Dr. John Scoulerʹs journal & the expansion of Jargon beyond the lower Columbia


John Scouler, not age 21 (image credit: Wikipedia)

[Editing on 09.26.2021 to correct my headline — I don’t see evidence of CW beyond the Fort Vancouver area in Scouler’s or anyone else’s documents at the time. DDR]

Often when we’re researching a language via historical documents, it’s not just lists of words that are helpful…

…you can also learn a whole lot from what travelers describe.

Case in point: the 21-year-old Scottish naturalist Dr. John Scouler (1804-1871) had a lively mind for all sorts of details around him in the strange new world of the Pacific Northwest.

I think his published, lightly edited notebook shows us Scouler learning about, and then speaking, Chinuk Wawa within 5 months at the interesting stage just one generation after its first known sighting by Lewis & Clark, and moments before the first known testimony that a whole community of Fort Vancouver kids were growing up speaking it as a creole language.

On April 3, 1825, arriving at Cape Disappointment and the Columbia River estuary, Scouler and company can only understand the local Chinookans through gestures.

On April 9, 1825, Bakers Bay, mouth of the Columbia River, local Indigenous people visit the ship he’s sailed halfway around the world on, and clearly Scouler had just not yet learned to recognize Chinuk Wawa,  a language of the local folks that contains (if I may say so) “a good many English & a few French words”:

scouler 01

Among those [who] were permitted to come on board was a man dressed in European clothes, & who appeared to be of some consequence among them; his wife who accompanied him was dressed with red cloth & was the most intelligent person among them. She knew a good many English & a few French words.

— from II.163

On July 30, 1825, in southern Vancouver Island, Scouler and shipmates evidently recognize words of what’s been called “Nootka Jargon” from Europeans’ writings that they had read, and seem to have some success using NJ (or maybe a smattering of Chinuk Wawa) with the area’s Indigenous people, completing the circle from the local Nuuchahnulth language to NJ to CW and back again:

scouler 02

To-day we were of[f] Nootka harbour & a canoe with 10 Indians came of[f] to us. They repeated the well known words Wakush & Masquada, & invited us to visit their harbour. They gave us a few fishes, consisting chiefly of Cyprinus brama & Gadus minutus. In appearance & language they have affinity to the Cheenooks, & soon [we] were able to understand them pretty easily.

— from II.192

Graverobbing a Chinookan burial site, Mount Coffin, Columbia River, September 20, 1825, Scouler uses at least one Jargon word, < Hyaquass > ‘dentalium shells’, and an unclear word tentatively published as < Le Virgil > :

scouler 03

… and then, further down the same page …

At “the Kowlitch [Cowlitz Salish] village” near Fort Vancouver, Columbia River, September 22, 1825, Scouler is obviously now comfortable in Chinook Jargon, because if he’d learned any of the older tribal languages it would be a remarkable achievement we’d already know about:

scouler 04

scouler 05

I was also sufficient master of the language to explain to them what kind of bird I wanted, & I believe had we stayed a few weeks longer I might have acquired a specimen of almost every animal on the river.

— from III.280-281

What do you think?
Kata maika tomtom?