1888: A sermon by Myron Eells (Part 1)

There’s an entire genre of overlooked Chinuk Wawa texts in plain sight…


Eells family portrait, 1888, on the 50th anniversary of their arrival among the Spokane Indians; Myron is at the right (image credit: Wikipedia)

And here’s an example, a Christian sermon written by the famous frontier-born preacher and western-Washington Indian Agent, Myron Eells (1843-1907).

This appeared in “philologist” (linguist) Horatio Hale’s 1890 “An International Idiom“, pages 27-38, which was a popularized remake of the CW portion of his 1846 scientific report as a member of the US Ex. Ex. (Exploring Expedition).

Eells’ text is surprisingly long, but worth quoting and examining in full, seeing as how he was perhaps the first non-fur-trade kid to grow up speaking Jargon. I venture to predict that we’ll learn a number of valuable things by putting in the great deal of effort involved in this little study.

Here’s how Hale has Eells introduce his own sermon, with words that both substantiate the idea that he’s a lifelong speaker of CW and raise the prospect that there are more of his Jargon sermons in the archives:

[page 27:]

Mr. Eells has been accustomed for many years to preach to the Indians in the Jargon, and he mentions the curious fact that he sometimes even thinks in this idiom. I am indebted to his kindness for the copy sermon which was preached in August, 1888, and which he has been good enough to put in manuscript for me.

[page 28:]

It will serve to show how this language, limited as it is in vocabulary, can be made a vehicle, not merely of instruction, but also of effective argument and persuasion. Before giving the original, with its interlinear translation, it may be well to prefix a version in ordinary English [DDR: pages 28-31; I’ll just add this material to the interlinear presentation], in which form, as will be seen, it becomes such a discourse as might have been addressed to the white pupils of a Sunday school in England or America. Mr. Eells writes: “By way of explaining it, I ought to say that, in speaking to the Indians, I am accustomed to use some large pictures, which I refer to; also that on the previous Sabbath I had been at Walla Walla, celebrating the semicentennial of the organization of the first Presbyterian church in this region.” 

Pages 32-37 present the sermon itself, along with Eells’ running broad gloss into English. Today let’s look at the first page, with the rest to follow as a mini-series.

A reminder, I’m adding in Eells’ own formal translation (or maybe more likely, the original text that he translated into Jargon). As always, I will put in footnotes to make comments about important points. Anyway, the first line, in old-fashioned CW spellings, is Eells’, and E- also indicates Eells’ glosses and translations, while any remaining material is due to me:

MATT. xxviii. 18, 19.

Moxt Sunday ahnkuttie nika mamook kumtux mesika
mákwst sándi ánqati nayka mamuk-kə́mtəks msayka 

E- Two Sundays ago I made know you
E- ‘Two Sundays ago I spoke to you’

kopa okoke papeh. Yahwa mesika nanitch moxt
kʰupa úkuk pípa. yáwá msayka nánich mákwst 

E- about this paper (picture). [1] There you saw two
E- ‘concerning that picture. There you saw two’ 

klootchmen. Klaska chaco kopa mimoloose-illahee, kah
ɬúchmən. ɬaska cháku kʰupa míməlus-ílihi, qʰá 

E- women. They came to death-place, where
E- ‘women coming to the sepulchre where’ 

Jesus mitlite, kopa Sunday, kopa delate tenas sun.
djísəs míɬayt, kʰupa sándi, kʰupa dlét tənəs-sán. 

E- Jesus lay, on Sunday at just little (early) day.
E- ‘Jesus lay, on Sunday, just at sunrise.’ 

Spose klaska klap okoke mimaloose-illahee, klaska halo
spus ɬaska t’ɬáp [2] úkuk míməlus-ílihi, ɬaska hílu [3] 

E- When they reached that death-place, they did not
E- ‘When they came to the sepulchre they did not’ 

nanitch Jesus. Jesus get-up; yaka klatawa. Kahkwa
nánich djísəs. djísəs getə́ṕ; yaka ɬátwa. kákwa 

E- see Jesus. Jesus had risen; he was gone. So
E- ‘see Jesus. Jesus had risen; He was gone. So’ 

nika wawa kopa mesika talkie Sunday.
nayka wáwa kʰupa msayka táʔa(n)ɬki sándi. 

E- I spoke to you (in) discourse [4] of Sunday (sermon).
E- ‘I told you in that sermon.’

