JP Harrington’s letters in Grand Ronde-ish Chinuk Wawa (part 1 of 2)

Just a 2-part miniseries on the CW of renowned linguistic researcher JP Harrington.

[Thanks to Henry Zenk and Bruce Rigsby for copies of this material from the Smithsonian Institution.]

As you’ll also see in the second installment, JPH’s own CW was a bit short of highly fluent, even though he worked some truly great speakers of the Jargon.

Here’s exhibit 1, a letter to preachers Mr. & Mrs. Nick Sivonen of Taholah, WA. Asterisks indicate stuff I can’t read clearly.


          Siletz, Ore., Oct. 23, 1942

Tlush Tumtum:
‘Good Hearts:’ 

     Niga mesiga* shail pix, miga shail Mrs Washington Howeattle,
     ‘I you gave pic[ture]s, you gave Mrs Washington Howeattle,’ 

George Spencer*, Achmilo hyak. Saghali Tyee tlush tlush kupa niga,
‘George Spencer*, Achmilo quickly. God is good, good to me,’ 

hayoo hayoo ekanmen tlush tlush shail. Hyak nasiga kanawee klatawa
‘many many legends well well giving. Quickly we all go’ 

Cayoosh, Achmilo, Tahola, niga iskum chickamin, byenbye hayoo chickamin.
‘(to) Cayuse, Achmilo, Taholah, I’ll get money, eventually lots of money.’ 

Saghalee Tyee Jesus bless mesiga.
‘(May) the Lord Jesus bless you folks.’ 


< Tlush tumtum > is a purposeful calque or “loan translation” of Christian rhetoric, a tip of the hat to Rev. & Mrs. Sivonen — ‘dear hearts’ or ‘dear souls’. It’s not a usual way of talking in Jargon.

< Niga mesiga* shail pix > might be either ‘I sent you folks some pictures’ (note the English slang noun) or ‘you folks sent me some pictures’; either way, it’s abnormal syntax for Chinuk Wawa. We expect something more like < Niga shail mesiga* pix > or < Mesiga* shail niga pix >. (As it happens, installment #2 of this miniseries, plus other knowledge that we have of Harrington, indicate that it was the Sivonens kindly mailing him some photographs of Indigenous-language speakers.)

< Shail > is a very obscure word meaning ‘give’ from JK Gill’s Portland-published dictionary of Chinook; I’ve never encountered a real person using this verb! Harrington’s spellings throughout the letter show that Gill was his main guide.

Harrington’s uses of < hyak > ‘fast, quick(ly)’ are a bit odd from a fluent-CW, southern-dialect perspective; he employs this word for ‘soon’. In letter #2 we’ll see that he switches over to a more expected wik-lili ‘not long (until)’.

JPH’s spellings < niga >, < mesiga* >, < nasiga > reflect Siletz and Grand Ronde pronunciation habits, vs. the more well-known nayka, msayka, nsayka.

I really suspect that his < tlush tlush > and < hayoo hayoo > also indicate his noticing the distinct prominence of reduplication in the southern dialect. (Reduplication of this kind is essentially absent from the northern dialect that I assume the Sivonens spoke.) But, native speakers normally confine reduplication to predicates, indicating distributed occurrences — whereas JPH is using it more like American English-speakers do, just using it for a bit of extra emphasis on the adjective ‘good’, the quantifier ‘many’, and the adverb ‘well’.

< Klatawa Cayoosh > is nice fluent Jargon, not bothering to use a preposition with a verb of motion.

< Byenbye > is a word (spelled differently from JK Gill!) that you don’t see as much as áɬqi for the indefinite/remote future tense, but it’s genuine Jargon. I wonder if JPH uses it because of having heard it at Siletz.

< Saghalee Tyee Jesus bless mesiga > ‘Lord Jesus bless you folks’ is another obvious calque on English. First, it imitates the fossilized older English subjunctive that actually means ‘may Lord Jesus bless you’ without using any CW word to express that ‘wishing’ quality, so that this sentence to a fluent CW speaker looks more like a statement, ‘the Lord Jesus blesses you’. Second, calling Jesus < Saghalee Tyee > is unusual in the southern dialect, where this expression is pretty much limited to ‘God’. Third, the new English loan < bless > is used, and although this is actually known up north around Kamloops, I haven’t seen much evidence of it in the south.

All around, I find this first letter from JPH to be easy to understand, and influenced by hearing extremely good speakers of Jargon, but not itself the most fluent material.

Kahta miga tumtum? What do you think?