Peytavin’s letter from Cheam, BC

A missionary reports from somewhere down the Fraser River: rumors are swirling in Stó:lô Salish territory near Vancouver.

There are quite a few words here whose exact 1890s BC Chinook Jargon pronunciations we don’t know. I’ve marked them with asterisks, trying to point them out without getting too distracting.

After this text, I’ll offer some comments to help you make sense of this historical document.

Peytavin letter.PNG

< Father Peytavin’s Letter. > = Chiam Novimbir < 16, 1892 >
                                                       Chiám* Novémbər* sikstin* eytin* naynti-tu* [1]
                                                       Cheam November
‘Cheam [BC], November 16, 1892.’ 

Tlus Pir Lshyun, = Chiam tilikom klaska skukum. Alta klaska tiki tlap 
(t)łús(h) Pér Lədjə́n, = Chiám tílikəm łaska skúkum [2]. álta łáska tíki t’łáp [3]
good Pere Le.Jeune, = Cheam people they strong. now they want get
‘Dear Pere Le Jeune, = The Cheam people are well. Now they want to “get” ‘ 

Chinuk pipa. Pi pus klaska ilo lisi, klaska tlap. = Stalo 
Chinúk pípa. pi pus łáska (h)ílu* lési*, łáska t’łáp Ø [4]. = Stálo
Chinook writing. and if they not lazy, they get it. = Stó:lô
‘the Chinook writing. And if they aren’t too lazy, they’ll get it. = The Stó:lô’

tilikom kwanisim tlap ayu wawa: klaska tlap, pus tanas ankati klaska 
tílikəm kwánisəm t’łáp [5] (h)áyú wáwa: łáska t’łáp pus [6] tənəs-ánqati łáska
people they get much talk: they get if little-previously they
‘people are always receiving a lot of rumors: they found out supposedly a bit ago’

mamuk kort lisivik, Bishop Duriyu, pi maika komtaks pus aias 
mamuk-kórt lesevék [7], Bíshəp Duriyú* [8], pi máyka kə́mtəks pus (h)áyás* [9]
make-court bishop, Bishop Durieu, but you know if big
‘the bishop was hauled into court, Bishop Durieu, but you know what kind of big’

tliminhwit ukuk wawa. Pi lili klaska wawa kakwa,  pi wik kata pus 
t’łəmínxwət úkuk wáwa. pi líli łáska wáwa kʰákwa, pi wík-qʰáta [10] pus
lie this talk. and long.time they say so, and no how
‘lie this talk is. And it’s been being said for a long while, but there’s no way’

chako kakwa. Chiam tilikom ilo mamuk nawitka ukuk wawa: lili klaska 
cháku* [11] kʰákwa. Chiám tílikəm (h)ílu mamuk-nawítka úkuk wáwa: líli łáska
happen so. Cheam people not make-true this talk: long.time they
‘it could happen like that. The Cheam people don’t believe such talk: they’ve’

kolan kakwa tliminhwit. Klaska tomtom pus Mitodist klaska wawa 
q’wəlán kʰákwa [12] t’łəmínxwət. łáska tə́mtəm pus Métədist* [13] łaska wáwa
hear such lie. they think if Methodist they say
‘been hearing such lies for a long time. They think the Methodists are saying’

ukuk tliminhwit. = Tanas min skul boi kopa Mishan klaska skukum: 
úkuk t’łəmínxwət. = tənəs*-mén* skúl-bóy [14] kʰupa Míshən [15] łaska skúkum:
this lie. = little-man school-boy at Mission they strong:
‘these lies. The boys, schoolboys, at Mission, are well:’

pi tanas kluchmin wiht klaska skukum. = Alta klaska mamuk ayu pipa. Kanawi  
pi tənəs-łúchmən wə́x̣t łaska skúkum. = álta łáska mámuk (h)áyú pípa. kʰánawi
and little-woman also they strong. = now they make much writing. all
‘ and the girls are also well. = Now they’re writing a great deal. All’

Stalo tilikom iskom plitsh < “temperance pledge.” > 
stálo tílikəm ískam plédj* [16]
Stó:lô people take pledge
‘of the Stó:lô people have taken the pledge, the temperance pledge.’

Kanawi mash lam. 
kʰánawi másh lám.
all leave alcohol.

‘They’re all quitting drinking.’

