Were you horse-stealing?

The humor in this Chinuk Wawa quote is left untranslated, as usual in frontier times when the readers who mattered would understand it anyway!

Today’s terse quotation is good linguistic data. Two tipoffs are the unusual spellings and the accurate replication of the “null” preposition (instead of copa) at the end.

The third and strongest is the writer’s correct understanding of an ambiguity in the Jargon’s grammar, leading to jocularity:

capswallow cuitan

In conversing with the Indian yesterday who was arrested, and being asked if he capswallowed cuitan he answered with the greatest simplicity and honesty, Nawitka, nica capswallow mox cuitan copa ich man, Warm Springs.

— from the Dalles (OR) Times-Mountaineer of September 26, 1891, page 3, column 1

capswallow cuitan = kapshwála kíyutən = ‘steal (a) horse’


Nawitka, nica capswallow mox cuitan copa ich man, Warm Springs = nawítka, náyka kapshwála mákwst kíyutən kʰapa íxt mán Ø Warm Springs = indeed, I steal two horse from one man at Warm Springs = ‘Yes, I stole two horses from a guy at Warm Springs [Indian Reservation].”

Genuine Chinuk Wawa.