Okoke sun nika tikegh wawa kopa mesika kopa okoke
úkuk sán nayka tíki wáwa kʰupa msayka kʰupa úkuk 
E- This day I will speak to you about this
E- ‘To-day I wish to explain to you about this’ 

papeh. Kimtah Jesus yaka get-up, yaka mitlite kopa
pípa. kimt’á [5] djísəs yaka getə́p, yaka míɬayt kʰupa 

E- picture. After Jesus he had risen, he continued on
E- ‘picture. After Jesus had risen, He continued on’ 

illahee lakit tahtlum sun. Spose kopet lakit tahtlum sun,
ílihi lákit-táɬlam sán. spus kʰupít lákit-táɬlam sán, 

E- earth four ten days. When ended four ten days,
E- ‘the earth forty days. When the forty days were ended,’ 

Jesus yaka tikegh klatawa kopa Saghalie. Kahkwa yaka
djísəs yaka tíki ɬátwa kʰupa sáx̣ali. kákwa yaka 

E- Jesus he would go to Heaven. So he
E- ‘He desired to ascend to heaven. So He’ 

lolo yaka tillikums klahanie kopa town, kopa okoke illahie
lúlu yaka tílikam-s [6] ɬáx̣ani kʰupa tʰáwn, kʰupa úkuk ílihi 

E- led those people out of town, to that place
E- ‘led the people out of the city to that place’ 

kah mesika nanitch klaska. Yahwa mesika nanitch Jesus.
qʰá msayka nánich ɬaska. yáwá msayka nánich djísəs. 

E- where you see them. There you see Jesus.
E- ‘where you behold them. Here you see Jesus.’ 

Yahwa yaka tillikums. Jesus yaka tikegh potlatch kloshe
yáwá yaka tílikam-s. djísəs yaka tíki pátlach ɬúsh 

E- There those people. Jesus he would give give good
E- ‘There are those people. Jesus wished to give good’ 

wawa kopa yaka tillikums, elip yaka killapi kopa
wáwa kʰupa yaka tílikam-s, íləp [7] yaka k’ílapay kʰupa 

E- speech to those people before he returned to
E- ‘instructions to the people before He returned to’ 


E- Heaven.
E- ‘heaven.’

Alta nika mamook kumtux mesika kopa Jesus yaka wawa
álta nayka mamuk-kə́mtəks msayka kʰupa djísəs yaka wáwa [8] 

E- Now I make know you about Jesus his speech
E- ‘Now I will explain to you the teaching of Jesus’ 

kopa yaka tillikums. Yaka wawa kopa klaska: “Kloshe…
kʰupa yaka tílikam-s. yaka wáwa kʰupa ɬaska: “ɬúsh [9]

E- to those people. He said to them: “Good…
E- ‘to those people. He said to them: ‘It is good that you…’  


“This paper (picture)” [1] shows us that CW pípa early on really meant anything that’s characteristically conveyed on paper. This is why the later, northern dialect usually uses pipa to mean ‘writing’ or ‘a letter’ that you write to someone. This noun, interestingly, hardly ever meant the substance ‘paper’!

…ɬaska t’ɬáp [2] úkuk míməlus-ílihi ‘they reached that cemetery’ is a neat corroboration of a very common BC-dialect idiom, where the word for ‘find’ is used as a motion verb! (Many speakers would use a preposition, saying ‘reach to’ a place.)

…ɬaska hílu [3] nánich djísəs: take note of the choice of verb-negator; wik is rare in this function in northern dialects.

Here’s a howler: táʔa(n)ɬki sándi ‘last Sunday’ … it’s bizarre that Eells translate this as ‘discourse [4] of Sunday (sermon)’! It’s probably a testimonial to his unfamiliarity with this southern-dialect word for ‘yesterday; last (previous)’. Eells may have extracted this word from a published CW dictionary, no big surprise since his spellings are the quasi-standardized ones found in late 1800s print sources. But how absent-minded do you have to be to translate this word as ‘discourse’, showing that you mistook it for I suppose Chinese Pidgin English talkee

kimt’á [5] djísəs yaka getə́p … ‘After Jesus had risen’: this word is normally an adverb, not used as Eells does, in a prepositional function. Odd. 

tílikam-s [6] — Here Eells is using the classically Settler pluralization of this word with English -s.

íləp [7] yaka k’ílapay before he returned’: another word that’s not normally a preposition. (See footnote 5.)

…kʰupa djísəs yaka wáwa [8] — just a reminder to you all that wawa is indeed often a noun, ‘discussion; speech; words’, etc. 

“ɬúsh [9]…” is introducing a command, a ‘you should’ statement, all by itself (as you’ll see in Part 2). This, like a number of traits in the above footnotes, is more typical of the northern dialect, whereas the southern dialect might say ɬúsh pus…, or nixwá…

What do you think?