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

[Continuing from Part 1, yesterday.]

Mociño goes on with his description of the local language; on page 53 he notes,

…I observed that with some small variations they [verbs] could be turned into negatives. Huic-mutz means ‘I did not eat’; huic-mutitz, ‘he did not eat.’ When an interrogative is formed, [the verb] is combined with the words of the question to form a single expression; for example, A chitz-aco? A chichitl mic? ‘Whose is this?’ ‘To whom does it belong?’ 

There we can recognize the Nuuchahnulth negative verb [sic] wik ‘no, not’, later to become the Chinuk Wawa wík. The thing is, in Nuuchahnulth I understand verbal negation to actually involve inflecting this verbal root, such that it’s not invariably shaped like wik, nor is the negated predicate of invariable shape. So I’m wondering if we’re seeing here some more evidence of a simplified, pidginized Nuuchahnulth used with Euro-Americans.

As for those example questions that start with a, they apparently correlate with the Nuuchahnulth yes/no question suffix -ḥa:, which is followed by subject suffixes. This again would indicate some substantial restructuring of the grammar in the environment of intercultural contact — and I suspect that at least the ‘whose’ sentences shown are also pidginlike. 

On the same page Mociño hypothesizes a faultline between aboriginal and post-contact mathematics: 

Twenty is expressed among them by two times ten, thirty by three, and so on successively. I believe that it has never been necessary for them to count many thousands accurately, and consequently, when for some reason they are obliged to speak in very large numerical quantities, they represent them in an indefinite manner, repeating five, six, or seven times the word ayo, which means ‘ten.’

The first part of that sounds like a description of pidginized counting, perhaps using separate words for ‘two’ and ‘ten’ in a decimal system as in Chinuk Wawa’s mákwst táɬlam, whereas native Nuuchahnulth higher numerals are similar to French in being actually vigesimal (base-20) at least up to ‘200’*, and are more complex (and opaque) in their morphology than is described above, e.g. caqiic ‘twenty’ (vs. ʔaƛa ‘two’ and ḥayu ’10’); ʔaƛiiq ‘forty’ (‘two twenties’); ʔaƛpuuq ‘one hundred and forty’ (‘seven twenties’). We can point out here that Mociño’s vocabulary list in Appendix A only has numerals up to 10.

(*’400′ and ‘500’ actually are expressed as ‘four five.twenties’ etc., at least in ḥiškʷiiʔatḥ Nuučaan’uɬ.)

The last note there by M. is a nice illustration of a fact we’d already known from other sources: that the Nuuchahnulth-sourced ḥayu ’10’ (also used in the expressions for ’20’, ’30’, etc.) also served conventionally to express ‘lots and lots’ in contact situations with Euro-Americans, who were probably confusing it with Nuuchahnulth ʔaya ‘many’. (Mociño, in  the passage above, may have just been witnessing someone saying ‘many, many’, which for example my monolingual English-speaking dad often did.) And of course ḥayu went on to be the Chinuk Wawa háyú ‘many, much’. 

Back to Mociño’s claims of great understanding of Nuučaan’uɬ speech: pages 54-55 have him saying

I will never forget a discourse as exciting as it was poetic, which I heard Maquinna deliver on the occasion of satisfying our commander concerning a crime of which some had unjustly suspected him to be the author…’Frijoles and Agustín [note the adopted Spanish names of two Native men] have informed me that [Captain Joseph] Ingraham [of the brigantine Hope] detained them on his ship in order to deliver them to the Spanish meschimes [soldiers and sailors], who brought guns to kill them if they attempted to escape from the bonds with which they tried to tie them, and who were going to put their feet in the stocks which are on board your ship. But they said that you, knowing that the charge of homicide against them was false, ordered them to be untied and allowed to go free to Tasis; and that your same meschimes, upon leaving mine, told them that I was the one who had plotted this crime.

The allegedly quoted speech goes on for another 2 pages. 

Quio-comasia, hearing various European songs, which are explained to him, says one day to Mociño (page 58), “Do not the Spanish or the English have a God, since they celebrate only fornication and drunkenness? The taises of Nootka sing only to praise Qua-utz and ask for his help.” On the next page, Mociño “was unable to understand very little about the meaning of the phrases [in Nuuchahnulth songs], despite the pains my great friend Nana-quius took to explain this material to me with as much clarity as possible.” These, we can note, may have included “vocable” lyrics which aren’t actual words — but even that sort of simple fact evidently couldn’t be gotten across to the Spaniard. 


Haida Gwaii labrets (Image credit: Pitt Rivers Museum)

Another indication of poor comprehension is page 64’s relation of Nuuchanulth trading voyages “probably up to Queen Charlotte Island” [Haida Gwaii]: “They told me of having seen, after a trip of several days, a certain class of women who had, under their natural mouth, an additional one that held a small stick of wood, and these, for certain, are not found except in the northern countries which I have just cited.” What’s being described are labrets.

