Correspond in Chinook: how to say ‘sandwiches and clam chowder’

kuhn clam bake

This souvenir clambake plate may have been given out at the event mentioned below. Nice swag! (Image credit: WorthPoint)

Pioneer Thomas Prosch of Seattle adds to a string of Chinuk Wawa-rich appearances in this space… 

Check out how the Seattle P-I editor takes a swipe at J.A. Kuhn’s newfangled Chinook Jargon spelling (which follows what was by then an effective standard used in the most popular CJ dictionaries), contrasting it with Prosch’s idiosyncratic and therefore more genuine way of writing!

As usual, I’ll let you read through the original article, then, after it, I’ll get into the guts of its Chinook.

(Hint — we’re fortunate today to have an English translation provided by one of the pioneer Settlers involved. I think it’s sort of a Rosetta Stone that shows us how those people thought about their Jargon and some of their unique idioms.)

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CORRESPOND IN CHINOOK.

T. W. Prosch Receives Unique Invitation to Attend Potlatch in Port Townsend June 9.

Thomas W. Prosch, the well-known Seattle pioneer, received a letter yesterday that took his memory back to the early days on Puget Sound. It was an invitation written in Chinook, from [Judge] J.A. Kuhn, of Port Townsend, and requested Mr. Prosch’s presence at a potlatch to be given there June 9. The letter is as follows:

Naah!

“Konaway Tilicums Nanitch:

“Kla-how-ya, Tom.

“Nika tickey wa-wa mika. Nika pee nika tilicums tickey mamook ict hias potlatch kopa maki, pee konaway nesika tilicums, copa kah soldier man milite ankutty, copa tenas sun elip lakit Sunday. (June 9, 1900), nika tickey potlatch mesika hyu clams, pee hyu hee hee; pee tin tin; pee tenas sap-o-lil ictas; hyu klosh chuck milite yah-wa; klonas, pee tenas lum.

“Mesika klosh charco, pee lolo konaway tenas man pee tenas klootchmen; pee ict ooskan mucka-muck, o’-na soup.

“Kwa-ne-sum.

MIKA TILICUM.

correspond in chinook 02

Instead of attaching his signature, Mr. Kuhn pasted his photograph at the bottom of the letter. A free translation is as follows:

“How are you, Tom? I want to talk to you. I will make a big party for you and our friends, at the old garrison here June 9. There will be lots of clams, fun, hilarity, sandwiches, plenty of coffee, a little rum and whisky. We want you to come and bring all your family.” 

Mr. Prosch, not to be outdone, yesterday penned the following letter, the spelling in which it will be noticed has in some places a more ancient appearance than the invitation’s:

Tsehalalitch, May 24.

Klosh tillikum:

“Mika paper chaco, okoke sun. Marcie, hyas marcie. Nika hyas tickey klatawa kopa mika illahee June 9. Nika tumtum hyas klosh kopa mika pee konaway Port Townsend tillikum. Locket tiliikum pee klene snow nika chaco [Ø] Port Townsend. Nika kumtux Fowler. Briggs, Pettygrove, Hastings, Swan, Jones, pee konaway ankutty man.

Kla how-ya Joe.”

correspond in chinook 03

This may be translated as follows:

Seattle, May 24.

“Dear Sir: I received your letter today. I am much obliged to you, and am anxious to go on June 9. I feel very kindly toward you and all Port Townsend people. Forty-three years ago, I went to Port Townsend, and knew you and all the old settlers well. I will come with Fowler, Briggs, Pettygrove, Hastings, Swan, Jones.

“How are you, Joe?”

— from the Seattle (WA) Post-Intelligencer of May 25, 1900, page 6, column 3

Now to slow down and think about the Jargon we’ve seen here. (Translations in single quotation marks are mine; the ones in double quotation marks are from the article.)

First, let’s have a closer look at Kuhn’s letter:

Naah!
ná!
‘Hey!’

“Konaway Tilicums Nanitch:
kánawi tílixam-s nánich:
‘Everyone, look:’

< Kla-how-ya, Tom. >
łax̣áwya, Tom.
‘Hello, Tom.’
“How are you, Tom?”

