1858 US ad for Jargon guide to Fraser River goldrush: a reason why French didn’t remain BC’s language

Just to prove the claim (no pun intended) that BC’s Fraser River gold rush of 1858 was conceptually tied to Chinuk Wawa use…

Here’s an ad from one of the guidebooks that was rushed into print for California’s existing crowd of goldseekers.

It’s kind of funny that Chinook Jargon was used as material to pad such guidebooks & make them seem more substantial.

In reality there were few speakers of the language in British Columbia at the time, outside of Forts Langley and Victoria. 

But the hordes of Yankee goldbugs were inaccurately led, partly by implication but also by a description below of CJ as the “languages [sic] used by different Indian Tribes…as means of conversation with Americans”, to think that they really should know Jargon to get along in the Native-dominated colony. 

Heckuva thing there. It would have been more truthful and useful to have advised these poor saps to learn French, the métis/Canadien flavours of which were the most widespread lingua franca, so to speak, in BC to that date.

— Most modern British Columbians will be shocked to learn this was part of French Canada! — 

Can you imagine, though, a guidebook for those in a hurry, trying to include page after page of traditional French grammar lessons??!!

This points to another factor at play, which is the go-go, hustling spirit of the ore-seeking bastən-man.

They could hold still long enough to glance through a handful of pages of Chinook words — note that grammar notes were almost never included in these publications.

And a good many of ’em already knew Jargon, having dealt with Indigenous people in the southwest Oregon zone (the Klamath drainage, for instance) that the California gold rush, and Oregon Trail settlement, had already expanded to.

Those guys, because yes they were all male, would’ve been unbothered by the idea of getting some more value out of a skill they’d already developed. 

One more element of the marketing that was used here: the prominent attribution to Alexander C[aulfield] Anderson, “Late Chief Trader, in the Hudson Bay Company’s Service”.

Everybody “knew” that Chinook was “a language that the HBC invented”, as the linguistic urban (?) legend of the time had it. The implication was that here, you were getting the best of the best from the best source possible!

…Never mind that Anderson always denied authorship or association with this publication, saying it was of shamefully low quality.

(It’s actually better than most, but Anderson was for sure a gifted polyglot of PNW languages. Including métis/Canadien French!)

No need to go on. You see my idea: to a great extent, it’s a historical accident that Chinuk Wawa became such a major BC language — when BC was on track to become mostly French-speaking till then!


— from the Grass Valley (CA) Telegraph of June 12, 1858, page 2, column 4

This San Francisco publisher’s ad appeared in newspapers all over California in 1858, in SF, Los Angeles, and San Diego, as well as in northern CA gold towns including Grass Valley, Nevada City, Jackson, Shasta, San Joaquin, Columbia, etc.

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