1904: Fire in a Chicago Theatre (Part 1 of 2)


Panicked Iroquois Theater attendees climbing along ladders above the alley (image credit: Wikipedia)

The horrific Iroquois Theatre fire of 1903 is the subject of a lurid narrative in Chinuk Wawa…

…and you’ll be amazed that you’ve never heard of this disaster.

Fire in a Chicago Theatre 1 CW.PNG

     Iht wiht kakwa siisim naika mitlait
     íxt wə́x̣t kákwa syə́tsəm [1] náyka míłayt
     one also such story I have
‘There is one more such story that I have’

kopa msaika: 
kʰupa msáyka:
for you.folks:

‘for you folks:’ 

     Kopa Shikago tawn, kopa Nyu Iiiir [sic], ayu tilikom
     kʰupa shikágo tʰáwn [2], kʰupa nyú yə́r [3], (h)áyú tílikam
     in Chicago town, at New Year, many people
‘In the town of Chicago, at New Year’s, a lot of people’ 

klatwa kopa iht aias pli haws, iaka
łátwa kʰupa íxt (h)áyás(h) pléy-háws [4], yaka
go to one big play-house, its
‘went to a certain playhouse,’

nim opira haws. Pi pus klaska nanich pli 
ním ópera-háws. pi pus łáska nánich pléy
name opera-house. and when they watch play
‘called the opera house. And while they were watching the play’

kopa ukuk haws, ukuk haws chako paia
kʰupa úkuk háws, úkuk háws chaku-páya
in that house, that house become-burnt
‘in that building, the building caught fire’

pi ayu tilikom mimlus kopa paia: klaska wawa
pi (h)áyú tilikam míməlus kʰupa páya: łáska wáwa
and many people die in fire: they say
‘and a lot of people were burnt to death: it’s said’ 

klaska tlap < 600 > tilikom drit paia kopa 
łáska t’łáp síks-hə́ndrəd tilikam páya kʰupa
they find six-hundred people burnt in
‘that 600 people were found completely burnt in’

ukuk haws, pi < 200 > wiht aias klahawiam 
úkuk háws, pi mákwst-hə́ndrəd wə́x̣t (h)ayas(h)-łax̣áwyam
that house, and two-hundred also very-pitiful

‘that building, and 200 more were in terrible condition’ 

pi < 300 > wiht wik komtaks kata klaska, 
pi (t)łún-hə́ndrəd wə́x̣t wík kə́mtəks [5] qʰáta łáska,
and three-hundred not know how they,
‘and (for) 300 others it’s unknown how they are (doing)

kakwa pus chako ilo, klunas wiht mimlus kopa paia…
kákwa pus cháko-(h)ílu, t’łúnas wə́x̣t míməlus kʰupa páya…
as if become-nothing, maybe also die in fire…

‘it’s as though (they’d) disappeared, maybe (they) also burnt to death…’ 


“íxt wə́x̣t kákwa syə́tsəm [1] náyka míłayt” — here I want to point out how it’s very very common in the most fluent Chinuk Wawa for a “topicalized” noun phrase to get moved up to the front of a sentence, even if that puts it really far away from its usual place. Here, the object of the sentence “I have yet another tale” (see Father Le Jeune’s English translation below) gets put up front to emphasize that he’s shifting to a new topic, after already telling us of other tragedies. For more of this “fronting” of a topic, see the last note below. 

shikágo tʰáwn [2] — another simple trick of fluent Jargon speakers is that the names of cities and towns are followed by the word for ‘town’. This distinguishes them from regions, Indian reserves/reservations, states, and countries, all of which are instead followed by ilihi ‘land; place’. 

nyú yə́r [3], taken straight from spoken English, is the usual expression for the transition from December to January. You can express this with a Chinook Jargon synonym < chi kol >, but that means any legitimately early point in a year (or literally in a winter), as opposed to Dec. 31-Jan. 1. 

pléy-háws [4] is a good one to know as well. In BC Chinook Jargon, they’ve developed two separate words corresponding to English ‘play’. The older word hihi goes back to early CJ, and refers to any sort of amusing yourself. The more recent word < pli > is specialized for performances crucially involving words, including dramatic productions and the famous BC Indian Passion Plays of the last days of Jesus done in the Jargon. 

pi (t)łún-hə́ndrəd wə́x̣t wík kə́mtəks [5] … here I’m pointing out two things:

  • One is that this is another occurrence of “fronting” a new/shifted topic to the start of a sentence. (It seems the writer left a subject out of this somewhat complicated sentence, perhaps partly due to the intricacy of shifting the object up front!)
  • Secondly, I’ll remind you that in actual usage, numbers bigger than about 5 in BC Chinook Wawa are typically expressed in English words. So here for example I’m suggesting that “300” would be said as (t)łún (‘3’, from Jargon) + hə́ndrəd (‘100’, from English).

Fire in a Chicago Theatre 1 English.PNG

— from Kamloops Wawa #208 (March 1904), pages 16-17

ikta maika chako komtaks?
What have you learned?