Tom Spilkins of Siletz speaks…

 tom spilkins of siletz

…or tries to? Casual racism, fictional Chinuk Wawa, and bad typesetting interfere with the value of today’s already disturbing historical clipping from the Siletz Indian Reservation in Oregon: 

With my customary remarks added…

In the last issue of this paper the Siletz correspondent, Tom Spilkins — I think he must be an Indian as he likes booze — complains that when he gets drunk and licks [beats] his wife people complain. Now it was not the fault of the booze.

Yaka wake skookum tumtum Lum wake chahco kopa yaka quateen spase yaka
yáka wík skúkum-tə́mtəm lám wík cháku kʰapa yaka k’watín spus yáka
He not strong-heart Alcohol not come to his belly if he/it

‘He lacks willpower[.] The booze wouldn’t get into his belly if it’

wake tika, spase yaka klashe naitich wake yaka chahco piltin. Lum wake cultus
wík tíki, spus yáka ɬúsh-nánich wík yáka cháku-píltən. lám wík kʰə́ltəs
not want, if he well-watch not he become-crazy. Alcohol not idly

‘didn’t want to, (and) if he’s careful he doesn’t get crazy. Not for nothing does the booze’

chahco kopa yaka quanteen. Spase yaka wake iskum lum yaka wake cockshit 
cháku kʰapa yaka k’watín. spus yáka wík ískam lám yáka wík kákshit
come to his belly. If he not get alcohol he not hit

‘get into his belly. If he didn’t take booze he wouldn’t hit’

yoka kloochman. Lum kultis mitlite wake ichta nawitka mika cumtux.
yaka ɬúchmən. lám kʰə́ltəs-míɬayt wík-íkta nawítka máyka kə́mtəks.
his woman. Alcohol idly sit no-thing truly you know.

‘his wife. The booze would (just) sit around(, doing) nothing(,) it’s true(,) you know.’

— from the Toledo (OR) Lincoln County Leader of Friday, January 19, 1917, page 1, column 2

First order of business, folks:

In case you didn’t catch it either from Clue 1 (the portrayal of the newspaper’s “Siletz correspondent” as a drunk Injun), or Clue 2 (the background knowledge that we’ve developed in our reading on this website which strongly correlates Chinuk Wawa with oral — even illiterate — communication rather than literacy) :

“Tom Spilkins” was not a real person. From the second half of the 19th century, “Spilkins” had been a widespread surname for malapropping characters in jokes. The Yogi Berra thing didn’t come from nowhere! Search old newspapers or books and you’ll find Spilkinses in spades. Examples from Oregon: this, and this, and this. And if you focus just on this Lincoln County Leader newspaper, you’ll find that their “Tom Spilkins” of “Fernanchittum [fern and chittim], Oregon” was a running gag, contributing letters to the editor in atrociously spelled folksy English. Sometimes his pal Moikel Milkins (a stereotypical Irishman? it was a popular trope, as we saw yesterday in our operetta) made an appearance.

Accordingly, we expect any Jargon utterances attributed to “Tom” to be an attempt at local (Toledo is just 9 miles from Siletz) racist humor. In fictitious Chinuk Wawa. If you’ve been my reader for any length of time, you know that I try hard to point that genre out as being among the less reliable Jargon data.

Second order of business: the spellings here are atrocious. Many of them have no chance of reflecting any actual pronunciation variants. Instead we see that the printer’s devil didn’t understand Chinook Jargon (and we wouldn’t expect it of a young person in 1917 Oregon), and was guessing as he tried to make out the editor’s handwritten “copy” well enough to set it in type. Likewise, the typesetter had little clue how to punctuate the CJ text.

That said, some of the orthography we see today conveys useful information.

  • We have the quasi-standard < cultus > for ‘worthless’ (kʰə́ltas), but also a variant < kultis > that may suggest the writer was trying to convey the pronunciation of Chinuk Wawa as known to him from experience.
  • The spellings < quanteen > and < quateen > for ‘stomach, belly’ (k’watín) are novelties, to my surprise; none of the old sources have a “Q” spelling for this word. And the “N” in the middle of the first version is unmatched in any Chinuk Wawa documentation I’m finding, although it may be a typo for an “H” as in Joel Palmer’s 1847 < k-wathen > “bell” [sic!].
  • The “H”-ful < ichta > for ‘(any)thing’ is known from other White writers who tried to capture nuances of Jargon enunciation, as I noted in writing about the Chinuk Wawa operetta “Keel-A-Pie” recently.

Taking a step or two back to size this newspaper article up, I admit it’s in reasonably grammatical Chinuk Wawa. The peddler of these words knew what he was up to. Caveat emptor.

But all of the above-named factors make today’s reading selection somewhat hard to translate with full confidence.

What do you think?

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