And on page 67 the writer contemplates another early visitor’s misunderstanding of Nuučaan’uɬ people:

I do not know through what error this island has been given the name of Nootka, since these natives do not know the word and assure me that they had never heard it until the English began to trade on the island. I suspect that the source of this mistake was the word Nut-chi, which means mountain, since what Cook called “Nootka” has never among these islanders had any name other than Yuquatl.

A footnote to this cites Martínez indicating that “Captain Cook’s men, asking [the Indians] by signs what the port was called, made for them a sign with their hand, forming a circle and then dissolving it, to which the natives responded Nutka, which means to give way [retroceder].” The later missionary A.J. Brabant is also cited saying that the word means ‘go around’. 

On page 69 an inquiry is held between the Indigenous people, the Spanish, an American captain, and a British witness, into whether Captain John Meares had actually bought land from Maquinna, “with me serving as interpreter, since I understood the language of the various witnesses.” (!) 

Indisputably pidginized is a song of praise composed by the Spanish captain Alberni in 1790, which is a sequence of totally uninflected words, thus really different from native Nuuchahnulth: 

Macuina, Macuina, Macuina 
Asco Tais hua-cás; 

España, España, España 
Hua-cás Macuina Nutka.

“Maquinna, Maquinna, Maquinna is a great prince and friend of ours; Spain, Spain, Spain is the friend of Maquinna and Nootka.” He taught his troops to sing it to the tune of “El Marabú,” so that the savages could hear it and tell it to their tais. The pleasant stratagem produced exactly the effect its author desired. Maquinna came at once and asked that they sing his eulogy several times over so that he could memorize it and repeat it, as I came to hear it after two years.

I infer that asco is the word meant as ‘great’. No really similar word leaps to my attention in my Nuuchahnulth dictionaries. One possibility would be that it’s a mis-copying, if Mociño’s original manuscript reads e.g. asma, because Nuuchahnulth does have ʔasma ‘highborn; favourite’. But, evidence in other folks’ narratives of Nootka indicates that asco is what was intended.

It seems almost predictable to me, in any nascent-pidgin situation, that “Several of the natives, especially Nana-quius, Nat-zape, Quio-comasia, and Tata-no, learned to speak quite a bit of our language” [Spanish] (pages 84-85). This certainly parallels what the first British and American trading visitors reported, that at least some noble-class Nuučaan’uɬs picked up an impressive smattering of English. 

On page 88 it’s reported that Maquinna calls British Captain John Meares “Aita-Aita Meares” (“Liar Meares”). Compare Nuuchahnulth ʕitaa ‘(to) lie, tell lies’. I don’t know for sure if this seeming CVCV reduplication of a fully-inflected verb is native to that language, or reflects a more pidginlike usage. I don’t seem to find it listed in this study

Still another scrap of syntactic information is in page 89’s phrases “Cococoa [like] Quadra” and “Cococoa [like] Vancouver”, uttered by the Nuuchahnulths “when they want to praise the good treatment of any of the captains who command the other ships.” This local word went on, as far as we can tell, to become Chinuk Wawa’s kákwa ‘like, as, thus’, used in the same word order as seen here. Compare Nuuchahnulth qʷaa ‘thus’, which is an inflectable verb in that language, thus allowing reduplication — again my knowledge of Southern Wakashan grammar is limited, so I can’t quickly analyze the seeming double reduplication we see here. It may be similar to Makah qʷaqʷak’uk ‘what s[ome]th[ing] looks like’. 

Appendix A (pages 99-110) is a “Brief Dictionary of the Terms That Could be Learned of the Language of the Natives of Nootka”, quite an impressive early vocabulary, containing about 350 entries. As also with a couple of points indicated above, I myself am not highly qualified to gauge the accuracy or the possible degree of pidginization of the lexicon — at least not without devoting many more hours to this blog post than the many that I’ve already put in! Calling all Southern Wakashanists again…help please 🙂 

But I am able to single out quite a number of words from it that we recognize from Chinook Jargon and from other pidginized “Nootka Jargon” sources:

