The last writing of the first Chinuk Pipa writer

About this time 126 years ago, a sad end came to a remarkable and important young man…

Máyus, whose baptismal name was Charley-Alexis Mayoos, was a young disabled Salish man from Coldwater, south of Kamloops in British Columbia.

His status as a so-called “cripple”, in the terminology of that time, is likely to have been the factor that gave Máyus the time and spared him the energy to learn Chinuk Pipa when Father Le Jeune showed up in Aboriginal communities in 1890 experimenting with teaching the people to write.

Máyus is credited with being the one person who really caught the idea and ran with it. He taught many of is relatives and friends, and this led to “Chinook Writing” spreading quickly through southern interior BC Indian country.

We unfortunately know little about Máyus, because he passed away not much later.

His final writing, presented here in Chinook Jargon (remarkably, it’s also preserved in his native Thompson Salish–perhaps the earliest preserved text in that language!), prays for his family members who had not converted to Christianity.

My understanding is that one of them was a medicine man. In fact, that man may have been the one discussed in another article, “The Medicine Man Argues Back…in Church!

My discussion (below) of the language used here gratefully incorporates questions I’ve received from the “Saturday Group” of learners, which you can join.

Mayoos last writing

O ST mamuk klahawiam 
ó sáx̣ali-táyí mamuk-łax̣áwyam
oh above-chief make-pitiful
‘Oh God have pity’ 

kopa naika: mamuk ilo kanawi 
kʰupa náyka: mamuk-(h)ílu kʰánawi-
to me: make-none all-
‘on me: wipe away every-‘ 

ikta masachi [Ø] naika mamuk: 
íkta [1] mas(h)áchi Ø náyka mámuk:
thing evil that I do:
‘thing bad that I’ve done:’ 

naika mamuk nawitka kopa kanawi 
náyka mamuk-nawítka kʰupa kʰánawi-
I make-true in all-
‘I believe in every-‘

ikta [Ø] maika wawa[.] iaka skukum 
íkta Ø máyka wáwa. yaka skúkum
thing that you say. it strong
‘thing that you say. It is strong,’ 

naika tomtom kopa maika pus maika 
nayka tə́mtəm kʰupa máyka pus máyka
my heart for you if/that you
‘my heart is, for you, so that you may’

mamuk hilp naika pi naika tolo 
mamuk-hélp náyka pi náyka túluʔ
make-help me and I win
‘help me and I achieve’ 

sahali ilihi: naika tiki 
sáx̣ali-ílihi: náyka tíki
above-land: I like
‘heaven: I love’ 

maika ilip kopa kanawi ikta[,] 
máyka íləp kʰupa kʰánawi-íkta,
you first from all-thing,
‘you more than anything,’  

kopa ukuk maika ilip tiki naika. 
kʰupa úkuk [2] máyka íləp tíki náyka.
for this you first like me.
‘because you love me the most.’ 

Iaka sik naika tomtom 
yaka sík nayka tə́mtəm [3] 
it hurting my heart
‘My heart aches’ 

kopa kanawi ikta masachi 
kʰupa kʰánawi-íkta mas(h)áchi
from all-thing evil
‘for everything bad’  

[Ø] naika mamuk; naika mash kanawi 
Ø náyka mámuk; náyka másh kʰánawi
that I do; I leave all
‘that I have done; I leave all’

ukuk. Drit kakwa. = Mamuk 
úkuk. drét kákwa. [4] = mamuk-
that. really thus.  make-
‘that (behind). I really do. = Take’

klahawiam kopa naika tilikom [Ø] 
łax̣áwyam kʰupa nayka tílikəm Ø [5] 
pitiful to my people who
‘pity on my people who’ 

ilo komtaks maika: 
(h)ílu kə́mtəks máyka:
not know you:
‘do not know you:’

mamuk hilp kopa naika 
mamuk-hélp kʰupa náyka
make-help to me
‘help me’ 

pus naika tolo naika 
pus náyka túluʔ nayka
if/that I win my
‘so that I can win my’ 

tilikom kopa maika.
tílikəm kʰupa máyka. 
people to you.
‘people (over) to you.’ 

— from Kamloops Wawa #82 (June 11, 1893), page 96


[1] kʰánawi-íkta (‘every-thing’) has a default meaning of ‘everything; anything‘. To speak and read good Jargon, the least you need to know is the literal translation of the words here: ‘every-thing evil’ is what Mayus wants to be pardoned for. 

[2] kʰupa úkuk — (‘for this’) — now, this little expression can be mighty puzzling if you’re a newcomer to Kamloops Chinuk Wawa. It’s very common there, and it’s very useful as a way to express ‘because’. You can either

  • say kʰupa úkuk + EFFECT right before the REASON that you’re stating, as Mayus does here,
  • or else, with different intonation (and better translated as ‘so’ than ‘because’), state a REASON and follow it by saying kʰupa úkuk + EFFECT. In that case you’d have two possibilities:
    • máyka íləp tíki náyka; kʰupa úkuk, náyka tíki máyka íləp kʰupa kʰánawi-íkta
      — ‘You love me the most; so, I love you more than anything’.)
    • máyka íləp tíki náyka, pi kʰupa úkuk, náyka tíki máyka íləp kʰupa kʰánawi-íkta
    • — ‘You love me the most, and so, I love you more than anything’.)

Before I get much too detailed with this explanation, I’ll point out that the other way to express ‘so; for this reason’ in Kamloops Chinook Jargon is the usual one in other dialects: kakwa (literally ‘thus; in that way; so’). 

[3] yaka sík nayka tə́mtəm ‘it’s hurting, my heart (is)’ can seem kind of backwards or inside-out in its word order! But this is perfectly straight Jargon. Kamloops Chinuk Wawa has a fondness for throwing in that “extra” pronoun yaka alongside the noun subject that it refers to. So the other most common way to express this same sentiment would be nayka tə́mtəm yaka sík ‘my heart, it’s hurting’. The difference as I understand KCW is that whatever comes first in the sentence can be heard as “emphasized” or “focused”…does that make sense to your view of things? 

[4] drét kákwa ‘really so’ — the Saturday Group is really astute in asking whether this is a version of (t)łúsh kákwa (‘good so’), which is the usual way of saying ‘amen’. I can’t rule that out. I translate the phrase here, though, as ‘It’s really so/I really do’, because (A) I’ve never encountered any alternative way of saying ‘amen’ in Kamloops Jargon beyond amin, and (B) ‘amen’ virtually always ends a prayer, whereas Mayus keeps talking after this. 

[5] nayka tílikəm Ø (h)ílu kə́mtəks máyka (literally ‘my people Ø don’t know you’) — another really great point made by the Saturday Group is that, for a relative clause like this (meaning ‘my people who don’t know you’), they’d kind of expect nayka tílikəm łaska (h)ílu kə́mtəks máyka (literally ‘my people they don’t know you’). My short response: yes, that would be equally correct. Additional info, in case you were wondering: in other contexts, both versions can also mean ‘my people don’t know you’!!! (Linguist way of putting that fact: there is no formal distinction between the main and subordinate versions of most realis clauses.)

Ikta maika chako komtaks?

What have you learned?