Pre-1924: John Adams (Rogue River Shasta of Siletz) & CW-dependent pidgin English?

john adams grave

The man himself? (image credit: Findagrave)

Many features of the following quoted life story from John Adams (1847-1938) of Siletz Reservation, southwest Oregon, a Rogue River Shasta man, evoke Chinuk Wawa.

Like others Indians of his generation, Mr. Adams probably knew CW before he knew English. He tells of it being his only language in common with a Rogue River man who adopted him. I’ve written about a Reverend John Adams of Siletz before who preached in CW…same person?

Here he tells of the years following the Rogue River War that was so disastrous for SW Oregon tribes, who were forcibly relocated to Siletz and Grand Ronde in the mid-1850s. (I discovered this text thanks to this page: https://libraryguides.lanecc.edu/chinook.)

See if you agree with me that this narrative would be pretty straightforward to “back-translate” into Chinuk Wawa…

A few of the elements that strike my ear as strong echoes of “Jargon” are:

  • the description “soldiers’ house” for a barracks could reflect a typical CW compound *shúlchast-háws*.
  • the sentence-first adverb in “Twice I tell you ahead…”
  • the bare-stem verbs that are common throughout, that is, Adams rarely if ever says infinitives as “to VERB”, just as “VERB”
  • the general lack of tense distinctions
  • the lack of a “BE” verb in equative constructions, thus, “this my brother’s baby” treats “baby” as itself a stative verb as in CW
  • the variation in strategies of expressing “why”, including “what is it, crying”
  • the pre-verbal negation in “Don’t I want get shot” (which is not a question)
  • the lack of the preposition “of” in “two my relations”

cwenglish 1

cwenglish 2

cwenglish 3

cwenglish 4

cwenglish 5

— pages 93-95 of “The North American Indian” (Volume 13) by Edward S. Curtis

qʰáta mayka tə́mtəm?
What do you think?