  • Nas, Naz ‘heaven’ (page 99), Nas ‘sky’ (page 104) (see above; CW snás ‘rain’)
  • Clutz-ma ‘woman’ (page 101) (NCN [Nuuchahnulth] ɬuucsma; CW ɬúchmən)
  • Ta-naz ‘boy’ (page 101), Ta-na ‘son’ (page 101) (NCN t’an’a ‘child’; , t’an’e-ʔis ‘small child’; CW tənás ‘child)
  • Tzia-pugs ‘hat’ (page 103) (NCN ciyapuxʷs; CW siyápuɬ)
  • Chi-qui-mi-ni ‘iron’ (page 103) (NCN cikimin; CW chíkʰəmin ‘iron, metal, money’)
  • Coa-tlac, quotlac ‘[sea otter] its fur’ (page 103) (NCN k’ʷaƛaq; widespread around the coast as pre-CW “Nootka Jargon”)
  • Mo-huec ‘deer’ (page 103) (NCN muwač; CW máwich)
  • Cha-ac ‘water’ (page 104), Tza-ac ‘river’ (page 105) (NCN č̓aʔak ‘water’, c̓aʔak ‘river’; CW chə́qw / tsə́qw ‘water’ [note semantic shift])
  • Piseg-chist ‘stormy sea’ (page 105) (compare Peshackness ‘foull [sic] weather’ above) (NCN p’išaq ‘bad’; early CW pishak ‘bad’)
  • Ha-yo ‘ten’ (page 106) (NCN ḥayu ‘ten’ as well as ʔaya ‘many’; CW háyú ‘many, much’ [note the semantic shift])
  • Saya ‘far’ (page 107) (NCN sayaa; CW sáyá)
  • Huic ‘no’ (page 107) (NCN wik; CW wík(-) ‘no; not’)
  • Ma-cu-co ‘to exchange or buy’ (page 107) (NCN maakuk ‘buy, sell, peddle, trade, etc.’; CW mákuk ‘buy, sell’) 
  • Pachitle ‘to give’ (page 108) (NCN p’ačiƛ ‘make a potlatch gift’ [note the semantic shift]; CW pá(t)lach) 
  • Hui-na-pé ‘to be’ (Spanish estar in the original manuscript may actually = ‘stand’) (page 108) (NCN wiinapi ‘stop or pause; stay or remain’; early CW winapi ‘by and bye’ [note the semantic shift]
  • Cap-xitl ‘to steal, pilfer’ (page 108) (NCN kapsčiƛ ‘do something suddenly’ [note the semantic shift]; CW kapshwála)  
  • Cagit-tzitle ‘to kill’ (page 108), Coat-chitl ‘to break’ (page 109) (NCN k’aḥšiƛ ‘burst; (breakers [waves]) strike’ as well as NCN qaḥšiƛ ‘die’ [note semantic shifts]; CW kákshit ‘to beat, break’)
  • Na-a ‘to hear’ (page 109) (NCN nee! ‘hey! (singular [addressee]’; early CW ná ‘hey!’, attention-getting interjection
  • Pug-xitl ‘to blow’ (page 109) (NCN puxšiƛ ‘to blow (on)’; the similar CW p’úx̣ən ‘to blow’ is from Salish — similar roots for ‘blow’ exist across the region)
  • Ma-muc ‘to work’ (page 109) (NCN mamuuk ‘work; weave’; CW mámuk) 
  • Na-na-nichi ‘to see’ (page 110) (NCN n’an’aan’ič ‘examine’ [note the semantic shift]; early CW ~nananich(i), CW nánich)

All around, the linguistic evidence in Mociño’s narrative suggests to me that he, if not the rest of his party, had an experience unusual among the early maritime explorers and fur-traders in the Pacific Northwest.

Due to these visitors’ remaining in place for a sustained stretch of time (4 months), Mociño was able to establish fairly decent communicative relationships with his Nuučaan’uɬ hosts. That communication took place in a pidginized Nuuchahnulth, one that shows clear traces of the Spanish influence.

Compared with the linguistic outcome of John Meares’ similarly long stay 4 years prior, Mociño’s stay resulted in a much richer pidgin, one that’s perhaps of largely separate creation from what Nuuchahnulths used with any previous “Drifters”.

The Nuuchahnulth vocabulary collected by Mociño is as impressive in size as an anonymous one from 1791 by an Anglophone, but the important difference is that only the Spaniard gives us clear traces of really rich interaction with the First Nations, which is a key ingredient in the birth of any pidgin language. 

However, we can show that Mociño understood less of what he was being told in (pidgin) Nuuchahnulth than he thought he did.

And the Spanish empire didn’t retain a presence at “Nootka”, and as a consequence, what we have sometimes called “the Nootka Jargon” remained a quite limited and highly variable pidgin for years afterwards. The presumed “Haida Jargon” (used also by Coast Tsimshians) was equally nebulous, and looks to have been a local flavor of “Nootka Jargon”. (I’ve been demonstrating all this from sources such as Captain Charles Bishop’s 1795-1796 journals.) 

Not until Chinuk Wawa took shape, which happened by 1805 on the lower Columbia River of modern Washington and Oregon, did there demonstrably exist in our region any identifiable contact language with its own rules of grammar.

And CW remained a local language identified with the lower Columbia for about half a century. 

Thus, until CW eventually expanded through the Salish Sea and up the Stó:lô (Fraser River) in the 1840s and 1850s, there was likewise no stable pidgin in what is now called British Columbia. 

¡Podemos agradecerle a don José por hacer posible que aprendamos estas ideas!
We can thank don José for making it possible for us to learn these insights!

¿Cata maica tamtam?

What do you think?