Circa 1961: Okoke tea, yaka hyas kloshe

Eric Deane Sismey (1893-?) was a post-frontier surveyor in the Okanagan country of British Columbia, so his quotation of Chinook Jargon from a Native man seems worth paying attention to.

tea for the potlatch

Via a link sent to me by reader Alex Code, a 1961 article “Tea for the Potlatch” has Sismey reminiscing about conversations with Indigenous people of BC. 

Subtitled “The West Coast Indians Loved a Brew”, Sismey’s article opens thus: 

sismey 01

sismey 02

I took a second look before I could convince myself that a team of horses hitched to an old buckboard was coming along the dusty road bordering a roadside lake in the Nicola valley. [Southern Interior BC.]

An old Indian, with his klootch, was riding in the ancient rig. I addressed them in Chinook, invited them to stop to share the tea I had just brewed and trout that were browning in a skillet over my tiny fire.

Conversation was a bit strained, both had forgotten much of our Chinook, but my new friend did say, “Okoke tea, yaka hyas kloshe,” which brought to mind that my old Kwakiutl friend, the late James Martin Smith, told me that he first tasted tea at a potlatch given by Johnny Moon at H’kusam in 1894 and that tea, one of the good things brought by early traders, eventually was a part of all Indian social affairs.

— from the Victoria (BC) Daily Colonist of September 17, 1961, page 13

Pretty interesting that a 1961 article, long after the times when Chinuk Wawa was regularly spoken in the province, assumed its readers understood “Okoke tea, yaka hyas kloshe”!

Putting it into Grande Ronde’s style of spelling, that’s úkuk tʰí yaka hayas-ɬúsh: ‘This tea is very good.’ 

It always tugs at my ear a bit when I hear yaka being used in connection with a non-human, non-animate subject, such as ‘tea’ here. But this particular grammatical rule was (like most) not ironclad. (Don’t get a linguist started about the study of “variation”…!)

We do know of southern interior BC Indigenous people sometimes using yaka for ‘it’.

And, author Sismey may have been mentally “translating” this old memory into his own style of Jargon. Settlers were far more prone to using yaka for all 3rd-person subjects, without regard to animacy. 

Probably, for learners’ benefit, I should tell you folks that even though I show this sentence in Grand Ronde spellings, it actually uses a point of grammar that modern G.R. doesn’t have: the Intensifier prefix hayas-. This prefix originated in early-creolized Chinuk Wawa of the lower Columbia River region, and it was taken along in the mad rush north to mine BC gold. But in the meantime, it’s dropped out of Jargon as the Grand Ronde community speaks it!

What do you think?
qʰata mayka təmtəm?