1792: Moziño, “Noticias de Nutka”, the first clear “Nootka” pidgin (part 1 of 2)

I draw pretty clear conclusions from today’s source, but I’m putting out the call to Southern Wakashanists to answer the many questions that follow…

Per Wikipedia, “José Mariano Mociño Suárez Lozano (24 September 1757 – 12 June 1820), or simply José Mariano Mociño, was a naturalist from New Spain.”

Mociño (image credit: Curiosos y Comprometidos)

Adding some interpretive juice to that, New Spain = Mexico, and naturalist = generic science guy, in the era before there were separate specialized fields such as linguistics and botany. 

So Mociño, a.k.a. José Mariano Moziño/Mosiño Losada Suárez de Figueroa, wore many different hats by our present-day standards, including documenting the cultures and languages of the Indigenous folks who he met during an expedition commanded by Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra to as far north as Vancouver Island.

And he did a wonderful job. Mociño observed things keenly and in detail, providing us with quite a lot of information about early contact times in Nuučaan’uɬ country. He had a good acquaintance with the Nahuatl language of his home in modern Mexico State, Mexico, which helped him grasp the sounds of Nuuchahnulth. 

Also true is that Mociño overestimated his understanding of things conveyed to him verbally by these First Nations, as you’ll be seeing. 

Today we’re having a look through his report on his extended visit there, “Noticias de Nutka: An Account of Nootka Sound in 1792″, translated and edited by Iris Higbie Wilson [Engstrand] (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1970). 

Pages 5-6 carry Mociño’s observation that he never experienced thunder or lightning in Nootka country, even during the worst weather; he astonishingly asserts that “the inhabitants” have told him that these weather phenomena are rare. This despite all that we known of PNW coastal weather, the vocabularies of the Indigenous languages, and cultural traits associated with such things — have you ever heard of Thunderbird?

Mociño claims on page 9 that

Our residence of more than four months on that island enabled me to learn about the various customs of the natives, their religion, and their system of government. I believe I am the first person who has been able to gather such information, and this was because I learned their language sufficiently to converse with them.

Many Nuučaan’uɬ people’s names are recorded in his document, e.g. “Princess Izto-coti-clemot” on page 11. He also notes quite a lot of lexicon from their language, such as “Ha-ca-miz” for a whale-grease hair pomade. These data are testament to Mociño’s powers of close observation. Today, I’ll highlight mainly the words that he seems to use quite a bit, as if he had come to be familiar with them in daily speech, since those should be the best evidence for any pidginized “Nootka Jargon” that he may have found. 

Page 13 says “But what is noteworthy in this matter is that the taises never paint around their eyes.” This seems to be the Nuuchahnulth word tayii ‘oldest brother’ (and/or taayii ‘oldest son’ in most dialects), misunderstood by the Europeans as ‘chief’, which later became Chinuk Wawa táyí ‘chief’, perhaps abnormally twice (!) pluralized with the Spanish noun suffix -es. But it’s also logically possible that tais ta(a)yii + the Nuuchahnulth Diminutive suffix -ʔis, perhaps a precise Indigenous expression (like in Lower Chehalis Salish, where you can term someone ‘little older brother’ if he’s not very old) — but we don’t seem to have evidence of this form in the dictionaries. 

On page 18 the writer tells about the architecture of traditional big houses, invoking his communications with Native people:

The intermediate beam is supported by some thick, cylindrical columns of the same pine, on which are sculptured human faces deformed by the size and grotesqueness of their features. These are given the name of TlamaThe first travelers assumed that these figures were objects of superstitious worship, and I also suspected the same until informed otherwise by the Indians themselves. I learned that they were nothing more than a simple decoration, and if by chance a figure had some significance, it was purely that given to it by the man whose labor had brought the [sculptured] tree to the place in which it was found.

That word tlama, noted by many early Euro-American visitors, is Nuuchahnulth ƛama ‘house posts’. 

