Fictional Chinook Jargon isn’t always atrocious…

From the author of the New York Times bestseller “The Jane Austen Book Club”, some high-class fictional Chinook Jargon.

By that, I mean “Sarah Canary” by Karen Joy Fowler has sure done its homework. (It was published by Penguin in 2004.)

It’s a pleasure to be able to share with you that not all fictional Chinuk Wawa is atrocious!

I see two key elements in achieving a consistently high level of CW in a work of literature:

  1. Strictly limit how much of the language you use.
  2. Only use expressions that you can get from authoritative sources.
  3. No monkeying around, either, with trying to juggle those bits into big fancy sentences.

The result is stylishly deployed, fluent, authentic Jargon like you see here:

“Sam!” Purdy called out. “Sam Clams?”

The door to the shanty was a hanging blanket, which whipped the empty space in the wind. An Indian came out from behind it, holding it to one side in his hand. “Klaxta o’coke?” he asked. He was missing one of his wolf teeth and his legs were bowed.

“We want a hyas canim,” Purdy told him. “We want to catch the Biddy. You come and paddle. Delate hi-hu chickerman.” 

“No,” said the Indian. “You take the canoe. Buy the canoe. Pay me chickerman. But I’m not going. Too much wind.”

Mika wake tickery momak?” 

Delate halo. Boston man wants cultus coolley in my canim. Boston man delate hyas pilton. Boston man can paddle his own canoe.” 

“He’ll sell us the canoe,” Purdy translated for B.J. “But he won’t rent it and he won’t paddle it. He’s being very insulting. He called me a hyas pilton. A big fool.” He shrugged. “Indians. Nothing you can do. You just have to live with them.”

I can neither tell you the page number I got that passage from (they don’t show in the Google Books version I consulted), nor vouch for the quality of intercultural relations depicted therein.

But I can tell you it’s a breath of fresh air for a scholar-advocate of Chinuk Wawa to find an author exercising restraint in her treatment of the language. I appreciate being in good company: that greatest of Pacific Northwest writers, Ursula K. LeGuin, calls this book “Amazing!” in her blurb. 🙂

Much too often, not only artists but would-be experts treat a pidgin-creole language such as this one in a way that declares it’s unimportant to know the grammar or wonder if you’re speaking it right.

As a Native American language, Chinuk Wawa gets that treatment twice over. Folks treat it like mere scenery, far too frequently.

Crowdsourcing challenge / thought experiment:

Hey readers, can you point out any examples of prestigious White-people languages getting used in foreign-language literature as if they had no grammar?

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