Who Will Be Here
A genre of Chinuk Wawa literacy that we’re building quite the file of: the invitation (and the RSVP)…
These weren’t always in the best Chinook Jargon, but they’re pretty interesting as a historical use of CJ.
Today’s exhibit relates to the [grain] Millers’ National Association convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1890:
Here is another letter from an ex-Minneapolitan responding to an invitation to tne convention which will bear reproduction:
SPOKANE FALLS, WASH., June 2, 1890. — Nika tumtum chahco kopa “Mamooktumtum” pee nika tikeh hyiu mitlike [sic] mucka muck pee mamook halo tikeh ithelcom hyiu ocoke nika tumtum klatawa lopca [sic] nika hause wake patlash ithelcom tenas. Me sika. George S. Palmer.
Here is the key Mr. Palmer sent with it:
SPOKANE FALLS, WASH., June 2, 1890. — I instructed my Suivash [Indian] secretary to write and tell you that I would be at the convention (Mamooktumtum), and that I wanted plenty to eat (mucka muck), but that I wanted the games kept small as I did not want to walk home (nika hause); but he got mixed up in some way and gave it to you in “Suivash.” It is skookum (good) and I send it as written.
— from the St. Paul (Minnesota) Daily Globe of June 16, 1890, page 3, column 3
Evidently Palmer’s Jargon is mixed-up in more ways than one. I’ll take a closer look at it…
First, the spellings, while mostly the conventional (no pun intended) stuff that you’d find in the most widely circulated Jargon dictionaries of the late 1800s, contain a number of typographical errors introduced by the newspaper. Bear in mind that this was before typewriters were usual for business correspondence, and the Jargon wasn’t well-known way over East in Minnesota. So the newspaper staff were liable to misread some of it.
Second, this just isn’t very fluent Chinuk Wawa. One obvious point is that there’s no established word for a business “convention” in the language (I checked the compiled info in SV Johnson 1978 & EH Thomas 1935).
And the scant punctuation — maybe reflecting Palmer’s dictation to an uncomprehending secretary — is almost no help.
The message is just really hard to figure out unless you refer to Palmer’s overt statement of what he meant to say. All of this looks like a sign of the writer’s poor CW knowledge.
Of course, the main point here was to contribute some local color from the still-exotic Pacific Northwest ( to the excitement of a nationwide tradesmen’s gathering. None of the intended readership was expected to understand the Jargon note in the first place!
For those who like to view things in an analytical way, here’s a breakdown of the message bit-by-bit. Any asterisk you see indicates my uncertainty about pronunciation or interpretation.
Nika tumtum chahco kopa “Mamooktumtum” pee nika tikeh hyiu
náyka tə́mtəm cháku kʰapa “mamuk-tə́mtəm” pi náyka tíki háyú
I think come to “make-think” and I want much
‘I’m thinking of coming to the “deliberations” and I want much’
mitlike [sic] mucka muck pee mamook halo tikeh ithelcom hyiu
míłayt mə́kʰmək pi mámuk hílu tíki íłəkum háyú
exist food and make not want gamble much
‘to be food and make (it known*) that (I*) don’t want the gambling to be much(.*) ‘
ocoke [sic; for wake*] nika tumtum klatawa lopca [sic] nika hause wake patlash
wík* náyka tə́mtəm łátwa kʰapa náyka háws wík pátlach
this [ / not*] I think go to my home not give
‘I don’t intend to go to my home(.*) Don’t* give’
ithelcom tenas. Me sika.
íłəkum tənás*. msáyka
gamble little. your.PLURAL
‘gambling (even*) a little. Your(s,)’
That’s quite a lot of uncertainty in such a brief message. I’d sum things up by saying that today’s Jargon reading isn’t to be relied on as a lesson in how to speak Chinuk Wawa. Its main value is as a historical token. (By the way, Palmer sent his colleagues at The Northwestern Miller his note and translation, so they published it at the same time.)