Political dirty tricks (& a word discovery) in Chinuk Wawa

Chinook wind machine

Chinook wind machine (image credit: HFHauff.com)

Election meddling, to skew the minority vote turnout? Old news…

Not translated into English — you know what that means!

Well, one thing it means is that the newspaper’s editor expected readers would understand this Chinook Jargon without help. (For you, I’ll provide a running analysis, below.)

Also (not to bury the lead), I think non-translation allowed the editor to commit a possible federal crime with impunity.

It’s really, really against the law to manipulate a vulnerable ethnic group’s ballot preferences.

Of course, Indigenous people were still disenfranchised in 1896. Which only makes matters into a graver Catch-22. Either this fella was encouraging native to illegally vote, or he was illegally exploiting their unfamiliarity with voting to encourage a partisan turnout among them.

Or both!

A skeleton key to the skeletons encloseted will embiggen your understanding. American newspapers in the late 19th century habitually published a full list of political candidates they endorsed, right at the beginning of page 1.

(An easy puzzle I leave in your hands — which of the Callows is mentioned in today’s Chinuk Wawa text?)

On ballots in that era, I believe you could only vote for a “straight ticket” — only for one party. Thus the phrase “Vote Republican Ticket” below.

A possible line of defense for our bilingual political dirty tricksters: We have to file today’s selection under fictional Chinuk Wawa.

One way to decide that is by certain word choices here, like the bookish < pit tuck >.

Another indicator of non-authenticity is literal translations (calques) from English phrases using metaphors that are nonexistent in Jargon, such as the focus-drawing < Sah-a-le kono-wa ic-tas > ‘above all things’.

Aside from problems with the Jargon that you’re about to read, I have doubts that northeast Oregonian chief “Poor Crane” (Cutmouth John) would’ve given two hoots about Settler politics.

Oh, and, I don’t think Cutmouth John was even still alive in late 1896…!

Anyway, here we go with a truly unusual Chinuk Wawa find.

My approach this time is to give a running translation, and footnote a couple of interesting points toward a final evaluation.

As was common in old-time newspapers publishing Chinook Jargon, typographical and punctuation mistakes abound. Plus, there’s some totally dated English slang below. My asterisks show you the details I think are just plain not clear:

epistle to the puyallups reservation


Kla-how-ya, six.
łax̣áwya, síks.
‘Hello, friend.’

Mar-ta [sic] mika?
qʰáta máyka?
‘How are you?’

Icta mika tum tum o-cook illahee?
íkta máyka tə́mtəm úkuk ílihi?
‘What do you think of this country?’

O-coke hyas klosh?
úkuk [1] hayas-łúsh?
‘Is it wonderful?’

Sah-a-le kono-wa ic-tas, ni-ka tik-eh mi ka kopa sagh-a-le kenoway ictas the potlatch ma vote.
sáx̣ali kánawi íkta-s, náyka tíki máyka kʰupa sáx̣ali kánawi íkta-s THE* pátlach MA* VOTE [2].
‘Above all things, I want (for) you above all things to* give me* (your) vote.’

Wa-wa kono-way si-wash is-kum vote Republican ticket, pee is-kum hy-yu votes, kwon-e um [sic] McKinley, Sullivan, pee Callow.
wáwa kánawi sáwásh ískam VOTE REPUBLICAN TICKET, pi ískam háyú VOTES, kwánsəm McKinley, Sullivan, pi Callow.
‘Tell all the Indians(,) pick “VOTE REPUBLICAN TICKET”, and get a lot of votes, always (for) McKinley, Sullivan, and Callow.’

Na-wit-ka kloshe tum tums.
nawítka łúsh tə́mtəm-s [3].
‘(They) are really good-hearted.’

Cultus wa-wa Bryan, Rogers.
kʰə́ltəs-wáwa Bryan, Rogers.
‘Bryan (and) Rogers just run their mouths.’

Pit tuck, mam-ook tum tum,
pítəq*, mamuk-tə́mtəm,
‘Think, consider,’

Rogers cultus nitz* — moo-la-wind.
Rogers kʰə́ltəs NITZ [4] — múlá-wín(d) [5].
‘Rogers is a no-good nitwit* — a windmill.’

Ha-lo mam-ook, il-la he, ha-mam-ook stick — cultus wa-wa. Kon-a-mox Bryan pee kon-o-way pops, [sic]
hílu mamuk-ílihi, hílu mamuk-stík — kʰə́ltəs-wáwa. kʰanumákws(t) Bryan pi kánawi POPS*
‘(He) doesn’t do a lick of farming, nor logging — (he’s) just talk(,) right along with Bryan and all the Pops [Populists; the nickname of the People’s Party]!’

— from the Shelton (WA) Mason County Journal of October 30, 1896, page 3, column 1

[1] úkuk ‘this’ is a way of referring back to the inanimate subject (‘this country’) as ‘it’. My experience of Chinuk Wawa is that it’s pretty optional to use this word here; especially in spoken language, the context would make it really clear what’s being talked about. 

[2] …THE* pátlach MA* VOTE: this is hard to interpret precisely, but the point is obvious. I imagine THE to be an absent-minded intrusion of the verb-infinitive marker ‘to’ from the author’s first language, English. MA could similarly reflect English ‘me’, or else be a typo for Jargon mayka ‘your’.

[3] łúsh tə́mtəm-s: I want to call your attention to the use of the English-sourced noun plural suffix on < tum tum > ‘heart’. This is one of the handful of Jargon nouns that often appear pluralized like that, usually in Settler usage — another being < tillicum >.

[4] kʰə́ltəs NITZ: This “nitz” looks like some kind of 1890s slang word in American English. I haven’t yet found references to it, so I’m broadly guessing its meaning is ‘nitwit, idiot’. My seven (!) excellent slang and dialect dictionaries consistently report “nit” as a word for this idea, and “nitz” for ‘no’, so why not “nitz” for ‘idiot’, I say! 

[5] múlá-wín(d) (literally ‘machine-wind’): It seems clear to me that the essential idea here is of a ‘windbag, gasbag’, someone who ‘blows hot air’; the specific metaphor is evidently ‘windmill’. Today we have discovered the Chinuk Wawa word for that! (It’s not in previous dictionaries when I check.) Let me point out that the word order here is odd; most words for mechanical devices of various sorts have the word mula, or nowadays at Grand Ronde lakaset, at the end of the phrase. But, fascinatingly, the very weirdness of our mula-win suggests its authenticity. Because, in the Upper Chehalis Salish language of the earliest-settled southwest area of Washington, we find a very similar, quite old construction: < Mo-la táu-a-mĭn > ‘reaper’, built from Jargon mula plus an Up Ch word for ‘(hand) mower’.

I want to finish with the pointed observation that the Chinuk Wawa in today’s reading selection — despite the interjected bástən stuff — is actually fluent.

The writer seems to have been an oldtimer, and indeed we have found lots of excellent Jargon in the Mason County Journal. Another little research project is to find out who the editor was, and his life story…

What do you think? qʰáta máyka tə́mtəm?