Linguistic archaeology: Treaty language (Point No Point), part 1


My sense of style tells me to start this very long series (it will be that) on reconstructing the Chinook Jargon used in Pacific Northwest official contexts with the amazingly named…Point No Point!

( forward to Part 2)

(By “official contexts” I mean not just treaties, which are my focus here, but also in the courts, in marriage ceremonies, and more. I will cover all of these as time goes on.)

“Point No Point” is indeed the name of one of the Stevens Treaties — the ones that were negotiated by human fireball and first territorial governor of Washington, Isaac Ingalls Stevens, in a blaze of activity at the middle of the 1850’s.


Governor and General Isaac Ingalls Stevens (image credit: Wikipedia)

The name comes from the bizarre English-language appellation of a locale natively known as Hahdskus at the north end of the Kitsap Peninsula.

kitsap peninsula

Kitsap Peninsula, WA (image credit: Alchetron)

This and all of the Stevens Treaties — indeed, as far as we can tell, every treaty and every negotiation between PNW Aboriginal people and whatever passed for White governmental authorities during the frontier era — were negotiated and their terms explained to the Indians in…

Chinuk Wawa.

This fact alone makes “the Jargon” enormously important for our region’s history, for its present-day political and economic situation, and for everything that happened to bring us from the one to the other.

You need not be aware of the many reasons I’ve written about that make CW an object of fascination for linguists. Just think what huge implications there are in questions about how well Native people and newcomers understood each other in these treaty negotiations. (And in the sum total of their encounters with each other in the few decades leading up to the treaties.)

In 1855, English was still not widely known among the population, the contemporary accounts tell us. Here in Washington, settlers were Anglophones — but they were still a minority and they depended on Indian good will for survival. There was little compelling reason for Native people to adapt their speech to a White-oriented idiom.

The existing Chinook Jargon, as I’ve been showing my readers, had rapidly evolved into a pretty complex and expressive grammatical system that wrung maximum communication out of CJ’s smallish inventory of morphemes. It worked well enough, and it expanded as needed for new situations, when folks worked out new terminology together.

Don’t mistake me as saying that thanks to the Jargon, everyone understood each other perfectly. They did not. Most of its speakers had to acquire it as a foreign language: that’s how pidgins function. Thus people didn’t share quite as much of a frame of reference as would be found among my speech community of English-speakers-from-birth, regarding the connotations and denotations of words.

And I haven’t even touched so far on cultural differences. Natives and settlers came from drastically diverging traditions when it comes to such crucial treaty concerns as ownership, land use, territorial boundaries, and resource harvesting. Assumptions were sometimes far from similar, and not all ever got explicitly articulated.

Would you be able to put all of your values into words and/or make sure they were respected, especially in a rushed, high-stakes bargaining session in a foreign language?

(The Point No Point council took up just 2 days!)

Would a formal English-language document of the negotiations you’d conducted in that language do a good job of conveying what you’d been talking about?

(Whatever your level of fluency in Chinook Jargon is, can you possibly imagine how odd a translation of your regular-folks English, let alone your CJ, into “legalese” would sound?)

The facts that legal agreements had never had to be worked out via the Jargon before, and that the Indians were being rushed by Stevens, and that he had a preplanned wording for each treaty whereas Native people were working with no such set of stock phrases…these suggest that we are going to have to work hard to translate between treaty English and CJ…and that we’re going to have a lot of questions about the results.

So. As a linguistic archaeologist — I “use linguistic evidence in reconstructing the past” — I want to dig in to the only surviving PNW treaty texts, which all are in English, and apply my 20 years of Chinuk Wawa research experience to infer what was said, and what it meant, in these treaty meetings.

Thus to the Treaty of Point No Point:

Believe me, the preamble paragraph, which is one run-on sentence and thus par for the course in American legal language, is all we’re going to get to today.

Here is my illustrative Chinuk Wawa rendition in Grand Ronde Dictionary spellings, italicized, trying to stick to words we authentically know from the time period. Foreign words are in < angled brackets >. I’m using the linguist’s greatest tool here, the interlinear translation, as a way of exposing the structure of the Chinuk Wawa version, so each set of 4 lines looks like this:

  1. official English text
  2. my Chinuk Wawa translation
  3. literal meaning of each word (morpheme)
  4. ‘translation of the my Jargon back into English’

