Acres of clams?

George E. Starr

(Image credit: Wikipedia)

Itʹs funny how you find more Chinuk Wawa in Pacific Northwest newspapers after the frontier period than during it…

…so itʹs often in reference to an “old-timer”, like this item from the Grand Ronde neighborhood.

acres of clams

SHOULD GO. — J G Wright, the well-known pioneer of Salem, has received the following invitation, which will at least be interesting to old timers: “Hyas Potlatch — Muck-a-muck Clams — Tyee J M Rosenberg, Klahowia Se-an: Neiska tickey mika pee konoway mika clootchman chahko konomaxt neiska kopa Piah Ship George E Star tenas sun Sunday Stotekin moon kwinnam sun matie chuck mamook hyas potlatch Hyu hee-hee, pee muck-a-muck hyu clams. Closhe mika lolo tenas opequan kopa sapolill ictas. Pee halo ipsoot. Kloshe mika potlatch sitkum dollar pee momook closhe tumtum copa Capt [William?] Williamson. Mika Tillicums, Ben Miller, George Stetson.[“]

— from the Albany (OR) State Rights Democrat of August 17, 1894, page 1, column 4

Because we’ve seen similar invitational texts in Jargon (see “Tilikums Ikt Potlatch“, “Potlatch Club Ball Invitation“, etc.), we can recognize this as unremarkable boilerplate wording to some degree. But it’s true to the neighborhood, using a couple of nice lower Columbia-region expressions.

The only highfalutin word here, if there are any that were got from a store-bought dictionary, is Se-an ‘sir’ from Central Coast Salish. Specifically, it’s just about certain to come from Puget Sound’s Lushootseed language, which a high proportion of early “North Oregon” (Washington) settlers had some familiarity with. Maybe this word was more widely known among those earlybirds. And maybe the men named in the news article, who were were civic leaders — businessman types — would have had commercial ties well beyond the Portland area. There’s also the fact that the steamship George E. Starr [sic] was associated with the Puget Sound-to-Victoria run. I haven’t found historical mentions of that ship ever being chartered for a Portland run…hmm.

A more detailed look at today’s Chinuk Wawa:

Hyas Potlatch [1] –– Muck-a-muck Clams [2] — Tyee J M Rosenberg,
Háyás(h) pá(t)lach — mə́kʰmək (klám-s) — táyí J.M. Rosenberg
big potlatch eat clam-NounPlural chief J.M. Rosenberg
‘Big Potlatch — Eat Clams — Mr. J.M. Rosenberg,’

Klahowia Se-an [3]: Neiska tickey [4] mika pee konoway
ɬax̣áwya(m) siʔám: nsáyka tíki máyka pi kánawi
hello noble.person we want you and all
‘Hello Sir: We want you and all’

mika clootchman chahko konomaxt neiska kopa Piah Ship George E
mayka ɬúchmən[-Plural] cháku kánumakwst nsáyka kʰapa páya-shíp Georege E
your woman[-Plural] come with us on fire ship George E.
‘your womenfolks to accompany us on board the steamer George E.’

Star tenas sun Sunday Stotekin moon kwinnam sun matie [5]
Starr tənəs-sán sánti stúxtkin-mun qwínəm-sán máɬini(?)
Starr little-day Sunday eight-moon five-day seaward(?)
‘Starr the morning of Sunday, August 5th, to the sea’

chuck mamook hyas potlatch Hyu hee-hee, pee muck-a-muck
chə́qw mámuk háyás(h) pá(t)lach háyú híhi, pi mə́kʰmək
water make big potlatch much fun and eat
‘to have a big potlatch (and) plenty of fun, and eat”

hyu clams. Closhe mika lolo tenas opequan [6] kopa [7] sapolill ictas.
háyú (klám-s). £ush máyka lúlu tənəs-úpqwən(a) kʰapa saplél-íkta-s.
much clam-NounPlural Imperative you bring little-basket for bread-thing-NounPlural
‘plenty of clams. Please bring a little basket for breadstuffs [picnic basket]’

Pee halo ipsoot [Ø] [8]. Kloshe mika potlatch sitkum dollar pee
pi hílu ípsut [it]. £ush máyka pá(t)lach sítkum dála pi
and not hide [it] Imperative you give half dollar and
‘and don’t hide it away. Please give a half-dollar and’

momook closhe tumtum [9] copa Capt Williamson. Mika Tillicums,
mámuk ɬúsh-tə́mtəm kʰapa Capt. Williamson. Mayka tílixam-s,
make good heart to Captain Williamson your friend-NounPlural
‘a kind thought to Captain Williamson. Your friends,’

Ben Miller, George Stetson.


[1] potlatch as a noun is more an English-language usage (I’ve only this year discovered a previously unknown instance where a Native person seems to use potlatch this way in the Jargon).

[2] clams is a perfectly good Jargon word. It’s definitely known from a good old Northwest song (“hiyu clams pe mowich“, and this), and from the Thompson River Salish region of British Columbia, and I believe it’s one of the many “obviously English” words of Chinook Jargon that were usually (but mistakenly) left out of the published vocabularies.

[3] Se-an = Coast Salish siʔam, modern Lushootseed siʔab ‘noble person’ which I recall the elder Vi Hilbert explaining as ‘dear one’.

[4] We tickey you to come along: as we’ve seen a number of times, English speakers often forgot to throw in what you might call the Conditional or Subjunctive marker, spose, after tickey, to say more properly “we want that you come along”.

[5] matie: I figure this is supposed to be the word that some old dictionaries have as mahtlinie, meaning ‘seaward’.

[6] opequan ‘basket’ is a nice old Chinookan word from the homeland of Chinuk Wawa. Later varieties of CW often have baskit!

[7] kopa + Noun being used to mean ‘for Noun’ is old-timer Jargon. For this grammatical function, Grand Ronde innovated the use of the Conditional marker (pus in their pronunciation) that I talked of in note 4.

[8] I “hear” the fluent-Chinuk Wawa “null” pronoun (‘it’) here, do you?

[9] momook kloshe tumtum is new to me. Kloshe tumtum is a common expression for ‘be happy; to like (something/someone)’. What do you think of my translation of it?



Summarizing as I tend to: today’s Chinuk Wawa passage (no pun intended there) is identifiably English-influenced, which is typical for White old-timers’ “secret messages” to each other in the language — especially after the frontier era. It’s an interesting historical document whose biggest mystery is its seeming placement of a Seattle steamer in the Portland docks.