< Nika tickey wa-wa mika. Nika pee nika tilicums tickey mamook ict >
náyka tíki wáwa máyka. [1] náyka pi nayka tílixam-s tíki mámuk íxt 
‘I want to talk to you. I and my people want to make a certain (kind of)’
“I want to talk to you. I will make a”

< hias potlatch kopa maki, pee konaway nesika tilicums, copa kah soldier man >
háyás pátlach [2] kʰupa máyka, pi kánawi nsáyka tílixam-s, kʰupa qʰá [3] shúlchast-mán 
‘big giveaway for you, and all of our friends, where the soldiers’
“big party for you and our friends, at the old garrison here”

< milite ankutty, copa tenas sun elip lakit Sunday. (June 9, 1900), nika tickey >
míłayt ánqati, kʰupa tənəs-sán íləp [4] lákit sánti (June 9, 1900), náyka tíki 
‘used to stay, in the morning before four weeks (are finished). On ([Saturday,] June 9, 1900, I want’
“June 9. There will be”

< potlatch mesika hyu clams, pee hyu hee hee; pee tin tin; pee tenas sap-o-lil  ictas; >
pátlach msáyka háyú kláms [5], pi háyú híhi; pi tíntin [6]; pi tənəs-saplél-íkta-s [7]
‘to give you folks lots of clams, and lots of fun; and music*; and sandwiches;’
“lots of clams, fun, hilarity, sandwiches,”

< hyu klosh chuck milite yah-wa; klonas, pee tenas lum. >
háyú łúsh chə́qw [8] míłayt yawá(,) t’łúnas, pi [9] tənəs-lám.
‘lots of soft drinks will be there, I guess, and some alcohol.’
“plenty of coffee, a little rum and whisky.” 

< Mesika klosh charco, pee lolo konaway tenas man pee tenas klootchmen; pee >
msáyka łúsh [10] cháku, pi lúlu kánawi tənəs-mán pi tənəs-łúchmən; pi 
‘You folks, please come, and bring all the boys and girls; and’
“We want you to come and bring all your family.”

< ict ooskan mucka-muck, o’-na soup. >
íxt úskan mə́kʰmək [11], óna*-súp [12].
‘a bowl (each) (to) eat clam chowder*.’

< Kwa-ne-sum. >
kwánsəm
‘Always,’

< MIKA TILICUM. >
máyka tílixam
‘your friend,’

Footnotes to his invitation:

  • náyka tíki wáwa máyka. [1] This sentence exactly matches the standard letter-beginning greeting found in the 1890s Kamloops, BC Chinuk Pipa community of usage. I feel confident that in both cases it reflects typical habits of speaking in person, just as virtually everything in authentic documented Chinook Jargon does. This was almost exclusively a spoken, not written, language. 
  • háyás pátlach [2] The use of “potlatch” as a noun is almost exclusively the domain of Settlers bilingual in English. 
  • kʰupa qʰá [3] Very fluent Jargon — forming a relative clause by saying literally ‘at where’. 
  • íləp [4] lákit sánti I’m mighty sure about my translation here (‘after four weeks’). But íləp means ‘before’! This feels like a slip of the tongue, as it were, by Kuhn. I figure he was reaching for kimt’á ‘after’, which is frequently used in this time-referring way. It’s worth comparing Prosch’s seeming difficulty with ‘before; ago’ in his response below…Compare note 9. 
  • háyú kláms [5] ‘Clams’, from English, is a Chinuk Wawa word. It always occurs with the final “S” in my experience, so I’m not analyzing that as an added-on plural suffix, in this case. Cultural note: háyú kláms ‘lots of clams’ was pretty much a Puget Sound catchphrase, thanks to the dirty Jargon folk song “Seattle Illahee“.
  • tíntin [6] The translation provided, ‘hilarity’, doesn’t quite do it for me. This word, literally ‘bell’, also meant ‘music’, which in the context seems probable — gatherings of PNW oldtimers always featured singalongs, often in Chinook Jargon. 
  • tənəs-saplél-íkta-s [7] Here we have a new discovery. It looks like we can trust the translator that this phrase (literally ‘little-bread-things’) meant ‘sandwiches’. A nice discovery of a new Jargon word! Mind you, because we didn’t know this term before now, at Grand Ronde they’ve innovated a nice way to name that food: kátsaq-kʰapa-saplél mə́kʰmək (‘middle-of-bread food’). 
  • łúsh chə́qw [8] Literally ‘good/healthy water’, this phrase would’ve escaped our notice if it hadn’t been for the helpful translator. The best way to understand it is probably as ‘soft drinks’ (non-alcoholic ones) as opposed to hard drinks like lám. ‘Coffee’ is a bit of a euphemism here (because there was already a universally known word for that, kʰófi / kʰópi)…talking very frankly about booze wasn’t very polite in Settler society, was it? 
  • t’łúnas, pi [9] tənəs-lám Here we have a punctuation problem. I’m reading the sentence as ‘…soft drinks will be there, I guess, and some alcohol.’ If we stuck closer to the semi-colon’ed published version, it’d look like ‘…soft drinks will be there. Maybe and alcohol.’ Which (maybe and…) was what Kuhn really wrote. Maybe and…he might have been reaching for wə́x̣t ‘also’, but came up with pi ‘and’? Compare note 4.
  • msáyka łúsh [10] cháku The word order here is unusual but understandable. Really typical usage would be łúsh msáyka cháku ‘good (that) you folks come’.
  • íxt úskan mə́kʰmək [11] óna*-súp Because íxt in the best Jargon usage signfies ‘a particular one’, this is slightly clunky, but the idea could well have been ‘one each’. (That’s íxt-íxt in the most fluent usage.) Also giving pause is úskan mə́kʰmək, which we’d automatically take as ‘a bowl of food’ in any other context. It becomes evident that Kuhn has left out a word to indicate ‘for (the purpose of)’; I’d normally expect úskan kʰupa mə́kʰmək, or especially at Grand Ronde, úskan (s)pus mə́kʰmək.
  • óna*-súp [12] Congratulations, another newly discovered word! ‘Clam chowder’ is literally ‘clam-soup’, here using another and more bookish word for ‘clams’, óna. I bet you a dollar, though, that folks actually said klams-sup.

