1858: Two California pidgins

Back-to-back pidgins in frontier-era California teach us a thing or two…

reservoir hill

They say Reservoir Hill’s on this walking tour of old Placerville
(image credit: Elk Grove Historical Society)

One point of note is that newspaper editors, who hardly ever bothered translating from pidgin Englishes for readers’ benefit, nonetheless made a point of misspelling “heap” to show that a speaker was not White.

I found two consecutive articles in a single issue, quoting a couple of pidgin Englishes that almost certainly influenced each other, a situation that I often point out is typical among “contact languages”. This is from northern California, a region where Chinuk Wawa too was spoken relatively early, I might remind you.

First a story about an Indigenous man:

heep injin

A few days since, at Reservoir Hill [near Placerville], two Indians, who had recently returned from a fandango near Coloma, got into a difficulty about something or other, and concluded to settle the matter according to the aboriginal code of stones, clubs, and arrows. Frank Plumado, who witnessed the fight, says it lasted precisely one hour by the watch. At the expiration of that time, one of the combatants weakened, and was carried almost lifeless from the field, while the victorious Indian shouted out in pretty plain English, “Me Injin Jim — me pretty good— heep lick him Injin, you bet!”‘ It is reported that the vanquished Digger [a disparaging word] is dead.

And here’s an article with an immensely colorful quote from Chinese immigrants, carefully noting their accented pronunciation of “opium” and “savvy” (‘know; understand’):

heep chinaman

The other day, at White Rock, in this county, a Chinaman got most frightfully mangled up by the caving of a tunnel in which he had been working. The Chinese doctors are constantly stuffing his wounds full of opium, and very gravely assert that, “Opilum pretty good, John; heep cure him by and by — Chinaman heep shabe.

— both from the Sacramento (CA) Daily Union of May 26, 1858, page 1, column 7

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