Confirming a couple of BC Chinuk Wawa words

Fishing with the Siwash 04

There are certain words that we find more often in British Columbian use of Chinuk Wawa than elsewhere…

A good little example of a couple of them comes in the article “Fishing with the Siwash on Vancouver” by Charles A. Bramble, The Sportsman’s Magazine volume 1, number 4 (January 1897), pages 275-280.

The Native fishing guide in this report appears to be a Cowichan (Salish) Indian of Vancouver Island. He relies on the Jargon for communicating with the author, and two words I’ve wondered about elsewhere in BC Jargon (by and by; jump) are quoted here:


Fishing with the Siwash 01

The Siwash (as all Indians in the Northwest are called) that the angler has to employ as boatmen, are wonderful fellows. Comparisons, as Mrs. Malaprop says, are “odorous,” but if pitted against the Micmacs or Miliceets of the Provinces and Maine, the Siwash would not come out second best, you may be sure. He poles his dug-out canoe like a master, and handles the sharp craft with a skill that no white man can rival. Unfortunately, few of them speak much English, their conversation being carried on in Chinook. My guide’s favorite remark was: “Byan bye — haiyou chump — haiyou,” which, being interpreted, means: “The fish will jump (rise) like mad presently.” (page 276)

Aside from that, I have yet another example of folks repeating the popular idea that klahowya (ɬax̣á(w)yam) traces back to Native people addressing a European, wehther it was one half of “Lewis & Clark” or someone else, in proper English form:

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…I was awakened by the arrival of the intelligent Siwash who was to pilot me to the fishing ground. “Clak, how you?” was the way he greeted me; and I must confess it was rather a staggerer until translated into the vulgar tongue by the hotel bell-boy. Being interpreted, it meant: “Clarke, how are you?”

Now, my name is not Clarke, but it appears that years and years ago, there was a certain Hudson Bay official on the coast, a very “big gun” indeed, by that name. Noticing that all the employees of the company were effusive in their morning greetings to the chief, generally employing the previous formula as a salutation, the Indians, jumped at the conclusion that “Clark, how are you?” was the English for “good morning,” and ever since it has been used by them in that sense. (page 277)

That story should be easy to check. Was there a notable HBC official named Clark(e)? (I haven’t heard of him.)

But let’s not ignore the fact that this linguistic myth surely traces back to a term of address that was much more widespread in the Honorable Company: every trading post of theirs had at least one employee whose job was titled “clerk”, which is pronounced “clark” in the British English that predominated in the company.

That’s a sideshow, though. The real story is one of “folk etymology”. (Click for additional fun examples of that.) Speakers of English retrofitted an explanation onto the Chinook Jargon greeting that they constantly heard. But that word is proved beyond a doubt to come from the tribal Lower Chinookan language.

The takeaway today is, keep your eyes open because you might find really interesting Chinuk Wawa, even in tiny quantities, in unexpected places.

Just be sure to keep your mental fact-checker in “On” position as well!