1942: Robie Reid’s fine little CW article

This is a solid lesson on Chinuk Wawa history, and a great chance to learn more about both preachers’ & naughty songsters’ use of the language in BC.


Arthur Douglas Crease, 1872-1967 (image credit: WikiTree)

I’ve been re-reading Robie L. Reid’s superb history piece, “The Chinook Jargon and British Columbia“, in the B.C. Historical Quarterly, 6:1(1-11), January 1942. GO READ IT!

Reid’s understanding of how the Jargon came into existence is, like mine, confined to the evidence, so he starts his article by noting the “Nootka” roots of communication between Aboriginal and newcomer folks in the Pacific Northwest. He notes how the Nootka Jargon was taken to other places, such as Chinook country, by seagoing Euro-American traders, and how “French” (Métis) Canadians played a crucial role in forming communities centred at Fort Vancouver that used CJ as a household language. 

Reid, an accomplished legal scholar, rightly characterizes two other theories of Chinook Jargon’s origin — that it existed before Euro-American “Drifters” showed up, or that the Hudsons Bay Co. invented it — as lacking any supporting evidence. 

He also rightly recognizes that a major reason why CJ stayed in use in many localities was that there were in most places a majority or at least an equal portion of Native people in the workforce, so that the Jargon was the working language most accessible to the most people. Later he follows through, noting that eventually there was a preponderance of non-Indigenous people speaking English in the province, leading to a shift in favour of that language. Some anecdotes, probably apocryphal, ensue, each identifiably a member of a folk-linguistic genre that I’ve written about on my website, where a White person tries speaking a pidgin language to a non-White person, who replies elegantly in the Queen’s English.

On page 6, he seems to say of his own generation of British Columbian Settlers, “We thought it rather smart to use a word from the Chinook rather than its English equivalent…” He gives examples of such BC slang, and notes that it hasn’t died out, citing a (then-)recent telegram from Victoria to Ashcroft. 

At several points, he provides us some valuable information that we get from no previously available source.

On page 1 he notes that a Vancouver news announcer for the Daily Province newspaper’s radio station, at the time of writing (1941), greets listeners with “Klahowyah, tillicums.

On pages 4 and 5, Reid gives us a unique peek into the Jargon as known to an early missionary: 



Canon [John Booth] Good, above referred to, was a missionary of the
Church of England for forty years (1861-1900). He left a
manuscript describing his experiences entitled The Utmost
Bounds of the West, which is now in the Provincial Archives. In
it he describes the Chinook jargon:—

[“]Some three hundred words would make up its vocabulary, but it can be
so manipulated as to stand for twice that number of ideas; and an adept
can with it make quite a flowery speech, and also a forcible one as well.
Thus “Klatawah ” is to go or get away, and “Kloshe” is “good;” but by
joining them together you convert it into an intransitive [sic] idea. “Kloshe
klatawah” or “Hyas kloshe mika klatawah,” ” very good you go,” while
said quickly and with emphasis, would imply, “Stand not on the order of
your going, but go.” So again, “Hyou” is plenty and “muck-a-muck” is
food; hut if you wish to signify there is plenty and abundance to spare you
put the stress on the second syllable in the word for plenty, and say “ Hy-you
muck-a-muck.” . . .

[“]Two other words have now become largely used by our people [i.e. English-speakers? this whole paragraph is concerned with words that entered PNW English] like slang
words, they are very expressive. These words are “kultus,” good for
nothing and “potlatch,” a present or gift. . . . When you make a present,
or the Indian gives you something, it is called a “kultus potlatch,” though
it may be any amount in value. “Hyas kultus man” would mean an
utterly worthless fellow. Once more “chee” means “new ” and “Chahco
is to come, but “cheechaco” would imply a stranger.[“]

Canon Good says of his associate, Rev. A. C. Garrett:—

[“}He early immortalized himself by translating into Chinook that once
favorite children’s hymn, “Here we suffer grief and pain,” which was
adapted to its own setting with the three-fold refrain, “O that will be joyful,
joyful, joyful,” and which after a while a number of the Indian youngsters,
assisted also with right good will by their elders, soon learned to sing with
great effect at our Sunday afternoon gathering in the Mission school-room.[“]

He then gives the verse in Chinook, with a translation interlined, as follows:—

[“]Mitlite     yahwah     quonsum     kly 
In stay     this (world)     always     crying

Mitlite     yahwah     quonsom     marsh 
In     this (world)     always     moving

Mitlite     saghalie     wake     kaakwah 
In     the above     not     so 

O hyas kloshe,    O hyas kloshe,    O hyas kloshe
O very good, O very good, O very good

Spose     nesika     wake consick     marsh
If     we     no more     change or move. 

This simple ditty spread like wild fire. One tribe taught it to another.
It was carried inland to the Thompsons, and they spread it to the Rocky
Mountains, and so from the 49th parallel to the Arctic Circle might be heard
this taking melody.[“]

DDR note: these lyrics, like so many created by Settlers, aren’t the greatest Chinuk Wawa. A more accurate translation of what they’re saying is “Stay there always crying / Stay there always leaving / Stay above not like that / Oh excellent, oh excellent, oh excellent / If we never leave.” I’m not kidding you. But their historical value is great! 

On page 7, Reid tells of Anglican bishop George Hills‘s arrival in the province, quoting the first “grace” that he said in Jargon over a meal: 


When Bishop Hills arrived in British Columbia, the first
thing the good man had to do was to learn to “talk Chinook.”
He reached Victoria on January 16, 1860, and on the 17th, in
company with A. F. Pemberton, the resident magistrate, and Rev.
Edward Cridge, he visited the Songish Indians, who lived near
the little city. A treat of molasses and buns was given to the
Indian boys, and of course the Bishop had to say grace. He had
evidently been coached in his duties, for as soon as all hats were
doffed, he gave the grace in good Chinook. It was very short and
consisted of the words, Tyee papa mahsie [from the French,
merci] kloshe muck-a-muck — “Great Chief Father thanks for
good food.”

DDR note: it looks as if the preposition kopa has been left out between mahsie and kloshe! Without it, the sentence means ‘Chief father thanks(, it is) good food’. 

Speaking of slang use of Chinuk Wawa by BC Settlers, Reid identifies on page 8 the same genre that I call “doggerel” folk poetry as a “macaronic” (mixed) English-Chinook hybrid. He correctly notes that much of that stuff was raunchy, but he doesn’t point out that the sample he provides comes from (or is a version of) a famous naughty PNW song:

be not kwass

Some secular poems were composed, many unprintable, but they were what are properly called macaronic, since they were not in one language, but in a combination of two or more. One little jeu d’esprit has been given to me by A. D. Crease, K.C, of Victoria. [In the following verses, the square brackets are Reid’s — DDR.]

Oh! be not kwass [afraid] of nika [me],
Thy see-ow-ist [eyes] turn on me,
For thou must hiyu [surely] kumtux [know]
That I hyas [greatly] tikke [want] thee.

I will give thee hyas [many] iktas [things],

I will bring thee sapolil [bread],
Of pa-sis-sies [blankets] and lebiskwee [biscuits]
I will give thee all thy fill.

(Here’s yet another version of these lyrics.)

Just about the only point made by Reid that I can disagree with is his overly tidy closing remark that CW “became a dead language” when Kamloops Wawa ceased publication in the early 1900s, “and it is now only an episode…in the history of the West”. That’s imputing godlike powers (if you will) to the missionary newspaper, an influence that it couldn’t have exerted on the spoken language. In fact the Jargon continued being actively used by an appreciable number of British Columbians well into the 20th century, and was well remembered by a few up to the 21st.

What do you think?