1891: Schoolboy learns Jargon from mysterious ex-“governor of Vancouver”

malcolm burr

The skeptical youth (image credit: National Portrait Gallery

If the description of the speaker is accurate, this kid was lucky to learn from such an authority on Chinuk Wawa…

In 1891, aboard a vessel bound from Brazil back home to England, young teen Malcolm Burr (1878-1954), a bright boy curious about languages, first heard of the Jargon from a “former Governor of Vancouver”.

Whether that means Fort Vancouver or (more likely) Vancouver Island, the gentleman in question would’ve certainly known what he was talking about.

I’d love to establish his identity. If Burr’s wording is reasonably accurate, it could only have been:

That would be very welcome to us, as we haven’t previously seen Blanshard’s name much connected with Chinook Jargon.

But if the wording is only an approximation, it could’ve been any of four then-living people:

What will be needed to definitely establish the fellow-passenger’s identity is a bit more research into which of the above 5 people was traveling abroad in 1891.

ex governor.PNG

A passenger who ioined the ship for the homeward journey was a former Governor of Vancouver and he told me about Chinook. Here too I was on my guard, for it was difiicult to take seriously such words as kinchoch, meaning Englishman, and klarhowaya as a greeting. But he explained to me that it was a jargon, a sort of pidgin-Indian, which had grown up among the early traders for communication with the Chinook Indians and was now established over a big area as a useful lingua franca. It appears that the origin of kinchoch was King George, not our modern majesties, but George III being intended, while the greeting was the Indians interpretation of “Clark, how are you?”, thus perpetuating the memory of a pioneer trader of those old days. I remember too the sentence Mika cumtax ekta nika warwar? which means. Do you understand what I am saying? I did have the opportunity of verifying this, as many years later I found a book on the Chinook jargon.

— page 202 of “Memoirs of a Naturalist — I” by Malcolm Burr, The Entomologist’s Record and Journal of Variation 67 (VII/VIII), pages 197-203, July-August 1955

What do you think?