1906: Plaint of the Siwash


Sa7plek, Joe Capilano / Joe Mathias (ca. 1854-1910), Skwxwú7mesh leader; maybe wearing the hat mentioned in today’s article (image credit: Wikipedia)

I’m only going to focus on the Chinuk Wawa here, but I’m including the full 1906 article on BC Indigenous assertion of rights that remained unextinguished, since the colonial days of Sir James Douglas.

Read the whole thing for some excellent background on what’s going on right now in BC & across Canada.

My discussion of the “Jargon” portion (alas, only from one speaker, and not a Native person) follows below this clipping.

The quotation is accompanied by the reporter’s English translation, the inclusion of which shows how Chinook Jargon had already become a bit obsolete in the biggest metropolitan areas soon after the frontier era.

Mention is made that August of the Coquitlam tribe is anticipated to interpret chief Joe Capilano’s Chinook to English in an audience with King Edward. Also in the delegation will be chief Louis of Kamloops (an excellent Jargon speaker who also had some French), and Charley of the “Cowichin” people.

A clear implication is made that the words of chief Joe Capilano quoted in this article were delivered in Chinuk Wawa. Any of my readers care to translate them back into CW?Or do you want me to try that?

It’s also reported that missionaries have put the BC chiefs’ arguments into a formal English-language document; again the implication is that these were originally expressed in CW. The English, quoted in this article, is much more florid than anyone’s Chinuk Wawa ever was…

Here’s the somewhat patronizingly titled “Plaint of the Siwash[Indian]

plaint siwash 1

plaint siwash 2

plaint siwash 3

plaint siwash 4

plaint siwash 5

About that Chinuk Wawa.

Here you’ll see that, as often happens, I view the punctuation of this written Chinuk Wawa as unreliable, and I suggest an alternate way of reading to get more sense out of the words…

“Mayor Buscombe hiyu sic tum tum halo chaco wawa klahowya
“méyər* bə́skəm* hayu*-[1]sík-tə́mtəm [2] hílu cháku wáwa łax̣áwya
DDR: ‘Mayor Buscombe is much troubled that he didn’t come say goodbye’
reporter: ‘ “Mayor Buscombe’s heart is grieved because he could not be at the station to say good-bye” ‘

yaka Siwash tillicum. Yaka wawa nika wawa mike tighee. King
yaka sáwásh tílikam [3]. yaka wáwa nayka(,) wáwa mayka(,) táyí(,) kíng
DDR: ‘(to) his Indian friends. He told me to tell you (singular) that the chief, King’
reporter: ‘ “to his Siwash friends. He hoped King” ‘

Edward potlach konoway icta mika. Tighee yaka
édward pátłach [4] kʰánawi-íkta mayka [5]. táyí yaka
DDR: ‘Edward(,) will give everything (to) you (singular). The chief’
reporter: ‘ “Edward would grant their wishes. He” ‘

wawa klahowya, khahowya [sic]. Kilapai tenas sun kopa canim
wáwa łax̣áwya, łax̣áwya. k’ílapay tənəs-sán kʰupa kəním
DDR: ‘says goodbye, goodbye(;) come back in the morning in a canoe’
reporter: ‘ “wished them a pleasant journey and a safe return in the big canoe” ‘

kopa mitlit illahee.”
kʰupa míłət-ílihi [6].”
DDR: ‘to the dwelling-place.’
reporter: ‘ “to their own homes.” ‘

— from the Moyie (BC) Leader of August 25, 1906, page 3, columns 4-5

hayu*-[1]sík-tə́mtəm: When we find hayu in use as an intensifier (hat is, not clearly in its literal sense of ‘much, many’), I find this primarily Settler usage kind of ambiguous. It might be seen as prefixal hayu- ‘Intensifier’, that is, ‘very’. Or it might be the adverb háyú ‘very much’. Do you have an opinion on this?

sík-tə́mtəm [2] hílu cháku: I want to point out that no (or a silent) subordinating conjunction is used here, so the subordinate clause hílu cháku is to be taken as a fact, ‘that (he) didn’t come; not having come’. If the subordinator (s)pus had been used — which I wouldn’t expect anyway — that clause would’ve meant a counter-factual ‘if he hadn’t come’ … which would’ve changed how our interpretation of the main clause sík-tə́mtəm into a conditional. Can you see what that would’ve meant in English?

wáwa łax̣áwya yaka sáwásh tílikam [3]: This is the first of several occurrences in the quotation where Indirect Objects, unexpectedly, go last in the verb phrase, even though they aren’t introduced by the preposition kʰupa ‘to’ which is the normal, grammatical way to leave I.O.’s till last. 

kíng édward pátłach [4]: Notice the difference between my literal translation of what’s printed (a promise, ‘will give’) and the reporter’s free translation (a hope, ‘would grant’). I imagine the reporter didn’t get the entire speech copied down word-for-word, which might explain the discrepancy. The mayor was very unlikely to be promising the First Nations people any results from their upcoming audience. Can you figure out how the mayor’s ‘hope’ might have been expressed?

pátłach kʰánawi-íkta mayka [5]: Here’s another instance where the word order is odd; I’d expect pátłach m(s)ayka kʰánawi-íkta, literally ‘give you (folks) everything’, in normal Jargon. 

míłət-ílihi [6]: This, literally ‘be.at-place’, i.e. ‘dwelling place, place of residence’, is a noun compound that I’ve not seen before. I don’t find it in the previously known literature of the language. It really seems a bit unlikely as something a really fluent Chinuk Wawa speaker would say; a verb as a modifier of a noun is relatively uncommon. In fact there’s an extraordinarily common, simple noun expression both within CW and in local English, ílihi (íliʔi), for especially a Native person’s home place. So I’m inferring that míłət-ílihi is a direct calque on English ‘living-place, dwelling-place’. 


Frederick Buscombe (1862-1938), in whose name this mediocre Chinook was spoken; maybe he was not a speaker of it himself (image credit: Wikipedia)

All in all…

The city official’s Jargon, both as quoted and as we can infer it to have been phrased, is in a typical post-frontier Drifter (Settler) style. It’s serviceable, but not very good! I’m sure First Nations folks got the drift of it. But they may well have felt patronized to have been addressed in Jargon by a poor speaker at a time when plenty of Indigenous folks around Vancouver handled English really well.

What do you think?