1891: Grotesque admixture…or just Jargon


Grotesque (aesthetics) (image credit: Britannica)

From an article in a popular national newspaper (really a magazine) in the early post-frontier era…

…We get further confirmation that people who were newer to Chinook Jargon habitually waved their hands a lot.

grotesque admixture

Indiank informed me that it was called by his people the Te-haut-o-heena. I named it Mendenhall River, in honor of the superintendent of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey. The old Indian drew me a map of the Mendenhall, showing that its source was in two lakes, and indicated that there were Stick Indians living at the head-waters. By a grotesque admixture of signs, Chinook jargon, and broken English, he also contrived to let me know that the lakes were about thirty miles distant, and could be reached by a trail which followed the banks of the stream.

— from “Our Alaska Expedition” (by E.H[azzard]. Wells) in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, June 27, 1891, page 355

News flash:

The Tlingit man whose name is rendered as “Indiank” (really??) above may have just been talking straight Chinook Jargon.

wells and indiank

Wells and Indiank (image credit: Leslie’s, September 5, 1891, page 68)

It’s a recurring phenomenon that we find descriptions of CJ being spoken back in the day — sometimes by folks who didn’t realize it was CJ — where the speaker is portrayed as talking “bad French and worse English”, for example.

leslie expedition

The Leslie’s Expedition (image source: Pinterest)

By the same token, in some regions including the far north range of CJ’s use, such as this southeast Alaska location, many speakers did mix together elements of any languages they hoped might get their message across.

I point this out to show that we don’t necessarily have a good idea what the speech of “Indiank” to the writer was like.

What do you think?