Earliest female Chinuk Wawa speech? Pre-Grand Ronde


A novel if you squint, but really a thinly disguised juicy memoir, say the editors (image credit: Wikipedia)

We may have found the earliest quotation of Chinuk Wawa speech by a female!

Circa 1837-1838, a less-known young Willamette Mission, Oregon, missionary named Margaret Smith (Margaret Jewett [or Jewitt] Bailey, 1812?-1882) contributed it.

Here at the Chinook Jargon blog, we have the advantage of being able to supply some linguistic-archaeology “added value”. So, now, read this woman’s words, from a letter of hers…reformatted and annotated by me, so anything in [brackets] is my doing.

As usual, there is plenty more going on in this oldtime Chinuk Wawa document that anyone has pointed out before! Read on, and see my comments afterward:

the grains

Mican tum-tum cloosh?
[máyka tə́mtəm łúsh?]
(Your heart good?)
[‘Is your heart good?’]

Mican tum-tum wake cloosh. 
[máyka tə́mtəm wik-łúsh/wík łúsh.]
(Your heart no good.)
[‘Your heart is not good / Your heart is bad.’]

Alaka mican ma-ma lose.
[áłqi máyka míməlus(t).]
(By-and bye you die.)
[‘You will eventually die.’]

Mican tum-tum cloosh mican clatamay Sakalatie.
[máyka tə́mtəm łúsh[,] máyka łátwa Ø sáx̣ali-táyí.]
(Your heart good you go to God.)
[‘(If) your heart is good, you will go to God.’]

Mican tum-tum wake cloosh mican wake clamay Sakalatie.
[máyka tə́mtəm wík-łúsh[,] máyka wík łátwa Ø sáxali-táyí.]
(Your heart no good you no go to God.)
[‘(If) your heart is not good/is bad, you will not go to God.’]

Mican clatalmay sayyah; hiyas wake cloosh Schochen.
[máyka łátwa sayá (Ø) hayas-wík-łúsh skukúm.]
(Go ye [pl.] great way off; very bad devil.)
[‘Go [sg.] far away to the great awful demon.’ / ‘(If) you [sg.] go far away, there is an awful demon.’] 

Sakalatie mamoke tum-tum cloosh.
[sáx̣ali-táyí mamuk(-)tə́mtəm łúsh.]
(God make heart good.)
[‘God will make the heart good.’ / ‘God has decided (it is) well.’]

Wah-wah Sakalatie.
[wáwa sáx̣ali-táyí.]
(Speak to God.)
[‘Talk to God.’]

Sakalatie mamoke hiyas cloosh mican tum-tum.
[sáx̣ali-táyí mámuk hayas-łúsh mayka tə́mtəm.]
(God make very good your heart.)
[‘God will make your heart very good.’] 

Hiyack wah-wah Sakalatie.
[(h)áyáq wáwa sáx̣ali-táyí.]
(Quick speak to God.)
[‘Talk soon to God.’ / ‘Hurry and talk to God.’]

— from “The Grains, or, Passages in the Life of Ruth Rover, with Occasional Pictures of Oregon, Natural and Moral” by Margaret Jewett Bailey (Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press, 1986 [1854]), page 318, footnote 2

First off, you’ll see I’ve silently corrected for a bunch of editorial misreadings of Margaret’s handwriting.

As so often occurs, I analyze several clauses/sentences above as actually containing the frequent “null” (not pronounced out loud) preposition, shown as Ø, that’s used in fluent Chinuk Wawa . This and other “nulls” in the language — for example the third-person inanimate/indefinite pronoun — were never pointed out by any writers on the language until I got obsessed with them. (I am humble.) I don’t say there’s a null preposition in the “speak to God” sentences, because wawa routinely occurs with an indirect object that’s not set off by a preposition, just as in English we have “tell her it”, which we don’t have to claim is somehow a version of “tell it to her“.

On the other hand, the translation “go ye [pl.]” for a Jargon expression that’s actually singular suggests the speech habits of a first-language English speaker. It’s not an accurate reflection of the Jargon.

