1893: It’s easy to ridicule linguistics — but let’s leave Chinook out of it!

The best tie-in here is, to my surprise, to Chinuk Wawa.


RLG (image credit: Amazon)

Richard Lynch Garner was a pioneer in studying communication among non-human species, particularly the great apes. Fun fact, he invented his own phonetic notation system for that purpose…

dr do

Dr D (image credit: YouTube)

Amazingly enough, I haven’t found evidence that Garner inspired the fictional character of Dr. Dolittle, who “can talk to the animals”.


JPH (image credit: Wikipedia)

But Garner, it turns out, inspired ethnologist-linguist John Peabody Harrington, who did some of the finest scientific documentation of Chinook Jargon aond many, many, many other Native North American languages.

(Garner’s work also formed a basis for later research by scientists such as Robert Yerkes and John “Day of the Dolphin” Lilly.)

It’s coincidental that the reporter who penned the following for a paper that I carried as a kid also thought of the Jargon in connection wtih Garner, making use of an existing Pacific Northwest trope that made this language out to be ridiculous…


Trade Possibilities.

Prof. Garner has made a big success
of his monkey business. He writes from
Africa that he has succeeded beyond the
extreme of his expectations in learning
and recording the language of the sim-
ians. He has written down phonetically
about 200 words, and thinks there are
about 30 words that he has not succeeded
in catching. He has taught a chimpan-
zee to say a few words in Maori, and a
gorilla to converse to the extent of 20
words in Fijian. If this be true, the
simian vocabulary must be quite as com-
plete as the chinook, and since that
mongrel language was sufficient for the
carrying on of an annual commerce in-
volving millions of dollars, there is a
reasonable expectation that within a few
years the thrifty Yankee trader will be
carrying on trade relations with the
monkeys of Africa and South America,
and swapping rum, tobacco, beads and
ornaments for the products of the forest
and the jungle. It is also within the
range of possibilities that the king of
the chimpanzee may yet be received at
the court of St. James. — Spokane Re-

— from the The Dalles (OR) Daily Chronicle of May 6, 1893, page 3, column 3


What do you think?