine espérance. Ma situation ressemblait beaucoup à celle de ce dignitaire de l’église épiscopalienne qui, voulant un jour annoncer l’Évangile aux Indiens, commença son discours par ces mots: “Enfants de la forêt”. Malheureusement son interprète ne trouva pas les paroles nécessaires, et le clergyman eut la mortification de l’entendre traduire ainsi sa pompeuse apostrophe: Hyou tenas man copa stick (Nombreux petits hommes au milieu des troncs d’arbres). Je ne réussis pas mieux à me faire comprendre de mon guide; après avoir erré deux jours à l aventure, il devint évident que nous ne nous entendrions jamais; en conséquence je retournai à la ville chercher un Indien plus versé dans la linguistique.

(1) Le chinouk est un mélange de français, d’anglais et d’idiome indigène; les Européens l’emploient dans leurs relations avec les Peaux Rouges.

(… to go to the Great Glacier. The Chinook dialect (1), the only one understood by the Indians, has no equivalent to render the meaning of glacier; I thought to make up for it by employing the words hyou-ice, hyou-snow (heap of ice, of snow), it was a vain hope. My situation was very similar to that of this Episcopalian church dignitary who, wanting to one day announce the gospel to the Indians, began his speech with these words: “Children of the forest”. Unfortunately his interpreter did not find the necessary words, and the clergyman had the mortification of hearing him thus translate his pompous apostrophe: Hyou tenas man copa stick (Many little men in the middle of tree trunks). I am no better able to make myself understood by my guide; after wandering two days on the adventure, it became evident that we would never get along; As a result, I returned to the city to seek an Indian more versed in linguistics.

(1) Chinook is a mixture of French, English and native idiom; Europeans use it in their dealings with Redskins.)

(Frederick Whymper, “Voyages et aventures dans l’Alaska (ancienne Amérique russe)”. Paris: Hachette et cie, 1871.)

There’s plenty of interest to us in this short passage. Obviously I’m quoting it to show that ice was in the Jargon well before any dictionary showed this word. Maybe it’s coincidental, maybe not, that this occurrence mirrors Good’s quantified hyyu ice.

And it’s good to find an expression for ‘glacier’. We shouldn’t be misled by Whymper’s tale of communicative woe; he’s saying this one particular guide was hard to communicate with, but that doesn’t mean that the language used was inadequate. As I’ll show in a succeeding post, Whymper himself was rather good at speaking Chinuk Wawa, and relied on it a good deal in his Pacific Northwest work.

It’s also neat to see another occurrence of the Chinuk Wawa grammatical structure that I’ve identified, where you don’t use “and” nearly as much as English does. Two, or even more, conceptually related things get rattled off in direct succession, with the coordination left implied, as in hyou ice hyou snow. 

(You could say one of my specialties in the area of descriptive linguistics is identifying what’s not there. I once published a paper about how the Jargon word for ‘it’ is ____, that is, saying nothing whatsoever.)

If you’re interested in more entertainment from Whymper, stay tuned for my next post on him. And in the meantime, check out an English-Chinook doggerel poem that he shared.