Catherine Isaac’s letter from Langley, BC


(Image credit: Katzie Natural Resources)

An Indigenous woman writes with news and a special request…

I infer that Catherine Isaac may have been of Stó:lô background, maybe specifically Katzie or Kwantlen. Those are First Nations in the Langley, BC area. Besides, she makes plenty of use of a couple of Coast Salish words that were known, but perhaps less frequent, in Kamloops Chinuk Wawa.

It’s possible her interest in writing Chinuk Pipa was abetted by Father Edmond Peytavin, “the Stó:lô priest” who promoted this literacy on the lower Fraser River.


(image credit: Archdiocese of Vancouver)

Here are her words. I’ll hold comments for afterwards, addressing some points raised by ‘the Saturday Group’ of Jargon learners who I recently mentioned.

catherine isaac letter.PNG

“Naika tlus papa Pir Lshyun,
Nayka (t)łús(h) pápá Pér Lədjə́n,
my good father Pere Le.Jeune,
‘My dear father Pere Le Jeune,’

     Naika mamuk pipa kopa maika. Naika kwanisim sik
     Náyka mamuk-pípa kʰupa máyka. Náyka kwánsəm [1] sík
     I make-writing to you. I always ill
     ‘I’m writing to you. I’m still ill’

pi maika klunas maika skukum. Naika wiht mash
pi máyka t’ɬúnas máyka skúkum [2]. Náyka wə́x̣t másh
and/but you maybe you strong. I also send
‘but maybe you’re healthy. I’m also sending’ 

sitkom tala kopa ukuk tlus siisim Kamlups Wawa
sítkum-tála [3] kʰupa úkuk (t)ɬús(h)-syə́tsəm [4] Kémlups Wáwa
half-dollar for that good-news Kamloops Speaks
‘fifty cents for the good-news Kamloops Wawa‘ 

pipa. Kanawi naika tilikom klaska tiki kolan ukuk
pípa. Kánawi nayka tílikəm ɬaska tíki q’wəlán úkuk
newspaper. all my people they want hear that
‘newspaper. All of my relatives want to hear the’ 

tlus siisim. Naika kwanisim mamuk siisim kopa klaska
(t)ɬús(h) syə́tsəm. Náyka kwánsəm [5] mamuk-syə́tsəm kʰupa ɬáska
good news. I always make-news them
‘good news. I keep telling them’ 

kata ankati styuil tilikom mimlus pus ShK iaka
qʰáta ánqati st’íwiʔəɬ-tílikəm [6] míməlus pus [7] Shisyu-Krí yaka
how long.ago praying-people die for Jesus-Christ his
‘how the old-time Christians died for Jesus Christ’s’ 

styuil. Pi iht kluchmin kopa Langli tilikom iaka
st’íwiʔəł [8]. Pi íxt łúchmən kʰupa Léngli-tílikəm yaka
prayer. and one woman among Langley-people she
‘religion. Also, one woman of the Langley people’ 

chi mimlus kopa Shanwari. Kanawi sakraminta iaka
ch(x)í míməlus kʰupa twénti* [9] Djénweri. Kánawi sakraménta yáka die on twenty January. all sacrament she
‘just recently died, on the twentieth of January. She’  

tlap pi iaka mimlus. Pi naika tiki tlap Kamlups iaka
t’łáp pi [10] yáka míməlus. Pi náyka tíki t’łáp Kémlups yaka
receive and she die. and I want get Kamloops its
‘received all the sacraments before she died. Also, I want to get Kamloop’s’ 

tsim: naika tiki nanich liplit styuil haws pus mitlait
t’sə́m: náyka tíki nánich liplít [11] st’íwiʔəł-háws pus míłayt
writing: I want see priest prayer-building if exist
‘writing: I want to see the Catholic church if there’s’ 

iaka piktyur. Tlus maika patlach naika [Ø], alki naika piii [Ø].
yaka píktyur [12]. (T)łús(h) máyka pátlach náyka [Ø], áłqi náyka peyé [Ø]. [13]
its picture. good you give me it, FUTURE I pay it.
‘a picture of it. Please send me it, I’ll pay for it.’ 


         Katrin Aisak
          Kátərin Áysək
          Catherine Isaac
‘Catherine Isaac’

             kopa Langli.[“]
               kʰupa Léngli.
               at Langley.
‘at Langley.’

— from Kamloops Wawa #208 (March 1904), page 32


Náyka kwánsəm [1] sík ‘I’m still sick’ — this is one of the non-literal uses of kwánsəm, which normally means ‘always’. For another, see note [5].

máyka skúkum [2]: here is a non-literal but quite common use of skúkum, which normally means ‘strong’.

For ‘fifty cents’, speakers normally said sítkum-tála [3] (‘half-dollar’), which was also the usual thing to say in English at the time. Even though you could say ‘fifty’ in Jargon in a way that everyone would understand, in real life it was rare to verbally express a number bigger than ’10’ in Chinuk Wawa. Even saying ‘ten cents’ was rare, if you think about it…CW has a special word for that quantity, can you remember what it is?

For a nice example of Chinook Jargon’s love of compound nouns, check out úkuk (t)ɬús(h)-syə́tsəm [4] Kémlups Wáwa pipa (‘this good-news Kamloops Wawa paper’)! This word syə́tsəm came from Coast Salish, I believe specifically a Canadian Lower Mainland language like Squamish. The Oblate missionaries started from the coast and worked their way gradually up the Fraser River to the inland tribes, such as those around Kamloops.

Náyka kwánsəm [5] mamuk-syə́tsəm kʰupa ɬáska ‘I keep on telling them’. See note [1]. Here syə́tsəm ‘news’ is turned into a verb mamuk-syə́tsəm ‘to inform’!

St’íwiʔəɬ-tílikəm[6](‘praying-people’) was a standard expression in BC Chinuk Wawa for ‘Christians’. Note that anqati is put before this phrase to specify ‘the long-ago Christians, the original Christians’.

…míməlus pus [7] Shisyu-Krí yaka st’íwiʔəł ‘die for Jesus Christ’s religion…’ has an unusual use of pus for BC Jargon, where that word normally meant ‘if; when; in order to’ but not this use as ‘for something’.

While we’re looking at that sentence, take note, st’íwiʔəł [8] (literally ‘prayer’) is the usual word for ‘religion’ in Kamloops Jargon.

Twénti* [9] Djénweri is another instance of the rarity of higher numbers in Chinuk Wawa; here, the spoken English word is more normal to use.

…yaka t’łáp pi [10] yáka míməlus: it’s quite common in BC Jargon for pi (literally ‘and; or’) to be used as a connector giving the sense of ‘when’ some consequence happened.

Liplít [11] st’íwiʔəł-háws (literally ‘priest prayer-house’) is another nice example of a Jargon compound noun.

Yaka píktyur [12](‘its picture’) is the usual way of saying ‘a picture of it’. This is a little different from how my readers’ main language, English, works, isn’t it? We say ‘I took her picture’ but we don’t typically say ‘I took its picture’.

(T)łús(h) máyka pátlach náyka [Ø], áłqi náyka peyé [Ø]. [13] ‘Please send me it, I’ll pay for it.’ Here I want to point out that in the environment of Chinuk Wawa letter-writing, pátlach was usual for ‘send’.

What have you learned?