1904: Remembered 1872 Lushootseed Chinuk Wawa

earthquake point

Earthquake Point on the Columbia River (image credit: HistoryLink)

Thanks a bunch to devoted Chinuk Wawa student Sequoia Edwards for sharing a wonderful find!

Previously in this space, I’ve put forth the observation that in the area of frontier-era Seattle, folks spoke a CW that was significantly laced with local dxʷləšucid — Lushootseed Salish — words.

Pioneers there were very much outnumbered by Native people for years, and as I’ve also shown, Chinook Jargon wasn’t yet well known by most Puget Sound Indians in those times.

A linguistic result of this situation was that the communication medium that turned out to be most useful was more of an accommodation to the traditional residents than we find in most other regions that the Jargon was brought to.

What Sequoia has turned up is an old remembered quotation of Seattle Jargon that’s new to me.

In 1904 an early Seattle settler wrote a letter to the Post-Intelligencer newspaper, recalling the reaction that a Native neighbor, Tesecguia, had had to the gigantic earthquake of December 14, 1872.

The quotation is in the typical misspelling-ridden style we often see in old newspapers, but we can tell that —

  • The first clause is in very basic (you can call it pidginized) Lushootseed,
  • and the remaining 4 are in straight Chinuk Wawa:

‘Dabath achieth-tejima culalum[;]
díbəł ʔáciłtalbixʷ qə́lələb; [1]
1.PL.PRED Indian bad;
Provided Translation: ‘We Indians are bad;’
DDR: ‘We Indians are bad;’

Boston hiue mesahche tilacum[;]
bástən hayu-masáchi [2] tílixam[;]
American/White much-evil people;
P.T.: ‘also [bad are] the white people.’
DDR: ‘the Americans are very bad people;’

saukhale tyee hyas solex[,]
sáx̣ali-táyí [3] hayas-sáliks[;]
above-chief very-angry;
P.T.: ‘The Great Spirit is angry,’
DDR: ‘God is very angry,’

ticky memaloose nika[;]
tíki míməlus nayka[;] [4]
want kill me;
P.T.: ‘he wants to kill me,’
DDR: ‘(and) wants to kill me;’

nika slek lum tum[.]’
nayka sík-tə́mtəm[.] [5]
I hurting-heart.
P.T.: ‘my heart is heavy.’
DDR: ‘I’m sad.’

Comments on the above:

díbəł ʔáciłtalbixʷ qə́lələb [1]

  • díbəł is defined in the dictionary as the “emphatic” pronoun meaning ‘we’ in Lushootseed. Really it’s the full-word, Predicative form, so it’s a stative verb better understood as ‘it’s us’. This is of great interest, because here, it’s being used as the only Subject marker in the clause, whereas natively spoken (non-pidginized) Lushootseed would use the clitic (kinda like a suffix) form čəł, and it would likely put that form later in the clause.
  • qə́lələb is defined as ‘bad’, and we know additional info about it: it’s used by some non-Skagit dialect speakers as an insult ‘(you) dirty thing’, albeit having no literal connection with dirt. (If you’ve read Vi Hilbert’s traditional story collection “Haboo”, you’ve seen that “dirty thing” is a frequent exclamation.) 

hayu-masáchi [2] the use of hayu- (which is normally a Progressive Aspect marker, creating the “-ing” form of a verb) is not quite expected here. But we know that many people in the Puget Sound region did indeed interchange this hayu- and the expected Intensifier prefix hayas- (as in the following clause’s hayas-sáliks ‘very angry’) quite freely. 

sáx̣ali-táyí [3] — this is the famous Jargon term for the Christian God, but it’s also a direct translation of many Indigenous Pacific NW languages’ terms for the Great Spirit or Creator. While I don’t find the term in the dictionary, perhaps Lushootseed said something equivalent in its indigenous religion.

tíki míməlus nayka [4] — a Subject-less clause (Agentless, if you’re one of my linguist readers), this is a common structure in real Chinuk Wawa usage. Nobody but me will teach you that fact. I usually translate such things with English participles, like ‘…wanting to kill me.’

sík-tə́mtəm [5] — This is another expression that may be a literal translation straight out of Lushootseed, where they say x̣ə́łəł x̣ə́č (literally ‘sick heart’) for ‘sad’. 

Summary of the above:

Need I say, it appears the nameless pioneer who wrote these words down had a good memory and a fine command of Chinuk Wawa, as Tesecguia’s words come across as perfectly fluent CW of precisely the variety known to have been spoken around Seattle.

What do you think?