“The Gold Miners”

Another of Frances Elizabeth Herring’s lightly fictionalized BC memoirs again brings us samples of pidgin speech…

The Gold Miners” (London: Francis Griffiths, 1914) is billed on its title page as “the sequel to [In] The Pathless West“, which I’ve previously praised here.

It carries a prefatory blurb from BC Chinook Jargon scholar, Judge Frederic William Howay.

It’s set in the Cariboo country of British Columbia, as is this illustration:

gold miners illo

“Indian Potlach at Clinton, B.C.” (following page 14)

Pages 21-24 discuss a Jewish merchant called “Nathan Cons” and his employee “Billy” and his fluency in Chinuk Wawa and skill in dealing with Native people. (Billy appeared in the preceding book as well.)

Here’s some quoted dialogue from page 22, where an Indigenous man is wearing a skunk fur into the trading post:

gold miners 1

…he displayed the pretty black and white skin of a skunk, like that of a kitten, tied round his neck. Billy called his attention to the fact. He grinned and remarked, “Na-wit-ka. Hyas shookum humm. Halo shick tum tum.” (Yes, big strong smell. No sick heart me.)

< Shookum > there is a misprint of skúkum ‘strong, powerful’. < Shick > is an accurate local pronunciation of sík by southern Interior BC Indians.

From page 23 we have the anecdote of one trading session involving an important CW word:

gold miners 2

Following Cons’ instructions, he handed out sticks of candy to the papooses, and passed around soda crackers to the elders. They held the crackers in their hands and looked at Billy, who was at a loss to know what was lacking. When one of them said “mel-ass” (molasses) and [SIC] he handed them a jug of “black strap,” as the special brand of molasses these people affected, was called.

On page 67 we have the description of “Bill Bristol”, who seems to have been an Oregon settler, speaking a fairly typical blended idiom for the place and time:

To any one but those present the story as told by Bill would be unintelligible as it was a mixture of the Chinook jargon, the native Indian and English of a kind.

I don’t find much more of linguistic interest to us in the pages of this book, but it’s as highly readable as the author’s other books.

Kata maika tumtum?
What do you think?