1857: California CPE — Chinese coffins

Settlers on the West Coast typically understood Chinese Pidgin English well!

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Chinese coffins, mass destruction (image credit: ABC News Australia)

That’s quite something, as linguists consider CPE a separate language having its own lexicon and grammar.

The proof is in the large numbers of published quotations of CPE speakers, aimed at a regular-folks White audience, that never receive a translation.

Now that CPE hasn’t been much heard in the West for decades, apart from a few pop-culture echoes like “me likee” and “number one son”, can you understand what’s quoted below?

chinese coffins

CHINESE COFFINS.  — The Hongkong Gazette of 13th June says, that one of the Chinese overseers under government, has been making application to several of the master carpenters in that city lately, for the lowest rate per hundred or per thousand for Chinese pine coffins, to be supplied monthly for an undefined period. Of course, the inference drawn by the Chinese citizens from this novel application is, that no matter what the cost of life, the war, when the soldiers come on, is to succeed. The Chinese informants of the editor wound up their announcement of the news a la “Backus,” as follows: “Tluly that thing welly culio — How can so fashion? — That China man no undelstand that thing— So muchee man kill ’em fightee eh! Ey-yau! Tluly welly culio. That China no undelstand that thing.” 

— from the San Francisco (CA) Daily Alta California of August 15, 1857, page 2, column 7

I think the Backus mentioned is the colonial-era American Rev. Charles Backus, whose sermons were widely published. But I haven’t read them to understand the comparison better. Any of you folks know more?

The way I understand the (West Coast variety) Chinese Pidgin English quotation,which looks more or less realistic except for the fancy “-ly” adverb (tluly, which is probably an imitation of Backus’s style) — “Truly that this is very curious — How can it be so? — Those Chinese don’t understand these things — Ah, so many people killing and fighting! Ey-yau! Truly very curious. China doesn’t understand these things.”

What do you think?
Kahta mika tum-tum?