1893: From Sri Lanka to Similkameen with Susan

Susan Louisa Moir Allison

Susan Louisa Moir Allison (1845-1937) (image credit: Wikipedia)

There sure were a lot more skilled female Chinook Jargon speakers than you usually hear about…

…And today you’ll hear some advice from one of them in the BC’s late frontier era.

That woman is a Ceylon (Sri Lanka)-born pioneer in the Similkameen region of southern British Columbia, who arrived aged 14 in 1860 and is said to have learned excellent Chinuk Wawa from the 1858 pioneer she married in 1868.

(Interestingly, she also authored a published paper that gives some of the only words we know of the Similkameen’s now-dormant Nicola Dene (Athabaskan) language.)

Here a reporter narrates what Princeton, BC, area authority Susan Allison told him…

our prospector chinook.PNG

At Mr. Allison’s, where the post office is, I was kindly provided with pen and ink, but was rather chagrined to find when I had sealed my letter that the mail for the month had just gone out. My anxiety was relieved, however, by the appearance of the old Siwash, who had come to see if Mrs. [Susan Louisa Moir] Allison had any commissions he could attend to for her at Hope. He said he would post my letter there, a promise which he faithfully and expeditiously performed. The now very gentle savage received his instructions in the vernacular from Mrs. Allison, who, although a lady of culture and refinement, is not above using the every-day language of the Siwash. It is as necessary to know Chinook in this country, she said, as to know how to ride a cayuse.

Speaking of pidgin languages, if not of Mrs. Allison…

The reporter also tells, in a generalizing way, of his encounters with Chinese immigrant gold prospectors. The Chinese Pidgin English he presents is therefore not to be heavily relied on as data, but it’s recognizable as the actual West Coast variety of the language, and it presents some mighty believable snapshots of their lives…

our prospector chinese

You can never learn directly from a Chinaman whal pay he gets from his claim, but there are indirect ways arriving at an approximate estimate. When you ask him straight how much he is making a day he shrugs his shoulders and says “Oh, not muchee good, sometime four bitee, sometime one dollah half, that allee samee belee good.[‘Oh, not too good, sometimes four bits (50¢), sometimes $1.50, it’s pretty much okay.’] This is what he considers wages sufficiently low to protect him from any opposition from the white man, and he says it in the tone expressive of long-suffering humility universally adopted by the gold-washing class of celestials. If John did not make this much at least he would not be there, and the stakes on the gaming table furnish a pretty good criterion of the distribution of wealth in their community. When the claims are paying well no estimate can be formed from any extra expenditure in the way of equipment and operating plant, nor can any evidence be adduced to show that the Chinaman wants a better quality of food or better clothes, for it is “cully and licee all day to-day, and cully and licee all day to-morrow,” [‘curry and rice all day today, and curry and rice all day tomorrow’] and the same blue frock and pants and gumboots Sunday and Saturday. But the rent in John’s armour of sullen stolidity becomes apparent when he gets entangled in the subtle fascinations of poker and it is then that his hard-earned scratchings and hoardings come to the surface of the board in the chance of making “heap plenty[‘quite a lot’] or being “dead bloke.” [‘dead broke’] Of course, Chinamen, like “Chlistians,” are not all alike…

— from the Okanagan Mining Review of Oct. 7, 1893, page 4, columns 1-2

What do you think?