1921: Alaskan “Eyak” Jargon is a mix of pidgins!

Well after the frontier period, a Chinook Jargon invitation in Alaska is quite a different animal from “the classic Chinook”.

eyak eagle totem poles

Eyak eagle totem poles from potlatch house at Cordova, Alaska (image credit: Totem Tales/Honoring Eyak)

Weirdly, though, it sounds genuine for the place and time.

There are strong influences in it from pidgin-style English, maybe from Chinese immigrants’ and Native people’s speech.

There are also reflections back from local English, which had taken in and mutated some Jargon words.

The “Eagles” supposedly issuing this Chinuk Wawa invitation appear to be the Eagle matrilineal moiety (~clan) of the Eyak Tribe in Cordova, which indeed was the northwesternmost CW-using tribe that we know of. They’re also the northwesternmost totem pole makers.

That’s unusual, as these invitations were normally issued by fraternal organizations among the Settlers — and I think this is actually a Fraternal Order of Eagles lodge! The article uses that group’s lingo, referring to a local “aerie”, i.e. chapter. Cordova, one of the first incorporated towns in Alaska, had a chapter by 1914.

Unfortunately I’m convinced that the following was made up by Settlers to mock the Native people. But it may reflect certain local linguistic realities…

See if “You Kumtux?” (You ‘understand’?)

you kumtux


Couched in classic Chinook, the
old Hudson Bay traders’ language
used with the Indians for many
years, the Eagles of Cordova an-
nounced literally that they were go-
ing to have a party for all Eagles
and their wives and families. at
which they would have a lot to eat
but that no hootch would be allowed.
The Chinook invitation reads as fol-

“The object of the get together
movement is one that has made more
than one fraternal organization and
is going to be tried out by the local
aerie. So all Eagles yu ketchum
klutch, yu klatawa Eagles stick, how-
bish maybe so potlach hiyu muck-
muck you come halo sun taken pa-
poose tenas klutchman halo hootch.
Hiyu wawa maybe so hiyu tee hee.
Hiyu Foster plenty wawa. Tenas
Dooley halo wawa. Fled Slinger hi-
yu muckmuck.

— from the Douglas City (AK) Douglas Island News of January 21, 1921, page 2, column 4

Taking a close look at that, I’ll bold only the words that definitely have something to do with known Chinuk Wawa from other places and times, and I’m adding footnotes and my suggested translation:

So all Eagles yu ketchum [1]
‘So all Eagle (clan members), you get’
klutch, [2] yu klatawa Ø [3] Eagles stick, [4] how-
‘(your) wives, you go to the Eagle totem poles, How-‘ 
bish maybe so potlach hiyu muck-
‘bish [a personal name?] might give out lots of’ 
you come halo sun taken [5] pa-
food, you come after sunset, bring the’ 
poose Ø [6] tenas klutchman halo hootch. [7]

‘kids (and) girls, no booze.’ 
Hiyu wawa
maybe so hiyu tee hee. [8]
‘There’ll be lots of speeches, maybe lots of fun.’ 
Hiyu [9]
Foster plenty wawa. Tenas
‘Big Foster will talk a lot. Little’ 
Dooley halo wawa. Fled Slinger [10] hi-
‘Dooley won’t talk at all. Fred S(l)inger will’ 
yu muckmuck
‘eat a lot.’

[1] Ketchum ‘get’ is a pidgin English verb (catch ’em) also well known in British Columbia Chinook Jargon.

[2] Klutch ‘woman; wife’ is known throughout Settler English in the northern Pacific Northwest, primarily in BC. It’s a shortening of the borrowed CJ word ɬúchmən.

[3] Ø, that is the silent (or lack of) preposition kopa ‘to’, is genuine CJ.

[4] Stick, in the context, is pretty sure to mean ‘totem pole(s)’. We don’t have much information on what totem poles were usually called in CJ, although an audio recording of carver Mungo Martin has him calling them tʰúmtʰum-stìk. By 1921 the above-pictured totem poles may have been taken by Whites for their own use.

[5] Taken may very well be pidgin English-style takee/takemknown to us in both Chinese Pidgin English and some Chinuk Wawa dialects.

[6] This Ø signals a silent (or lack of) conjunction pi ‘and’; it’s a known and common structure in BC Chinook Jargon. 

[7] This document is one of the few that proves the connection between the Lingít-origin hooch ‘alcohol’ and CJ! It was only known in Alaskan CJ (and English) use, at first.

[8] Tee hee is a well-documented variant of CJ híhi ‘fun; laughter; etc.’

[9] Hiyu Foster looks to be a typical CJ personal name, with the first part being Jargon and the second a typical Settler-style name. It bears traces of Settler CJ use, since hiyu (háyú) fundamentally means ‘lots of; plenty; many; much’ but it’s being used here as ‘Big’. Post-frontier Whites used the word this way all the time. By 1921 or so, it had also come to mean a Settler ‘party; celebration’, which might be hinted at here as well.

[10] “Fled Slinger” might be someone actually called “Fred Singer” or Slinger; the eye-dialect spelling evokes Chinese Pidgin English, which was often represented as being filled with intrusive “L” sounds. It also evokes Native pronunciations of English-language “R”.

Bonus fact:

The “Dooleys” were a group of captive bears on Mayflower Island over in Juneau. (There was lots of news coverage of these bears in the local paper.)

But I think our Dooley here is the Deputy Marshal in Valdez, the nearest non-Native settlement to Cordova.

I haven’t yet figured out who Foster or “Slinger” were; any ideas?

What do you think?
qʰata mayka təmtəm?