1897 California CPE: The Tongs Much Exercised

A gang conflict flares up into a fatal shooting in post-frontier Sacramento…

…and a local news reporter watches his juicy source dry up.

Another in our sporadic theme of “other pidgin languages besides Chinuk Wawa in the West”.

I’ll toss in some comments after.

tongs much exercised.PNG

“Oh, yep, I sabbee all ’bout it,” said a Chinese shop-keeper yesterday. “I know who gun-fighter was, you bet, but I no tell him dlam fool polismen. Sometime Chinaman heap too muchee talkee — all same get lock up. Guess I talk too muchee now. N’wspaper man belly much like pollisman sometime. Mebbe I get lock up. I guess I d’no noting ’bout it. My mouf all-same clam.”

The Chinaman evidently thought he had talked too much, for he shut up at once “all same clam,” and all that could be got from him after that was “No sabbee.”

— from the Sacramento (CA) Record-Union of June 8, 1897, page 2, column 4


The above is not very “deep” Chinese Pidgin English, but it’s both recognizable as CPE grammar/vocabulary and as the kind of speech that CPE had become after several decades of use on the West Coast.

“Yep”, for instance, strikes me as more a borrowing from local spoken English than anything traceable to Chinese-speakers’ influence on the word “yes”. In the time frame of +/-20 years from 1897, a quick search of Chronicling America’s English-language newspaper archive returns nearly 40,000 instances of “yep”. Here’s the fun #1 search result”:

The speaker’s use of the word “it”, if accurately reported, is innovative. Earlier CPE was highly recognizable for its use of “him” to cover masculine, feminine, and ‘neuter’ / inanimate 3rd persons.

More of an intermediate case: “sabbee” (‘know’), “muchee”, and “talkee” are all old-school CPE, but notice how the speaker is quoted as saying “talk” as well.

The adjective phrase “dlam fool” is right in character for West Coast CPE, which was constantly depicted as filled with cuss words recently taken from local English.

And the intensifier “heap” is a diagnostic of West Coast CPE, as opposed to older styles and the varieties of the language spoken across the Pacific.

What do you think?