“Canadian Camp Life”
Another largely autobiographical book by Frances Elizabeth Herring shows us some more BC Chinuk Wawa…
Today’s book by this author, whose ear for people’s actual ways of speaking I’ve praised before, is “Canadian Camp Life” (London: TF Unwin, 1900).
The action this time happens in far southwestern British Columbia, so places like Ladner and Boundary Bay are the scene.
I’ll reproduce the choicer bits of dialogue that I think will be of interest for folks like my language-oriented readership; I’ll leave out a few of the less substantial bits of Jargon and such.
Also, I’m sharing one of the photos that liven up the narrative; nearly all are of Native people, for British readers’ interest in exotica (!); given the era of the events told of, many of these folks will have been Chinuk Wawa speakers.
On page 46, the author’s Chinese cook Ke Tan, in authentic Chinese Pidgin English (no prepositions, maybe no word for ‘and’) with some Chinook Jargon in it, disdainfully compares tent camping to the way Indigenous people live:
The tinkle of a little bell announced dinner in
our camp. Ke Tan was quite proud of his
dining tent, although when he first arrived on
a wagon load of his cooking utensils and stores
for the pantry, and the tents came into view, he
said to the boys in a tone of disgust, ‘What for!
Good house, garden, town ; come here ! Allee
‘Oh! come catch ’em salt water, Ke Tan.’
‘Plenty salt water Bancouber, Bitoria —
Page 48 has a Native woman selling large clams to the campers, a product that Ke Tan endorses:
‘We were busy “fixing up” the tents yesterday,
when a hideous-looking old squaw came along
with a basket on her back, slung from her
forehead by a band, you know, as they always
carry things, and I asked her what she had
there. She turned partly round, smiling almost
from ear to ear and showing all her toothless
gums, intimated I was to go and see. I lifted
up the ferns that covered the basket, and saw
the most immense cockles! the shells being fully
five inches in circumference.
‘ “Hyas clush!” (very good), she said in the
slow, soft way they have. But the cockles
looked too big, I thought, and hesitated to buy
them. Ke Tan came out from his cook tent
and looked at them too.
‘ “Heap good! soup, chowder!” he remarked
in his laconic way.[…’]
Pages 49-50 have a little more of the same woman’s Chinuk Wawa:
The boys looked somewhat sheepish, and I
went on to tell about the squaw and the cockles.
‘After I had concluded my bargain for the
cockles, the Indian woman asked for “chuck,”
water, you know, Mrs Wentworth. She drank
deeply and handed me back the tin dipper,
after throwing out what few drops remained…
On pages 63-64 we have another Indigenous woman speaking Jargon, this time with nosy Settlers who badger her to reveal where she finds excellent shellfish. In the following passage, the language-name “Englees” (rather than older “King George wawa” or “Boston wawa“) matches actual usage in BC Chinuk Wawa that I’ve found around Kamloops:
third, an old squaw, still went silently on with
her hunt for cockles. We all waded up to her,
ankle deep in water, and looked on, whilst
Frank plied her with questions in Chinook,
English, and a few words of Indian jargon [i.e. local Salish] which
he happened to know. She made no reply for
‘Try her in French,’ suggested Charley.
This time she nodded her head and smiled.
So he tried Chinook again.
‘Halo comtux Chinook!‘ she said sadly.
‘ How do you know where the cockles are ? ‘
he queried again in English.
‘Halo comtux Englees!‘ she returned in the
same sad tone.
‘ Try her in Greek, Charley,’ said he, disgusted;
‘she’ll say,’ and he mimicked her tone and
manner, ‘Halo comtux Gleek!‘ and he flung
himself off with a laugh and a splash to look
for better sport.
There’s a passing use on page 65 of a Jargon word commonly used in local English:
Perhaps a tilliceun [tillicum] (friend)
had gone off with their clothes, or their good (?)
man had gambled them away ; but they seldom
A really marvelous discovery comes where pages 67-68 report a Settler missionary preaching to Chinese immigrants in Chinese Pidgin English; their response is quoted in an essentially fictional, but accurate, specimen of CPE:
There was one of our young and popular
clergymen from Westminster accompanied by a
newly-arrived Chinese missionary, whose zeal
was great, and his hopes of converting the
Celestials high, for he had opened a night
school and had more pupils than he knew
what to do with. They would sit patiently
while he discoursed of Christianity in broken
English to suit their understanding, for he knew
nothing of their language, till their patience
could bear no more, when some individual,
bolder than the rest, would rise and say respect-
fully, ‘Vely good talkee, heap likee; now lead
(read) em book ay ?‘ Then they would work
industriously as long as he would keep them.