And second, Prosch’s response:

< Tsehalalitch, May 24. >
dᶻidᶻəlal’ič [12], May 24
‘Seattle, May 24.’
“Seattle, May 24.”

Klosh tillikum: >
łúsh tílixam: 
‘Good friend:’
“Dear Sir:”

< Mika paper chaco, okoke sun. Marcie, hyas marcie. Nika hyas tickey klatawa >
máyka pípa cháku, úkuk san. mási, háyás mási. náyka hayas-tíki łátwa 
‘Your letter came, today. Thank you, thank you very much. I very much want to go’
“I received your letter today. I am much obliged to you, and am anxious to go”

< kopa mika illahee June 9. Nika tumtum hyas klosh kopa mika pee konaway Port >
kʰupa mayka ílihi June 9. náyka tə́mtəm hayas-łúsh kʰupa máyka pi kánawi Port 
‘to your place June 9. I feel very good toward you and all the Port’
“on June 9. I feel very kindly toward you and all Port”

< Townsend tillikum. Locket tillikum [sic] pee klene snow nika chaco [Ø] >
Townsend tílixam. lákit-táłlam pi łún snú náyka cháku [Ø]
[13]
‘Townsend people. (It’s) forty-three years (ago) that I went to’
“Townsend people. Forty-three years ago, I went to”

< Port Townsend. Nika kumtux Fowler, Briggs, Pettygrove, Hastings, Swan, Jones, >
Port Townsend. náyka kə́mtəks Fowler, Briggs, Pettygrove, Hastings, Swan, Jones, 
‘Port Townsend. I remember [Capt. Enoch S.] Fowler, [Albert] Briggs, [Francis W.] Pettygrove, [L.B.] Hastings, [James G.] Swan, [Capt. Charles H.] Jones[?],’
“Port Townsend, and knew you and all the old settlers well. I will come with Fowler, Briggs, Pettygrove, Hastings, Swan, Jones.”

< pee konaway ankutty man. >
pi kánawi ánqati-mán.
‘and all the old-timers.’

< Kla how-ya Joe. >
łax̣áwya, Joe. 
‘Goodbye, Joe.’
“How are you, Joe?

Notes to the response:

  • dᶻidᶻəlal’ič [12] is the local dxʷləšúcid (Lushootseed Salish) name for the location of Seattle. Prosch, like other earlybirds of that city, is mixing whatever Lushootseed words he knows in with his Chinuk Wawa. 
  • [Ø] [13] is the “null” (non-pronounced) preposition that’s typical as a variant of  kʰupa in fluent and old-school Jargon speech. 

When you compare what I’ve shown here with the published translations, you’ll find that the newspaper made a few blunders, but they’re fairly minor. The P-I got the essence of the exchanged messages. Both of them look like authentic early-pioneer Jargon…as remembered decades afterwards!

What do you think?
Kah-ta mi-ka tum-tum?

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