L’abbé Domenech as a tipoff to more “broken Chinook”

Curious how B.S. (that’s p’áłił in Chinuk Wawa) can lead to a scientific discovery…

The book “Seven Years’ Residence in the Great Deserts of North America, Volume 2“, pictured here…

Front Cover

(“Deserts” here means “wilderness”)

…was written by Emmanuel Domenech (published in London, UK: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1860).


Emmanuel-Henri-Dieudonné Domenech (1825-1903) (image credit: Wikipedia)

A couple of things are worth noting about this not very influential volume:

(1) The spellings indicate the “Chinook” words are Lower Chinookan, taken uncredited from Horatio Hale 1846. (Not the worst thing this author ever did; Domenech was also an exposed fraudster.)

(2) Some of the Chinookan nouns in Domenech’s sampling (and of course more in Hale’s original longer list), lack the expected Chinookan gender prefixes (like a-, i-, ł-, u-) — and other noun prefixes — in at least some of the variants they’re recorded in.

That makes them apparently examples of “Broken Chinook”, an early stage of Chinook Jargon!

Some examples from Hale (I don’t need to reproduce all his accents & special symbols here):

  • page 574 ‘head’ (Q) kaqstaq
  • page 576 ‘ear’ (R) beautsaks
  • page 577 ‘tongue’ (Q) manxutkonuma
  • page 578 ‘neck’, ‘arm’ (R) betokx
  • page 581 ‘heart’ (Qm) gwamunitxl
  • page 582 ‘blood’ (Qm) kawulikit
  • page 583 ‘friend’ (Q) cikc
  • page 585 ‘axe’ (Q) qoestun
  • page 587 ‘sky’ (Q, R) kocax
  • page 589 ‘light’ (R) wax
  • page 594 ‘ice’ (Q) kapa
  • page 600 ‘dog’ (Q) qotqot, ‘buffalo’ (Q, R) musmusqe
  • page 601 ‘deer’ (Q) lalax
  • page 602 ‘elk’ (Q) molak
  • page 604 ‘bird’ (R) kalakalama

The authoritative bibliography-maker of Chinookan languages, James C. Pilling (1893),  mentions neither Domenech’s cribbing from Hale, nor anything odd going on with Hale’s Chinookan data itself.

The latter of these concerns seems not to be found in George Lang’s 2008 book “Making Wawa“, though pages 67ff of that study valuably investigate “broken Chinookan” in other early vocabularies of Chinook Jargon.

A highly readable conference paper by Henry Zenk (2015) examines external influence on Hale, in the form of JK Townsend’s contribution to H’s Chinuk Wawa documentation; but again, Hale’s Chinookan is not the recipient of scrutiny.

New idea — I’m going to suggest, in the absence of previous authorities saying so, and despite Hale’s reputation as an unusually perceptive and skilled linguist for his era, that a good deal of Jargon crept into his Chinookan data.

How was that possible?

Well, if as Henry Zenk shows, Hale was reliant on others for information on Jargon because he was unfamiliar with it (as he should be, because extremely little of Chinuk Wawa had yet been published back East “in the United States”), he’d be poorly equipped to spot Jargon loans in his data on other languages.

Sure enough, Hale presents the CW word for ‘tobacco’ as a K’alapuya word….etc etc.

And remember, at the time of Hale’s 1841 visit to the Pacific Northwest, Chinook Jargon wasn’t yet quite such a clearly distinct “thing” from the Chinookan tribal languages, to most observers and even speakers.

I refer you to the chronology in George’s “Making Wawa” on this point as well.

Contrast that with just a decade or so later, when George Gibbs created two separate publications displaying a crystal-clear understanding of the boundaries between Chinookan (LINK) and Jargon (LINK).

It’s conceivable that Hale himself didn’t quite catch the difference while he was there on the spot. Gosh knows his mind was busy with lots of other work — he did “field work” on dozens of languages out here and around the world!

I’ve been known to suggest that the earliest documents of the various languages in our Pacific Northwest should all, automatically, be examined for evidence of pidginization.

The first outsiders (no matter how educated or even intermarried with Native communities back East) in these territories had very little clue about how to analyze and properly speak the PNW Indigenous languages with their very different, quite complex grammars.

  • I’ve presented a paper at a linguistics conference on how the earliest White documents of Heiltsuk (northern BC coast) appear to be a pidgin of that language, for example.
  • I also suspect something similar of having gone on with Klamath, which was an important interethnic language in early contact times.
  • And scholar Ginette Demers has shown that even during the furt-trade era, it was realized that paid interpreters didn’t necessarily speak the Indigenous languages like a Native.

“Creolists”, i.e. those linguists who specialize in studying languages resulting from contact situations, tend to assume that there are some certain ineffable factors (no fur-trade pun intended) that have happened in only a few special situations in our world’s history to give rise to pidgin languages…

I on the other hand suspect that some broad kinds of common situations lead to pidgins forming.

As part of this hypothesis, I think we can reasonably expect to find signs of pidginization and pidgins all over the Pacific NW up until the recent point (circa 1880-1890) when Settlers finally outnumbered Indigenous people.

So I think it’s beyond argument that Hale’s Chinookan-language data (brought to our notice thanks to Domenech’s plagiarism) preserves a good deal of pidginized Chinookan / early Chinook Jargon.

It’s interesting to realize this.

We find that up into the early 1840s, Jargon was fairly variable and fluid, even though it was already nativizing into a creole language at Fort Vancouver in today’s Washington State.

This observation of a flux state may help us understand, among other things, how it was possible for that early pidgin-creole (vintage 1820’s-1840’s) to re-creolize at Grand Ronde reservation (vintage 1850’s-1890’s), with new grammatical features not previously seen.

It’s not unlikely we will find more “Broken Chinook” in further documents that have been previously considered straight Chinookan…I will be searching.

What do you think?
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