1904: “In the Pathless West with Soldiers, Pioneers, Miners, and Savages”

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Pay heed to a keen observer: “In the Pathless West with Soldiers, Pioneers, Miners, and Savages” by Frances Elizabeth Herring (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1904)


Frances Elizabeth Herring (image credit: Dictionary of Canadian Biography)

This book by F.E. Herring (1851-1916) isn’t exactly crammed with Chinuk Wawa, but what she does throw in seems valuable to me for a couple of reasons.

First, she tells almost more details about CW use in BC than quotations of it. We already have a zillion word lists of this language, many of them copied from one another, but I’ve always said we’re short on observations of its prosody (intonation and such), its use in conversations, the stress patterns of individual words such as sáya (I’m more accustomed to sayá for ‘far away’), the customary use of hand gestures (at least with certain specific words), and so forth. Herring helps rectify our ignorance.

Second, the author winds up showing us a good deal about an early phase of “Jargon” borrowings into local English. So her book is a nice resource on the infancy of Canadian English. Concordantly, she shows us a picture of BC Chinuk Wawa having more new loans from spoken English, just as we’ve consistenly found in that northern dialect.

Both of these points are evidenced by Herring’s unusual spellings. Both with Jargon words and with local English terms like “ranch-a-rie” (rancherie, an Indian village) and Indigenous people’s names, it’s clear that she’s writing a lot of things down as she heard them — in ways she could never have read them. A native of England, Herring lived in BC from 1874 onward, so she did indeed witness a good deal of its frontier era firsthand, and she’s known to have had plenty of daily interaction with Indigenous people.

Mind you, some of the names and Indian words in this book are not genuine BC stuff; I’m skeptical of “Chief Kwaw-kewlth” (which is more a name of a tribe) and the expression “he had gone Weh-ti-ko (cannibal)” (which is Cree from farther east and north than the Lower Mainland setting of this book).

On that subject, Herring’s rather literary style comes off the page like fictionalized actual events, but she assures us in her Preface that she’s putting down actual facts that can be verified by writing to missionaries and Indian Agents on the West Coast of Canada.

Pages 72-73 shows us an early occurrence of < che-chaco > ‘newcomer’ (CW chxí-cháku, ‘just.now-came’) in regional English:

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Pages 106-107 brings a rare detailed consideration of the CW (and Pacific Northwest Indigenous) prosodic habit of greatly lengthening the stressed vowel of a word to intensify its meaning — mind you, for some speakers, this meant that they made much less use than others of separate intensifiers like drét/dəlét, nawítka, or hayas-, and by the way, she aptly implies that the non-lengthened pronunciation of e.g. sáya could in effect mean the Diminutive, tənəs-sáya:

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Ha – – lo! Mammook, mamalush soldier couper stick. Big guns, mamalush cowboy.” [Híiilu! Mamuk-míməlus sólcha kʰupa stík. Bíg gə́n-s(,) míməlus káwboy.]

The Chief put a long accent on the first syllable. These people give expression by emphasis, as we should by using adjectives. [Sic; more like intensifier adverbs, DDR.] For instance, you might wish to ask an Indian if he had come from far or near. he would use the same word for either, only with a different emphasis. You would say “Si – yah, mica illehee?” [Sáya mayka ílihi?] (Where is your home?) If it was quite near he would say carelessly and quickly, “Oh! Si – yah.” [Ó, sáya.] (Oh! quite near.) If it was, say, hundreds of miles up the coast, he would wave his hands and nod his head, saying, “Si – – – – – yah.[Sáaaaaaya.] (Very far off.) 

So with the ambitious Chief, who would be the owner of big guns. The literal translation of what he said would be, “I can kill soldiers with a club, the big guns are to kill cowboys,” but the emphasis used made it, “Oh! soldiers, they are easy to kill, a club is good enough for that. But the cowboys, I can’t get near enough to kill. I need big guns for them.”

Pages 109-110 conveys to us another plausible detail of local life, an unflattering nickname that Herring could only have gotten via people’s spoken Chinuk Wawa (as she gives no sign of familiarity with local Salish), but which she puts into delicate literary English. A never-do-well local Settler married to an Indigenous woman is called by the tribal people “Chief of the Dunghill”, which may be reconstructible to *shít-táyí, shít being a known northern-dialect Jargon word that you’ll never find in the published dictionaries…

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Page 118 shows a small conversational exchange:

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Car mica clattawa?” [Qʰá mayka łátwa?] (Where are you going?)

Clattawa nica illehee!” [£átwa nayka ílihi. ‘Going to my home.’] she replied. (I am going home.)

Page 139 has another of the few CW sentences in the volume:

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Ooolachans charco!” [Úłx̣ən-s cháku.] (The oolachans have come.)

Page 141 has the loan of háyás wáwa into English as ‘a big talk; an important consultation’:

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Page 143 might be hard to spot if you weren’t familiar with CW, but it indeed has Chinuk Wawa’s word for ‘husband’, mán:

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Page 151 says a local girl was known as < He-he klootchman >, híhi łúchmən ‘laughing girl/woman’, which may reflect reality:

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Page 174 shows a vivid snapshot of BC Jargon used in a scene at a “Squaw Dance-House” (which itself may reflect a local CW phrase like *łuchmən táns-háws) ; here, < Halo introduce > rings true to the era and locale, even though we hadn’t known of < introduce > as a Jargon word before. This same passage has Herring’s eyewitness account of how the New Westminster fire brigade came to be known, famously, as the < Hyacks >, from CW háyáq:

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Page 207 supplies another instance of CW vowel-lengthening for intensified meaning, < hi – – – yu salix > [háaaayu sáliks]:

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Pages 217-218 are mighty interesting as they have one of the first occurrences I know of the Jargon phrase, loaned into BC English, < kequeally-house > [kíkwəli-háws, the traditional style of pit house], carefully telling the reader its pronunciation:

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Not very much Jargon, but really valuable Jargon!

What do you think?