This preacher reappears on page 81, as Settler ladies speak CPE to him:
During all this time poor Mr Strange was
fidgeting and looking at his watch, and cough-
ing, much to the delight of Mr Wilbert and
Josie. As soon as there was a pause he spoke
out. ‘But, my dear madam, how am I to keep
my engagement for to-night? Those poor
Celestials of mine’ — and his face took on a
‘Will be delighted to have two ladies of the
Cathedral Women’s Auxiliary to take your place,
my dear fellow. They’ll have less “singsong,”
no “talkee, talkee,” and “heap much spellum,”
which will be more to their liking.’
A discussion between the Settler employer and her Chinese cook, in CPE with Chinuk Wawa blended in again, appears on pages 86-87:
Whilst making this tea I remarked to Ke
Tan, ‘We go horsee to-moller, allee same
‘Yes ? You likee chicken pie?‘
‘Heap muchee, Ke Tan ; you savee ketchem
‘Oh ! s’pose Charley, he takem Bob, go lauch [lanch],
catchem tree chicken, two roll butter, hi-yu
milik, two, tree dozen egg ; me makem cake.‘
‘Alright! I’ll see you ketchem dese tings; I
go send ’em Frank.‘
‘Oh, no! Flank he no good; he blakem
egg, spillem milik.‘
‘Alright ! I ketchem.‘
Pages 151-152 quote Ke Tan’s CPE again, in another conversation with his employer as a US revenue cutter (ship) approaches to deport the Chinese immigrant who has been brought along with the family from the Canadian side of the border:
Mammy returned to our camp and entered
the cook tent ; as she went in she encountered
another Chinaman from the other side coming
out. Ke Tan was as white as his yellow skin
would allow him to become.
‘You savee nis Melicanman he come, takee
‘Me savee,’ he returned, as he hurried with his
dishes and put his bread in a good place to rise.
‘No washem dishee, you takem blanket, go
udder side, bime by me send Frank take you
steamboat — you go mind em house, garden,
Westminster, makem jam, jelly — send me clean
clo’s, bread, cake, pie, every week.‘
Pages 159-163 have a Native man who already knows the Settler family showing up unexpectedly and speaking a blend of (distinctive BC) Chinuk Wawa and English:
‘Who dat talk? dat Josie, Bessie?’ Then,
as we remained silent a few moments, he
called excitedly, ‘Josie! Bessie!’
‘It’s Douglas Billy!’ said Josie; ‘but he’s
‘Yes, Douglas Billy. I get blind one time.’
We took him up to the cook tent and told
him to wait for us. Then whilst we prepared
dinner he told us in mixed Chinook and English
his history for the past three years.
He had worked in camp for daddy when he
was out with survey parties at different times,
and all one winter in town for us, instead, as
the Indians generally do, of going up to their
reservation for the winter.
‘Dat was good time I stop all one snow in
town, s’pose I not clatterwar (go to) Douglas I
not lose my eye.’
‘How did you get blind, Billy?’
He made us understand that the winter he
worked for us and the summer following he
saved his wages. When he went up to Douglas
he was pretty well supplied with clothing, pro-
visions and money. He bought lumber and
built himself a cabin, then he looked round
for a ‘ klootchman ‘ (wife).
She proved to be a pilton (fool), and he
didn’t like her, but was so glad to be rid of
her he never asked for the return of his
He tried to get Jenny to go to the priest with
him and get unmarried ; but she wouldn’t go.
So he went himself and told him that the wife
he had given him was hiyu salix (very bad
tempered) ; that she whipped him and pulled
out his hair. Then she had her lame grand-
mother, and her great aunt and all her cousins
to live in his house till there was no room for
him, and he had to go and camp out under a
big umbrella we had given him.
This state of affairs he considered highly un-
satisfactory, and he thought these quite suffi-
cient grounds to get unmarried. He shrugged
his shoulders and spread out his hands in de-
precation as he said, ‘La Pleat say, “Skookum”
(strongly) “married ; not could unmarry ; you
must bear it.”‘ If he refused to keep his
wife and provide for her he would be put in
halo comtux papoose‘ (A man doesn’t know
what to do with children).