          Pir Pitavi Stalo liplit. 
          Pér Petavé Stálo ləplét.
          Pere Peytavin Stó:lô priest.
‘Pere Peytavin, the Stó:lô priest.’

— from Kamloops Wawa #61 (January 15, 1893), page 12


[1] Novémbər* sikstin* eytin* naynti-tu*: On one hand, you had your basic Chinook Jargon number words (ixt, makwst, łun, etc.). On the other hand, this is a late-frontier dialect with more English-language influence than earlier varieties had, so the higher digits (which seem to be less commonly spoken than low numbers) were getting replaced by English “eight, nine”, etc. And in calendar dates, it’s hard to find evidence of any Jargon numbers being spoken, so I’ve inferred here that the date on this letter would be pronounced pretty much in English!

[2] łaska skúkum: Here skukum ‘strong’ is used in its sense as the opposite of sik, so I translate it with ‘healthy’ in this sentence. 

[3] łáska tíki t’łáp: The multi-purpose verb t’łáp ‘to get, to catch’ also commonly serves in a metaphor for ‘grasp, catch the meaning of something’. If this sentence had been meant literally, this phrase would mean ‘get the Chinook newspaper’, referring to Kamloops Wawa. Reading today’s text, can you see why we know that’s not the intended meaning? 

[4] łáska t’łáp Ø: That slashed-O symbol is once again the correct (i.e. silent) way to say ‘it’, as the object of a verb. 

[5] …kwánisəm t’łáp: Another meaning of t’łáp! ‘To hear tell of…’

[6] łáska t’łáp pus…: And another meaning of t’łáp! ‘To find, to find out’. The subjunctive (“irrealis”) pus makes the following statement of “fact” into a hypothetical, so I translate it as ‘supposedly’.

[7] łáska mamuk-kórt: The usual BC Jargon expression for ‘to judge, to prosecute’ is mamuk kort haws ‘to make courthouse, to “courthouse” someone’.

[8] Bíshəp Duriyú*: Notice the two words for ‘bishop’ in a row?! Lesevek is the everyday word, going way back in the history of Chinuk Wawa. Bishop is a newer borrowing, from English, because in real life people would discuss news of Durieu, a major BC public figure, as “Bishop Durieu”. The rumors about Durieu are actually just misinterpretations of the extremely controversial news of the time, the jailing of Father Eugene Casimir Chirouse for whipping some Indigenous people.

[9] (h)ayas(-): It’s unclear which way to think of this hayas. It might be the Intensifier meaning ‘very’. Or it might be the Adjective meaning ‘big’. What’s your instinct? 

[10] wík-qʰáta: Absolutely the typical way of expressing inability in BC Chinook Jargon, which is unacquainted with more southerly dialects’ x̣áwqał. The action that someone “can’t” do is by definition left in a hypothetical, un-done state, so it’s frequent to find the subjunctive pus thrown in to mark its non-reality. 

[11] cháku*: I hope you’re aware that the verb for ‘to come’ also is used to mean ‘to happen’.

[12] kʰákwa: I hope you’re also cognizant that kakwa ‘like; as; that way; this way’ can also be used as an adjective meaning “such a; this kind of; that kind of’. 

[13] Métədist*: This is unfair and maybe a bit of a lie. The Catholic and Methodist missionaries were in a pretty stiff competition for the souls of Stó:lô and closely related Salish people. The officially Catholic Cheam tribe might have really suspected the Methodists were at the root of the “Durieu” rumor…but maybe Father Peytavin is putting his own priestly ideas into their mouths. I have to imagine tribal people possessed an excellent understanding of how different folks will have varying understandings of the same events. 

[14 skúl-bóy: A recent English loan. 

[15] Míshən: Mission, BC, was the site of St. Mary’s, an “industrial” (Indian residential) school. Most of its students were Stó:lô kids.  

[16] plédj*: This was a pretty common word in Kamloops Wawa‘s Chinook Jargon, and it always referred to “temperance pledges” that Aboriginal people were induced to sign in an attempt at eradicating alcohol abuse via prayer and the payment of fines to the church. Incidentally, you may have noticed the dotted underlining of pledj in the image of the original “Chinuk Pipa” text. That was a technique used to highlight unfamiliar words — usually names, but sometimes foreign words, etc. 

What have you learned?