Treaty of Point No Point, 1855

Articles of agreement and convention made and concluded at Hahdskus, 
íkta ɬáska wáwa kʰanumákwst pi chaku-íxt-tə́mtəm kʰapa < Hahdskus >,
what they say together and become-one-heart at Hahdskus,
‘What they discussed and agreed at Hahdskus,’

or Point no Point, Suquamish Head, 
bástən-tílixam ɬáska mamuk-ním Ø < Point No Point >, kʰapa < Suquamish > ílihi,
American-people they make-name it Point No Point, in Suquamish land,
‘which the Americans call Point No Point, in Suquamish territory,’

in the Territory of Washington,
kʰapa háyásh ílihi bástən-tílixam mamuk-ním < Territory of Washington >;
in big land American-people make-name Territory of Washington;
‘in the country the Americans call the Territory of Washington;’

this twenty-sixth day of 
bástən-tílixam ɬáska mamuk-ním úkuk sán mákwst-táɬlam pi táx̣am sán, kʰapa úkuk
American-people they make-name this day two-ten and six day, in this
‘the Americans call this day the 26th day, in the’

January, eighteen hundred and fifty-
íləp mún, kʰapa ɬaska kʰúl “táɬlam-pi-stúxtkin t’ákumunaq pi qwinam-táɬlam pi
first month, in their winter “ten-and-eight hundred and five-ten and
‘first month in their year “eighteen hundred and fifty-‘

five, by Isaac I. Stevens, governor and superintendent of   
qwínam”; ɬáska úkuk tílixam: < Isaac I. Stevens >, háyásh bástən táyí yáka kʰapa
five”; they these people: Isaac I. Stevens, big American chief he for
‘five; they are these people: Isaac I. Stevens, who is the main American leader for’

Indian affairs for the said Territory, on the part of the United States, and the 
sháwash tílixam kʰapa úkuk < Washington Territory >, pi úkuk
Indian people in this Washington Territory, and these
‘Indian people in this Washington Territory, and these’

undersigned chiefs, headmen, and delegates 
tílixam ɬáska mamuk-t’sə́m kʰapa úkuk pípa, táyí pi tənəs-táyí pi háyásh-mán ɬáska
people they make-mark on this paper, chief and little-chief and big-man they
‘people who marked this paper, who are chiefs, subchiefs, and headmen’

of the different villages of the S’Klallams, viz: Kah-tai, Squah-quaihtl, 
kʰapa háyú < S’Klallam > ílihi ɬáska mamuk-ním < Kah-tai, Squah-quaihtl, >
from many S’Klallam villages they make-name Kah-tai, Squah-quaihtl,
‘from a lot of S’Klallam villages that are called Kah-tai, Squah-quaihtl,’

Tch-queen, Ste-tehtlum, Tsohkw, Yennis, Elh-wa, Pishtst, Hunnint, Klat-la-wash, 
< Tch-queen, Ste-tehtlum, Tsohkw, Yennis, Elh-wa, Pishtst,  Hunnint, Klat-la-wash >,
Tch-queen, Ste-tehtlum, Tsohkw, Yennis, Elh-wa, Pishtst, Hunnint, Klat-la-wash,
‘Tch-queen, Ste-tehtlum, Tsohkw, Yennis, Elh-wa, Pishtst, Hunnint, Klat-la-wash,’

and Oke-ho, and also of the Sko-ko-mish, To-an-hooch, and Chem-a-kum tribes, 
pi < Oke-ho >, pi wə́x̣t < Sko-ko-mish, To-an-hooch >, pi < Chem-a-kum > tílixam;
and Oke-ho, and also Sko-ko-mish, To-an-hooch, and Chem-a-kum people;
‘and Oke-ho, and also the Sko-ko-mish, To-an-hooch, and Chem-a-kum people;’

occupying certain lands on the Straits of 
ɬáska míɬayt íxt-íxt ílihi kʰapa sáltsəqw bástən-tílixam ɬáska mamuk-nim < Straits of
they have one-one land by saltwater American-people they make-name Straits of
‘they have various lands on the shores that the Americans call the Straits of’

Fuca and Hood’s Canal, in the Territory of Washington, 
Fuca > pi < Hood’s Canal >, kʰapa úkuk < Washington Territory >,
Fuca and Hood’s Canal, in this Washington Territory,
‘Fuca and Hood’s Canal, in this Washington Territory,’

on behalf of said tribes, and duly authorized by them.
pi ɬáska tílixam wáwa ɬúsh pus úkuk táyí-tílixam ɬáska wáwa kʰanumákwst bástən-
and their people say good if these chief-people they talk with American
‘and their people agree for these leaders to talk with the American’

táyí-tílixam pi chaku-íxt-tə́mtəm kʰanumákwst ɬáska.
chief-people and become-one-heart with them.
‘leaders and reach agreement with them’.

Wow! That was laborious.

I think you can already see how divergent the wording gets, despite my guiding principle of keeping the Chinuk Wawa wording non-fancy (a guideline I’ve often observed about this language: “Don’t talk flowery“) and as easy to retranslate into English as possible.