Notice the couple of conditional (“if-then”) sentences without any such word as Chinuk Wawa pus or spus “if”. To me this seems like quite primitive, more-pidgin and less-creole Jargon, as though Margaret hadn’t (yet?) learned it well. By the same token it’s true that some languages use no overt word for “if”, conveying the idea by simple juxtaposition of a cause & an effect side by side. For example, Chinese Pidgin English, like its Cantonese-area source languages, often expressed conditionals this way.  (So does my dialect of English: “You break it, you buy it!”)

Because intonation and stress aren’t marked by Margaret any more than other folks did at the time, some expressions are ambiguous.

  • Wake cloosh > may be wík łúsh ‘not good’ or the set expression wik-łúsh ‘bad’. The “very bad devil” sentence tips the scales towards the second option, though. The noun expression hayas-wík-łúsh skukúm there confirms Margaret’s acquaintance with the early-creolizing Chinuk Wawa of the lower Columbia River zone, containing two prefixes that developed out of full words.
  • And < Sakalatie mamoke tum-tum cloosh > can equally as well be understood, without much contextual help, as God mamuk-tə́mtəm ‘considers; thinks’ or as mámuk tə́mtəm… ‘makes (your) heart…’.

To summarize my view of Margaret’s CJ, it’s the real thing; it’s just her somewhat imperfectly learned creolized (pre-Grand Ronde reservation) Jargon.

Compare that thought with how Margaret’s unpublished Chinook Jargon is cited — with varying interpretations — in two other books:

Bringing Indians to the Book” by Albert Furtwangler (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2005), page 137, where A.F. contextually notes that Margaret felt she knew good Jargon and that it was a useful tool:

margaret smith 1

…Margaret Smith complained that not one of the ministers had learned a native language when she arrived at the Willamette mission in 1837. “Consequently our labors are confined mostly to the children in the mission family, who are learning English. There is, however, a kind of jargon spoken and learned for purposes of trade, which is familiar to several tribes, and easily acquired, by which some knowledge of their lost condition may be communicated to the adults.” (Bailey 105-6)

Conversely, her sermonette (see what I did there?) is also reproduced in “Oregon and the Collapse of Illahee” by Gray H. Whaley (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), page 113 — in support of the argument — made by some of the Willamette missionaries, among countless other people — that Chinuk Wawa is incapable of expressing thoughts with any clarity!

Whatever your interpretation, today’s find is precious for its documentation of a female speaker’s genuine use of the language. Too often we fail to notice the preponderance of male viewpoints in language documentation. (Incidentally, as the foreword to the 1986 edition of Margaret’s book carefully shows, many male critics of the time HATED “The Grains” precisely because its author was female.)

By the by, there’s a scrap or two more of Chinuk Wawa in her published book:

  • On page 100, the newly arrived Margaret voices a first impression, probably of Jargon, “Their language is by no means copious, and presents no words capable of conveying an understanding of these [Christian] things.” Various ensuing comments show her resolution to learn the language, and her success. (She also got a fair ways into the Kalapuya language!) This had a lot to do with her receptive attitude, as various points show in the narrative, such as page 232’s comment by a Chinook woman, Madame Lucien (perhaps the origin of the local famly name Luscier?), that Margaret is the only “Boston missionary” who the Indians like.
  • Page 109 shows the incorporating articles of her “Oregon Sauwash Benevolent Society”, where the second word is Jargon s(h)awash ‘Indian’.
  • IMPORTANT: She tells on page 115 of visiting Fort Vancouver for a week, in which time she spent an afternoon visiting six families of the laborers there, and “conversed with them as well as I was able in Jargon”, particularly with the wives.
  • ALSO IMPORTANT: On pages 198-199 she tells of talking with Seletsee, one of a group of visiting Dalles Indian converts, in “Chenook” well enough to understand each other. She reproduces in English translation a prayer he made that impressed her (which will be interesting to back-translate into Jargon in a future linguistic archaeology article here):

Seletsee's Prayer 1.PNG

Seletsee's Prayer 2

What do you think?