1909: a “Spokeshoot liar” & very fluent Jargon


(Image credit: Issuu)

From a current ghost town that was then one of British Columbia’s biggest settlements (where Franz Boas did a lot of his work with Tsimshians & Haidas)…

…We have this nice quotation of a BC Indigenous person’s Chinuk Wawa opinion.

(Plus a further instance of later frontier-era observers joking that CW is our region’s “classic(al) language”!)

spokeshoot liar 1

spokeshoot liar 2


Old-time fishermen are now predicting lots of salmon this summer, and they base their reasons on the heavy snow-fall. In explanation one old chap pointed out that the snow will cause the Skeena waters to be very muddy during fishing season, and, as a consequence, the fish cannot see the nets. Good and plausible reason. But the other day we got into conversation with a native gentleman who, from general appearance and certain other indications must have, during the course of his lifetime, consumed many sockeyes. We related the fish story that the “cultus” [‘no-good’] man told us, when he immediately classed him as a first-class Spokeshoot liar. And this is what he added: “Hiyou pish yaka chako, insika iskum hiyou. Halo hiyou chako, wake-ka-ta insika iskum,” [See below.] A good fish diet will probably enable some of our readers to translate the foregoing  classic language, and we have an idea that the Indian is right.

— from the Port Essington (BC) Loyalist of January 30, 1909, page 1, column 4

Hiyou pish yaka chako, insika iskum hiyou.
háyú písh yaka cháku, nsayka ískam háyú (Ø).
many fish 3rd.Person come, we take many (3rd.Person.Inanimate/Indefinite).
‘(If) lots of fish come, we’ll take a lot (of them).’

Halo hiyou chako, wake-ka-ta insika iskum,
hílu háyú cháku, wík-qʰáta nsayka ískam Ø.
not many come, un-how we take 3rd.Person.Inanimate/Indefinite.
‘(If) not a lot come, we won’t be able to take them.’

A couple of comments on that…

Every shred of this quotation is demonstrably fluent BC-dialect Chinook Jargon — with one possible partial exception.

That’d be the < yaka > in the first sentence, which is fine in that it’s the usual “resumptive pronoun” used in Jargon 3rd-person expressions. It’s questionable, though, in that < yaka > is strongly associated with human or large-animal entities, hardly ever with fishes; so we might guess that the reporter is misquoting the speaker. On the third hand (!), though, the Aboriginal speaker is using < yaka > as a plural, which is precisely what the most fluent northern-dialect Indian users of the Jargon did.

That high level of northern-dialect fluency permeates this quotation:

  • The choice of the word < pish > for ‘salmon’ is normal for this dialect.
  • Using < hiyou > as a pronoun ‘lots of it/them’ is typically of the economical speech style of the fluent.
  • < Halo > as the negator of a full clause is absolutely northern.
  • < Wake-ka-ta > as the marker of impossibility or inability also is.
  • The “null” 3rd person Inanimate/Indefinite pronoun Ø that ends the quotation is the peak of fluency in all dialects, in all eras.

The lack of a word for ‘if’ and ‘then’ is worth a short remark. Pidgin speakers — those who learned Chinuk Wawa as adults, instead of growing up with it — were indeed known to phrase themselves in this style. (It’s related to the difficulty of finding a clear way to say ‘when’ in this dialect.) It’s exactly parallel to how we find West Coast speakers talking Chinese Pidgin English, for example.

So, even in a quite short quotation, we have an excellent demonstration of highly skilled northern-dialect Chinuk Wawa.

What do you think?