On pages 177-178 we have Billy’s aunt-in-law appearing and speaking in a similar mix of Chinook Jargon and English; here we see an unusual (I think British English-influenced) way of handling indirect objects with the verb for ‘give’. There’s also an interesting use of ‘half-man’ as a seeming Jargon insult (compare “The Non-Cussin’ Way to Talk about 2-Spirits“) :
When we appeared upon the scene she held
her stick in abeyance and gave us to under-
stand in Chinook and broken English that she
had supposed Billy was cutting reeds for her
and her female relatives to make mats with
during the winter. She suspected Billy was
deceiving her, and had traced him up, to poor
Billy’s sorrow and her aunt’s satisfaction. She
further informed us that if her sitcum-man
(half a man), with an air of great disdain, was
going to work for us in the summer we could
keep him in the winter. She had only brought
him with her to help paddle and gather reeds,
or she would have left him to hoe the potato
patch and look after the chickens at Douglas
Lake, instead of her grandmother, who, she
added, with a withering look at poor Billy,
was more skookum (stronger) than he was.
Mammy had appeared by this time and
stood near the crestfallen Billy, who, however,
showed himself to have some knowledge of
feminine humanity and its weaknesses, for he
whispered to her, ‘S’pose potlatch hyas cloosh
ictas nica klootchman?‘ (Will you give my
woman some good clothes?) She took the
hint at once and, passing along the back of
her sleeping tent, intercepted the old aunt and
the children. Jenny had strode angrily off and
was some distance ahead.
‘Nica potlatch ictas tenas klootchmen‘ (I’ll
give clothes for the little girls), said mother to
the old woman, who eyed her dubiously for a
moment, and then called a word or two in the
tribal language to Jenny. She seated herself
upon heels, drew her knees up to her chin,
clasped her brown and withered hands around
them, and patiently awaited developments.
Jenny seated herself where she had stopped
and, without looking our way, likewise waited.
Billy chuckled to himself at the success
of his strategy, and disappeared into the
cook tent, listening intently for the next
Mammy came out with some small garments.
The old squaw looked them over and shook
her head, saying they were ‘Halo cloosh‘ (not
good), intimating she expected something bright
Regular readers of my site may remember that I’ve recently pointed out a trait of Chinuk Wawa, that speakers put expressions of quantity first in a sentence. Well, pages 191-192 include Billy speaking this way (“Not many twins Ind’ans have”) in his mix of “Chinook” and English, telling one of the traditional beliefs about twin babies. She also (as in another book of hers that we’ve looked at) accurately describes the CW strategy of leeeengthening a syllable for dramatic emphasis:
‘Not many twins Ind’ans have. Plenty grisly
bears up Douglas Lake ; dey come down de
mountain, ketch fish. Grisly bears very bad,
dey kill lots Ind’ans. Some time dey come
down, de hair all over one inch long ; round dey
neck like big collar, five inch long, it stand out
all round ; den you see him come, you run very
quick, dey’s mad den and dey kill you sure. But
s’pose you got twin child’s hair, you take some
and blow it to dat bear, he not hurt you, twin
child and grisly bear all de same, dey tillicums ‘
(friends). ‘ Ind’ans say, bime by twin child die,
den he grisly bear.’
‘Well, I’m sure you’re welcome to the hair,
Billy, especially if it will help to save your
Then he went on to tell us bear stories, but as
he got excited he mixed up his English with
Chinook and some tribal words, but in substance
one story was [a summary follows in standard English]…
You must mind
and place it [a 6-inch length of bone] straight up and down [into the attacking bear’s mouth], or it will fall
out, merely scratching the creature, and then
you had better ‘hyack clattawa.’ He placed
a very long accent on the ‘hyack‘ to give it
emphasis ; (‘hyack,’ quick; ‘clattawa,’ to go).
Repeated on page 196 is the old chestnut of the Christian missionary whose flowery English words to the Indians are translated too literally into Jargon, as “Tenase man couper hyas stick” — “Little boys dat live in de big trees” according to Billy, who is presented as an eyewitness to the event, here placed at “Douglas” [Lake]. Billy’s report has the Native audience shocked and disdainful at the message of the preacher, who gains no converts.
Once again we’ve been treated to a lightly dramatized but still really accurate portrayal of post-frontier BC Chinuk Wawa, Chinese Pidgin English, and the various linguistic blends found in the multiethnic environment of the Pacific Northwest.