Circa 1868: Alaska frontier-era CW

A US Naval officer remembers some Chinuk Wawa from America’s then-new territory, southeast Alaska:

seaton schroeder

One useful remark he makes is that the Lingít (Tlingit) people and the Navy were not on friendly terms, so our shíp-mán (sailors) did not pick up much “Jargon”. His ship, the USS Saginaw, was involved in bombarding entire Lingít towns, you see.

Nonetheless, his quotation of the language is grammatical, and its spellings idiosyncratic enough to indicate these words come from his own memory, not from one of the relatively standardized publicly-available sources of the time.


Take it all in all those months were quite prolific in experiences which tended to stimulate resourcefulness. We had but little friendly intercourse with the natives and managed to pick up only a few words of the Chinook jargon that served as a means of communication between them and the traders. The expression that seemed to find most favor with us was (phonetically) “Myka tikki Klotawa cop’ilihi okuk poly-kely” (I wish to go on shore this evening). Americans were known as “Boston Man,” to the pretended astonishment of all except Pillsbury who was from that part of the world and maintained that it was only a natural tribute to the culture and preëminence of that city.

— from pages 21-22 of “A Half Century of Naval Service” by Seaton Schroeder (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1922)

That is, nayka tíki ɬátwa kʰupa ílihi úkuk púlakʰli (‘I want to go to land this night’), and bástən-mán (‘American-man’).

You might have spotted the fact that Schroeder doesn’t use an older CW term for ‘ashore, shoreward’, such as máɬx̣wəli. I take this as more or less to be expected, a typical byproduct of the “bottleneck” that the Jargon went through in its sudden transplantation northward in the gold rushes of circa 1858 onward. The vocabulary got simplified in that process, and so now we see ‘on shore’ put as the literal kʰupa ílihi ‘to land’.

(It’s interesting in this connection that Thomas Paul of Tsartlip, in the Victoria, BC area, said t’ɬáp shú ‘reach shore’ for the same concept — using a new loan from English!)

 What do you think?