The Chinook Jargon, by Donald Bushaw

donald bushaw

(Image credit: WSU)

An obscure paper in an obscure journal by someone you never heard of in connection with this language…it all leads to a wonderful discovery: the long-rumored “opera in Chinook Jargon!”

Just goes to show, you need to read absolutely everything about a subject, to glean useful details. Without the “long tail” rare data, all you’ve got is the outline of a subject — like drawing human figures without understanding anatomy.

Donald W. Bushaw (1926-2012), at that time an assistant professor of mathematics but (excuse the pun) quite a polymath, contributed an essay on “The Chinook Jargon” to Washington State College’s (now WSU’s) “The Record” (1958, pages 17-25).

That’s a little outside the main stream of pidgin-creole linguistics; I hadn’t heard of it until yesterday.

But it’s an excellent read, so follow the link above. Bushaw’s article is very knowledgeable and well-considered.

Wise words in it:

The principal difficulty lies in the fact that although the Chinook Jargon is rather fully documented, it is not well documented. (page 24)

Bushaw realized that we might be fooled by the large piles of old popular Jargon dictionaries in our libraries, into thinking they contain a lot of knowledge.

That’s been the case for decades, so much so that I found a niche for writing the first complete grammar ever of Chinuk Wawa as my dissertation.

An example of one missing element from our picture of Chinuk Wawa has been the tantalizingly whispered-about “opera in Chinook”. The extent of known details about it has been that it was associated with Port Townsend, Washington’s leading citizen C.H. Hanford.

Now, thanks to Bushaw, we learn that Hanford’s magnum opus was published, albeit privately, in a book — a page of which he reproduces!

Better still, I’ve now found that book. I’ll raise the curtain on the operetta tomorrow.

See you back here then.