1887 Oregon CPE: Toy Chen’s opinion

More about another frontier-era pidgin…

…Today’s local-interest piece starts with a joke, comparing an immigrant’s name to that of a popular alcoholic beverage, and the recipient finds it insensitive.

The response is a torrent of West Coast-dialect Chinese Pidgin English that local readers must have understood — it receives no translation — but my readers might need a bit of help, so look after this clipping for a few remarks.

A couple of quick observations up front:

Yet again we have a cussing Chinese immigrant in today’s article, but with a twist; he’s quoting how American white people talk!

And, for those nerdy readers who have been paying attention when I claim there are “nulls” in Chinuk Wawa, I’ll point out that you can say there are similarly non-pronounced forms for inanimate subjects and objects (‘it’) in CPE.

Okay, on we go.

toy chens opinion

Toy Chen’s Opinion.

“Hello Gin Sling!” exclaimed an attache of the “Star” closing the door behind him as he stepped into Linkville‘s {i.e. Klamath Falls’] only laundry.

No sabbee Slin’ Gin. Melican man allee time foolee, wha’ fo’? Me Toy Chen, you sabbee,” and the solitary Celestial looked at the scribe with an injured expression at the same time turning a star-spangled calico Mother Hubbard so that he could iron the box pleats in the back.

“Oh, all right Toy,” soothingly, “my clothes ready?”

No, no done. Heap lot lain, no good. Lain allee time, no catchee dly, sabbee. One day heap hot, nex’ day velly much collo, no good. Bymeby catchee clo. you pay one dollah, eh?’

“Yes, you bring clothes around, I pay one dollar next week.”

Wha’ fo’ pay nex’ week!” Melican man allee time say pay nex’ week, pay nex’ week. He go diggee slash-blush, he catchee clop he pay. Bymeby tlee four months me ask catchee clop, he say d— no clop too muchee flost, no can pay washee. Melican man he go store, no got money he give note pay Chinaman he no catchce note, I no catchee intlest, no catchee nothing, he go store no takee note he pay cash. Melican man too much allee time cheatee, no good,” and Toy, almost overcome with emotion nearly strangled himself with a mouthful of water which he was distributing on the bottom ruffle of Mother Hubbard in a spray finer than the barber’s atomizer throws.

— from the Lebanon (OR) Express of July 22, 1887, page 2, column 3

Translations:

No sabbee Slin’ Gin. Melican man allee time foolee, wha’ fo’? Me Toy Chen, you sabbee,” — ‘(I) don’t know Sling Gin. Americans are always joking around, why? I’m Toy Chen, you know (that).’

No, no done. Heap lot lain, no good. Lain allee time, no catchee dly, sabbee. One day heap hot, nex’ day velly much collo, no good. Bymeby catchee clo, you pay one dollah, eh?’‘– ‘No, (it’s) not done. There’s been a whole lot of rain, (it’s) not a good thing. Rain all the time, (it) doesn’t get dry, (you) understand. One day really hot, next day extremely cold, (it’s) not good. (When you) eventually get the clothes, you pay a dollar, all right?’

Wha’ fo’ pay nex’ week!” Melican man allee time say pay nex’ week, pay nex’ week. He go diggee slash-blush, he catchee clop he pay. Bymeby tlee four months me ask catchee clop, he say d— no clop too muchee flost, no can pay washee. Melican man he go store, no got money he give note[,] pay Chinaman he no catchee note, I no catchee intlest, no catchee nothing, he go store no takee note he pay cash. Melican man too much allee time cheatee, no good,” — ‘Why pay next week! Americans are always saying “pay next week, pay next week.” They’re going out to dig slashed brush [slash piles], (or) they’ll get their crop (in and then) they’ll pay. Three or four months later I ask (if they) got the crop, they say damn, no crop, too much frost, (I) can’t pay for the laundry. American go to the store, (and if they) have no money they give an I.O.U., (but) to pay a Chinese they don’t have I.O.U.’s, I don’t earn any interest, (I) get nothing, (if) they go to a store that doesn’t take I.O.U.’s they pay cash. Americans are always cheating too much, (it’s) not good.

slash piles

Slash piles (slash-brush) (image credit: Prince George Free Press)

What have you learned?