Page 19 seems to be the first of many occurrences of another word that went on to show up in word lists of early Chinook Jargon — “The filth is incomparably greater in the houses of the meschimes [commoners]…” This too is a Nuuchahnulth word (musčum ‘commoner’), with the Spanish noun plural -es added on it. (But again, the Nuuchahnulth Diminutive suffix -ʔis is a real possibility; Stonham’s dictionary actually contains this usage: may’aasčim-ʔis-ʔi ‘just little commoners’ [commoners.PLURAL-DIMINUTIVE-SPECIFIC].)

Another of Mociño’s implied claims of nuanced communication with the local people comes on page 20: “Upon asking Prince Hauitl the number of dishes Maquinna was accustomed to give the other taises when they came to visit him, I counted up to thirty-six…” I find this phrasing revealing, as it says only that Mociño got the answer for himself, not that the “Prince” understood him. Plus, this Hauitl must be the Nuučaan’uɬ word ḥaw̕iɬ ‘chief; wealth’, unbeknownst to the narrator! 

Here’s another bit of Nuučaan’uɬ that’s been partly acculturated toward Spanish: on page 22 we’re told “Beans for them are the most delicious dish; they call them Tais-frijoles, which is to say ‘dish of the Kings’.” For the first word, see taises above; the second one is Spanish for ‘beans’ (always used in this plural form in Spanish), by implication borrowed into Nuučaan’uɬ speech. (Fun bonus fact: in modern Nuuchahnulth, ‘beans’ appears to be a word meaning ‘they’re like little snails’.)

Pages 24-25 assert,

There is no intermediate hierarchy between princes and commoners. This latter condition includes all those who are not brothers or immediate relatives of the tais, and they are known by the name of meschimes. The former are called taiscatlati, that is to say, brothers of the chief.

That last Native expression is, as we can infer from the independent occurrence of catlati later on page 25, a Noun+Noun compound: tais ‘chief(s)’ + catlati ‘brother(s)’.  (Nuuchahnulth qaɬaatik ‘younger brother’, another word imperfectly comprehended by the Spaniards.) Note that a fluent Spanish-speaker wouldn’t likely come up with such a compound, with its “head” word last (contrast hermano de jefe ‘brother of (a) chief’), whereas we find this structure to be typical in the documents of presumed “Nootka Jargon”. Also to be considered is that native Nuuchahnulth wouldn’t likely say anything like taiscatlati, because in the language it would mean the fairly puzzling ‘oldest brother younger brother’. So this compound looks just plain pidgin. 

Another attempt at conveying detailed information from the Native people is on pages 26-27:

The manner in which they relate the creation of man in the beginning is rather amusing. They say that God created a woman who was left perfectly alone in the obscure forests of Yuquatl, in which lived deer without antlers, dogs without tails, and ducks without wings…”

This story, which I think was also told to Captain John Meares a few years before (was Mociño thus already aware of it?), goes on for most of a page, involving the creator Qua-utz, a canoe made of copper, and a baby made of the woman’s snot. (This word Qua-utz perhaps relates to one of the Nuuchahnulth names for the Creator or Transformer, kʷatyaat, and again conceivably involves the Diminutive suffix -ʔis, but not the Spanish plural marker, I’d think.)

A similar narrative occurs on page 28: 

They believe that the soul is incorporeal, and that after death it has to pass to an eternal life, but with this difference: the souls of the taises and their closest relatives go to join those of their ancestors in glory where Qua-utz resides. The commoners, or meschimes, have a different destiny; for them there awaits a Hell, called Pin-pu-la, whose prince is Iz-mi-tz. The former [souls of the taises] are the authors of the lightning and the rain…

Now contrast that relatively elaborate account with a remark on the very next page: 

“I could not ascertain the significance of a ridiculous ceremony which I observed the last time that I was in one of their villages. An old lady was found extended over a platform feigning death and another seated at her side was making melancholy cries…”

Pages 33-34 describe how a person takes different names throughout the course of life, providing translations of some of these. One man’s “final name [Quio-comasia] means ‘excessively liberal prince’. That of his father, Ana-pe-tais, means ‘outstanding among the others,’ like a great pine among small ones; that of Maquinna, ‘Tais of the Sun.’ ” Like personal names in many languages, these are not easy to parse and aren’t typically included in dictionaries, but I definitely have major questions about how their meanings could have been explained to Mociño, and about his level of understanding. 

