1791-1792: Joseph Ingraham on the PNW coast…

Boston trader Joseph Ingraham (1762-1800) spent a couple of seasons in Haida Gwaii and in Nuuchahnulth country, at a time when numerous Euro-American vessels had already become a common sight…

And yet, in 1791-1792, there’s still fairly little evidence of any coherent pidgin language in those regions.

Ingraham’s own words are in the book that I’ll be referring to today: “Journal of the Brigantine Hope on a voyage to the northwest coast of North America, 1790-92” (Barre, MA: The Imprint Society, 1971).

We do find the Nuuchahnulth / “Nootka Jargon” words pushack (later to become part of Chinook Jargon) and waacom (i.e. the famous exclamation “wakash!”) in use as perceived Haida vocabulary.

And a small but not inconsiderable amount of successful verbal communication does happen between the Indigenous people and the visiting White crews.

As always, we see the Tsimshian word for ‘chief’ (smok ut) in use between Haidas and Whites.

The same or comparable syntax as in other early Haida (and Tsimshian) contacts is found, in the few complete phrases quoted.

The Haida word high loo ‘it’s all gone’ turns up here, as it regularly does in early visitors’ journals. (This went on to be Chinuk Wawa’s hílu ‘none; not’.) 

Thliumun appears as ‘moose’ in the Haida lexicon collected here, and it’s the same word that got used all along the Northwest Coast as clemon ‘elkhide armour’.

But much of the Haida documented by Ingraham (e.g. names of colours; words for the individual fingers) is both wonderfully precise and, therefore, fairly useless as trading vocabulary, thus unlikely to have ever been used in a stable pidgin or taken to other ethnic groups’ territories by visiting traders.

When I take all of this into account, my evaluation is that language contact on the PNW coast had advanced noticeably in the 13 or 14 years since Cook’s pioneering visit. Yet I find scant evidence that Natives and Newcomers were able to communicate ideas of much complexity to each other without augmentation by hand gestures and suchlike. And they definitely were misunderstanding each other on a regular basis. 

Read on…

1791, Haida Gwaii:

Page 100 (8 July): “…it appeared from an hippah — a place of defense — erected on the side of a hill in this harbor that natives had been there recently” [my emphasis] (NZ Māori term apparently, page 107). Compare Colnett 1787-1788patoo” and a few other indications of South Seas Jargon being known by Euro-American mariners who visited PNW.


Page 102 (10 July): “Shortly after, another canoe came off in which were seven men, one among them being a chief. He pointed to the place we had seen in the morning (and of which I made mention as having the appearance of a good harbor) saying there was nuck’y quan — plenty of skins — for which he would trade with us.” [This is pidginized Haida.]


Page 105 (11 July): “They seemed frequently to challenge each other pointing to the shore, but these challenges not being accepted on either side it finally ended without any further mischief. When it began, I hoisted the boarding nettings on which they all called out waa’com, waa’com — terms of friendship.” [I’m curious whether this is a typo, a misreading of the manuscript, or a Haida nativization of the Nuuchahnulth word wakash. See also waa’con below.] 


Page 106 (13 July): “Towards night a large war canoe was seen coming into the cover. While they were at a distance, Cow said they were of his tribe and had plenty of skins, but on a nearer approach he said they were pushack — bad.” [This is pidginized Nuuchahnulth.] 


Page 123 (4 August): “Shortly after, four canoes came off to us of whom we bought five cutsarks and a skin, the whole equal to sixteen skins. A chief came off in one of the canoes who said his name was Kliew.” [I don’t suppose his name was (pidginized) Haida for ‘boat’? Cutsarks is pidginized Nuuchahnulth.]  


Page 130 (10 August): “When trading they will not admit that they sell their skins, but after using every effort and persuasion to obtain the best price and finding you are determined to give no more they will throw the skin towards you saying tingleishtong — I’ll give it to you.” [This is from Haida.]


Page 137 (19 August): “However, while we were at breakfast, I was informed that Skatzi was in a canoe near the vessel calling for me, on which I went up. He stretched out his arms calling out Skatzi waa’con — Skatzi, your friend. I answered him in as friendly a manner as my knowledge of their language permitted and invited him on board.” [See note above about waa’com.]



Page 140-141 (26 August): “When they came near enough to be heard, a man in her called out to me, saying Cummashawaa klootoo klootoo, ill’quaggeh, which I understood to mean that we must go away for it was war.” [This is pidginized Haida.] 

Cummashawas harbour

“Cummashawaas Harbour”, following page 147


Page 151 (no particular date): [Describing the stick game:] “In short, to me it seemed a very complex game, so much so that all my attention, with my slight knowledge of their language, was indifferent to learn its particulars…Their canoes are exactly like the teguinnas of Nootka Sound mentioned in my journal of my last voyage.” [Pidginized Nuuchahnulth word? I haven’t tracked it down yet.] 

Pages 154-155 present a mostly Haida vocabulary, pages 156-157 comments on it. I’m not spotting any multi-word phrases, so there’s not much syntactic information or basis on which I might judge whether this is pidginized Haida. (I’ll have to haul down giant Haida dictionary to carefully check this claim, unless one of my readers does so first.) But as noted already, it contains a couple of foreign words from Tsimshian and Nuuchahnulth. Ingraham notes some Haida dialect differences: 





1792: “A Second Cruise on the Coast”

Haida Gwaii

Pages 191-192: information from a local man about the ships that had previously visited that season; names mentioned are Viana, Moore, Magee, Haswell, and Coolidge. Ingraham is falsely told Cow and Goi are dead. 


a canoe of nootka sound

Illustration of “Nootka” canoe, facing page 195

Page 207: 


“At five several canoes came off to us, calling out waakush — a term of friendship.” [I’m not sure whether waakush is pidginized Nuuchahnulth, or the normal tribal version of that language. With waakush being an exclamation, it’s impossible to judge in the absence of accompanying utterances.]

Page 225: 


“The officer — Mr. Liscombe — who went in the boat, informed that the Indians exulted in their victory, showing their bare breasts, saying Wuktahook poo — we are not afraid of guns.”

[With wuktahook poo, I do think we have a pidginized sentence, with the typical English-influenced word order (Verb – Object), and the verb apparently 3rd person. From Toshihide Nakayama’s book “Nuuchahnulth (Nootka) Morphosyntax”, I see that 1st person plural verb endings can be expected to contain the sound /n/, which we don’t see here. Compare the Makah verb wi•-wik-ity’ak ‘not fear it; fear nothing’, in the 3rd person. Additionally, I suspect poo is more of an onomatopoeia and/or a pidgin verb than a noun…]

Bonus fact:

You can also read “Nootka Sound in 1789: Joseph Ingraham’s Account“, which has virtually no linguistic data, but focuses much more intently on Nuuchahnulth country.

What do you think?
qʰata mayka təmtəm?