Savage courtesies

Ugh. Playing Indian in Oregon.

“Ugh” being an old literary stereotype of Indians as taciturn or inarticulate, both maybe.

savage courtesies

So this could be filed as fictional Chinuk Wawa, being more of a performance than a communication.

It’s complicated, though.

In favor of its authentic Wawa nature:

  • The letter was written on the cusp between the frontier era and the time of English-language dominance.
  • The spellings are unique, showing that this isn’t “store-bought” Jargon from a book, instead reflecting the users’ actual knowledge of speaking it.
  • And as I often point out to my readers, when an editor didn’t bother translating the Chinuk Wawa in his newspaper, this implied that the general level of fluency among his audience was pretty high.

Balance those factors with these:

  • The stagy, “Western” story, faux-Indian diction.
  • The unconventional expressions, such as skookum tenas sun for ‘Happy New Year’, that wouldn’t be understood outside the community, perhaps not even outside of a small circle of friends.
  • The use of Jargon words more in the senses that they had in local English (skookum as ‘good, happy’ is not so characteristic within the Jargon; spose is used like the English informal mild imperative “suppose”).
  • The mixing-in of non-Jargon but also racially steretotyped “pidgin” expressions, like the widely known Chinese Pidgin English allee same and tlankee or thankee. For the latter one, the spelling with an intrusive “L” may be purposeful; in publications of the era, English speakers constantly stereotyped Chinese immigrants as sort of tripping over their tongues by putting “L” sounds in the middle of words that had none. Also, bully probably reflects Chinese Pidgin English velly / belly ‘very’, although the chronology is a good fit also for US slang bully ‘excellent, fine’.

Savage Courtesies.

On New Years day we received by express from Roseburg a box of splendid mountain trout, accompanied by the following epistle, which fully explains itself — to those who understand: 

     Hi as Tillicum, 
Mitlite, Albany. 

UGH! Nanitch! Hi as Tyee. Mica Tum Tum close! Spose micka tickee close mucamuc momac hi yu! Nike potlatch. Hi yu! Skookum tenas sun (which means a happy New Year).

Tenas tillicums, 
     AD HARMAN, 
     L.F. LANE.

[The editor’s reply:] Nika hi yu mommac bully good pish! Allee same tlankee! Spose mika tenas tillicums do it some more! Hias close muckamuck. Ouch!

— from the Albany (OR) State Rights Democrat of January 7, 1881, page 3, column 4

Here’s how I read the above:

Hi as Tillicum [great friend], 
Mitlite [who lives (in)], Albany.

UGH! Nanitch [Look]! Hi as Tyee [big chief]. Mica Tum Tum close [You’ll be happy]! Spose micka tickee close mucamuc momac hi yu [If you’re wanting some good food, cook a lot of it]! Nike potlatch. Hi yu [(one sentence:) I’m giving you a lot]! Skookum tenas sun (which means a happy New Year) [otherwise ‘strong morning’].

Tenas tillicums [young friends]

[The editor’s reply:] Nika hi yu mommac bully good pish [I’m cooking some “bully” good fish]! Allee same tlankee [Thanks because of that]! Spose mika tenas tillicums [Supposing you young folks] do it some more! Hias close muckamuck [Very good food]. Ouch!

What do you think of all that?