How he was sold

As direct linguistic evidence, this is not so hot, but it’s quite a revealing variation on a popular frontier-era joke about sociolinguistic expectations.

I’ve presented versions of this before that involved Chinuk Wawa and unexpectedly “dignified” Native people.

Today’s variation shows you how, when folks saw a Chinese person in the mid-to-late 1800s US West, they expected that he’d speak Chinese Pidgin English…

…And they often could speak it quite well to him.

The American lady in the following is portrayed as using a lot of the characteristic words and grammar of CPE that differ the most widely from standard English.

Also note that, like a lot of Chinook Jargon in Oregon and Washington newspapers, the CPE here is left untranslated by the editor, because readers were assumed to grasp its meaning.

I’ll put a rough translation below.

how he was sold

HOW HE WAS SOLD.

On board our train, and occupying one section of tbe Ogallalla, was the Oriental gentleman with the self-cocking name who had been sent to Washington by the Chinese Government on special business connected with the affairs of state. He wore a long, brocaded, old-gold gown, with embroidered purple overskirt, cut plain and tied together with silk cord and unique buttons. He wore his hair plain and braided down the back, and his silk boots with cork soles, looking like a p!ug hat in a gale of wind. Everybody of course eyed him with curiosity and sighed to have some fun with him. One old lady, with reddish whiskers under the jaw, sidled up to him at last and began to ladle out to him a lot of choice pigeon English that attracted the attention of everbody in the car and broke up two well-established games of whist. “Chinaman John, you sabee heap high mountain, all same Bunker Hill. Heap snow, belly cold July, all same January. Melican man no likee. Too cold. Make ’em chilblain all same. Pleece nose off. No good. You sabee me chin chin?” “Yes,” said he; “I understand you, I think, as well as any maniac that I ever listened to. I hope you will have a pleasant trip to the asylum, and that they will be more patient with you than I am. I am a little irritable with lunatics, and I am prone to lose my temper and throw them off the train, or jam them under the wood-box, or knock them into the aisle and walk over their remains. Do not try to tell me about yonr misfortunes, or explain how it came on you, for I do not feel any interest in it, and it only inflames and enrages me.” Then he took a cigarette and a fan and went into the smoking-room. Pigeon English is a very pretty language, but every little while you run into a mandarin who don’t [sic] know a word of it. If the Chinese Government don’t educate its ministers so that they can grapple with tbe style of Chinese spoken in the best families of Omaha, those ministers are liable to have a lonely time of it. — [Laramie Boomerang.]

— from the Sacramento (CA) Daily Record-Union of August 5, 1882, page 3, column 3 (brackets in original)

I assume the woman is referring to the Rocky Mountains near the train when she says:

Chinaman John, you sabee heap high mountain, all same Bunker Hill. Heap snow, belly cold July, all same January. Melican man no likee. Too cold. Make ’em chilblain all same. Pleece nose off. No good. You sabee me chin chin? [‘Chinese John, do you know about (those) very high mountains, like Bunker Hill [probably the silver-mining area in Nevada]? There’s a lot of snow, it’s very cold in July, just like January. Americans don’t like it. It’s too cold. It causes something like chilblains. It freezes (your) nose off. It’s no good. Do you understand my case?’]

What do you think?