1898: Chinuk Wawa in a Stó:lō hymn book (part 1)

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A Chinook expression of love (image credit: miraculouslovely)

One of the themes I develop in this website is that THERE’S A LOT MORE excellent Chinook Jargon out there to learn from, if you look past the usual sources.

“The usual sources” being the old word lists & dictionaries published for the English-speaking popular market from about 1850 to about 1910.

Among other problems, generations of academic scholars have used little else than those publications to reach some startlingly overconfident claims about Chinuk Wawa.

One issue: those Jargon references, as Samuel V. Johnson demonstrated in his valuable 1978 PhD dissertation, plagiarized from each other at an alarming rate.

So, despite technically totaling several dozen different publications, they add very little value to the scant handful of original efforts among them.

That’s why I like to present my readers with endless illustrations of the many thousands — I believe well over a million — words of Jargon preserved for us outside of the dictionaries.

You will learn vastly more, and way better, skills of Chinook Jargon use by studying all that other stuff: letters, songs, prayers, dialogues, you name it.

In this spirit, let’s get into a rare little 1898 item that was published in an edition of just 100 copies: the “Indian Methodist Hymn-Book“. (The small print run & the publication after J.C. Pilling’s important 1893 bibliography of the Jargon help account for the obscurity of this title.)

The authors are Methodist missionaries Thomas Crosby (1840-1914), Charles Montgomery Tate (1832-1933), and William H. Barraclough (1864-1922).

This booklet is largely in Stó:lō (Halq’eméylem) Salish of the lower Fraser River, British Columbia, Canada, in a provisional style of writing that impressionistically uses English-language strategies.

For our purposes in this mini-series, though, we also find quite a good deal of Chinuk Wawa in it; the Jargon was still extremely important in BC interethnic communication at the end of the 19th century.

The two older missionary authors had been working in BC for decades already by the time this book came out; Tate in particular was seen as a bit of an authority on Chinuk Wawa.

Let’s get into this rather solid chunk of BC Jargon material.

For starters, here’s a trilingual Bible passage (Stó:lō – Chinuk Wawa – English):

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page (37?)

     Kahta-laylie nes-ika ma-mook masat-chie,
     qʰáta líli [1] nsáyka mámuk mas(h)áchi,
     how long.time we make evil.thing, 

     ‘We did terrible things for so long,’ 

Jesus yahka chako mem-a-loos kopa ne-sika.
djísəs* yaka chaku-míməlus [2] kʰapa nsáyka.
Jesus he become-dead for us.
‘(But) Jesus died for us.’

Comments on the Bible passage:

qʰáta líli [1] — In my experience of BC Jargon, putting qʰáta before an adverb or adjective forms an exclamation, so I’d interpret these two words as ‘(oh,) for such a long time!’, and the two lines as being separate clauses. That understanding works quite well here. However, I suspect the missionary translators were actually under English-language influence, and were casting around for a Jargon translation of the relative-clause complementizer (subordinator) ‘while’, meaning ‘during the time when…’ In that event, qʰáta líli might just barely be taken as ‘for as long as’, but it’s a stretch to imagine most Jargon speakers catching that intended nuance. Overall, the translators got lucky here. 

chaku-míməlus [2] — This is a much less frequent, but fully understandable, synonym for just plain míməlus ‘to die’, which already includes in itself the notion of a change of state from life to death. That’s why, for many speakers, chaku-míməlus has a more specialized connotation ‘to decay; become rotten’, as seen in George C. Shaw’s 1909 dictionary.

Summary of the Bible passage:

The translator’s Chinook Jargon is serviceable, if perhaps less expert than we might expect from such experienced workers.

It’s going to be interesting to compare this first sample with the several coming up in our mini-series.

What have you learned?