On page 35 Mociño purports to quote Maquinna on the occasion of a puberty ceremony: 

The chief directed his voice to all: “My daughter Apenas (he told them) is no longer a girl, but a woman: from this time forth she will be known by the name Izto-coti-clemot; that is, the great Taisa of Yuquatl.” All responded with a shout: “Hua-cás, Hua-cás, Maquinna, Hua-cás-Izto-coti-clemot”; an expression which equals our viva, since the greatest eulogy among these people is always demonstrated by the friendship which the word Hua-cás signifies.

There you see another typical usage of Mociño’s, the application of the Spanish feminine singular noun suffix -a to the Nuučaan’uɬ-origin (Nootka Jargon?) tais. The word Hua-cás is recognizable as other writers’ wakash (etc.), for example recorded, also in 1792, by Captain George Vancouver “both at Nootka and around on the Kwakiutl side of Vancouver Island at Cheslakee’s village at the mouth of the Nimpkish River”, as a footnote explains. That is, it’s Nuuchahnulth waakaaš ‘bravo!’, which Stonham’s dictionary calls a borrowing from Kwak’wala.

A remarkable chunk of data is page 39’s quoted prayer:

I was able to learn one of the prayers and as the result of intensive work present it here translated: Cacatsu-o-comajai; ja-quel, o javi-jlil-jlem-co-jaui clut-nas: Chimipeo tzepi-tizmo: Nachac-tu-tzo, manac-tzeptme-chaatla jahua cha-tlehuit zeja-qui. Yx-to-ja quetl chu-atl-chatl, a caqui-mult-je, jaquetl clul-jas nac-hunas jaquetl. (“Give us, Lord, good weather, give us life, do not allow us to perish, watch over us; deliver the Earth from its storms and its inhabitants from sickness; interrupt the frequency of the rains. Allow us clear days and serene skies.”

I’m extremely interested in hearing Nuuchahnulth speakers’ or scholars’ view of the accuracy and grammaticality of this prayer!

In it, I seem to discern yet another 2-word expression, clut-nas ‘good weather’. (Clut is Nuuchahnulth ƛuɬ ‘good’, the source of Chinuk Wawa’s ɬúsh ‘good’. Nas is Nuuchahnulth n’aas ‘daylight’, which is the ultimate source of Chinuk Wawa’s snás ‘rain’, believe it or not. And we already know of a similar phrase Peshackness ‘foull [sic] weather’ (literally ‘bad daylight’) from a 1791 contact with Nuučaan’uɬ people. I contrast all this with native Nuuchahnulth’s single, more morphologically complex term for ‘good weather’, ʔuuqumḥi

Another clue about the syntax of Nuuchahnulth as experienced by Mociño comes to us in a copular expression on page 40, where “His religious intrepidity was applauded by the acclamation of the two meschimes who, without ceasing, repeated these words: Hiachacus Quatla-zape, ‘Quatlazape is a great man.’ ” Here I reckon chacus to be Nuuchahnulth čakup ‘man’ (perhaps a mis-copying, or maybe again a Nuuchahnulth Diminutive or Spanish plural(!)), therefore I take hia as something like ‘good’ (a form that I’m not finding in the dictionaries, though), with the copular subject coming last. As to whether this word order is more like native Nuuchahnulth or is a European-influenced pidginization, I’ll need to learn more — again hopefully from experts. 

We learn on page 52 that “the Nootkans, in order to say ‘go away,’ use tlatlehua.” Out of the numerous ‘go’ verbs in the language, I can identify this only with Nuuchahnulth ƛatw’a ‘paddle steadily’ (thus a pidgin-style distortion from the original meaning), which later became Chinuk Wawa’s ɬátwa ‘go’. 

[To be continued in Part 2, tomorrow.]

What do you think? ¿Cata maica tamtam?