1873: Rare Kwakwaka’wakw Chinuk Wawa

Not only is it kind of rare to find Kwakwaka‘wakw people quoted speaking Chinuk Wawa, but we also learn some colorful new expressions by listening to them do that.

“Kwakiutl” country is at a remote western part of the Chinook Jargon zone. While there are a number of CJ loan words in the Kwak’wala language, the best analysis I’ve got is that Kwakwaka‘wakw people mostly picked up & used Jargon in the Victoria area.

Many Northwest Coast tribes had a similar pattern, prominently the people of Haida Gwaii, who likewise are seldom quoted talking CJ in their home territories.

Possibly the most delicious nugget here is yet another confirmation that the word “shit” (here “s—“) was proper CW. Cussin’ in Jargon, I told you so!

We also learn how to say ‘down sail’ (strike/lower your sails).

Evidence that all of this is genuine BC Chinook Jargon is in the unusual spellings — the reporter didn’t slow down to compare with a published dictionary — and, I suppose, the fact that this was all said under oath.

We’re also treated to a number of Kwak’wala expressions here. I’m wondering if some of them should be seen as pidginized Kwak’wala used with Settlers.

I say so due to the marginal competence in that language reported by a couple of the witnesses.

Also some of the Kwak’wala words cited, e.g. ‘ship’ and ‘powerful’, are being used as if they were direct translations from “Chinook”. The word for ‘ship’, for instance, is glossed here as ‘steamer or man-of-war’, both of which are identifiable as Vancouver Island-area Chinuk Wawa words.

Need I point out, the following oldtime article uses words that were then current, but that we find problematic now.

kwakwala cj 1

kwakwala cj 2 3

J.F. McGrath[‘s] sworn [evidence]…

Mr. Sullivan hailed the canoe to stop and told the Indians in chinook who he was; the words were “nika tyhee policeman Victoria, nika tickee naanich mika whiskey;” [1] or in other words “I am the Chief of Police Victoria, and I want to see it if you have got whiskey;”…

…there were seven Indian men in the canoe, manned by Fort Ruperts; got alongside; they had their guns out, ready to fire, they said policeman s—; [2]

Mr. Sullivan told Louis to tell them in their own tongue, Fort Rupert, that he (Mr. S.) was the tyhee policeman from Victoria…

…I don’t know the Fort Rupert language thoroughly; I understood what Louis told the Indians; I heard him say Mr. Sullivan was the clokimas [łok̕wimas ‘powerful, strong, healthy’] policeman, — which means strong or chief…

…one named Awalles stood up…and made insulting remarks and gestures, — words of contempt towards the police — and the gunboats — Kinkialla [xiḵa̱’yala ‘ship’] — which means a steamer or a man-of-war…

…the Superintendent shouted to them [a second canoe’s occupants] to stop, as also the Indians in their own language — mash yokim [maybe compare ǥwa’s! ‘stop!’ + ya’wix’id ‘moving’ or yawaba̱m ‘sail; canvas’] [3]

…Mr. Sullivan asked them why they didn’t stop, didn’t they know who he was; they replied they knew him; a woman answered “nika kumtux mika, — (I know you.) ikta mika tickee[4] — (I know you, what do you want?)

Mr. Sullivan replied “nika tickee naanich mika canim, mika [sic] tum-tum whiskey micklaht,” [5] which means, I want to see your canoe, I think you have got whiskey…

…we were probably 100 yards distant [from another canoe] when we hailed them, Mr. S. first telling them to mash sail, [6] (down sail) and, as before, who he was; I also told them, as did Louis and the Indians, in the Coqwa tongue, who Mr. Sullivan was……our Indian woman said they were bad; they would not stop…we came up, and Mr. S. asked them why they did not mash their sail

…Mr. S. said: “Nika tickee okok whiskey, [7] (I want that whiskey.) Tom’s woman answered, Kaos [compare k̓i ‘no’] (no)…the woman…told Tom to get his musket; the words were Huntlum [ha̱ntła̱m ‘gun’], (and some others,) which means a musket in the Fort Rupert tongue; the other words I didn’t understand; but I believed she meant that Tom was to get his musket…

…I think Mr. Sullivan said to Tom before he fired, “closh nanitch,” [8] (look out) and warned him to drop the pistol; the Indian told him to fire, — “pooh;”…Tom said [9] “closh pooh,” (very good, shoot)…

Evidence of Louis, “a half-breed Indian”…

…when we came to the canoe in which the men were shot, Mr. Sullivan told them in Chinook to stop. [The words used were the same as given by the former witness.] The canoe would not stop; we got alongside and Mr. Sullivan said “Closh potlatch whisky”; [10]

…the Indian took his box, tried to open it, and said “closh pooh mikah,” [sic] [11] which means, you better shoot me…

…Mr. Sullivan, before firing, said to the Indian, “closh mash okok” [12] (throw it away)…

…I don’t know the names of the Indians shot; two belonged to the Clowitsas tribe, and two to the Tanachtas; all speak the same language; I told them in Chinook, it is good for you to stop, there is a policeman here…Comah, an Indian in our canoe, called out, when coming up to No. 3 canoe of Indians, in the Fort Rupert language, you had better stop; they understood it; I understand the Fort Rupert language, but can’t speak it…

Comah’s evidence…

The evidence of the witness, who spoke only a little Chinook, was interpreted by a half-breed named Joe Pascaro…[As was the evidence of the next witness, a Nimkish woman known as Aakayoawak]

— from “The East Coast Indian Shooting Affair./INVESTIGATION BEFORE A.F. PEMBERTON, S.M.” in the Victoria (BC) Daily Standard of May 19, 1873, page 3, columns 1-3


“nika tyhee policeman Victoria, nika tickee naanich mika whiskey;” [1] or in other words “I am the Chief of Police Victoria, and I want to see it if you have got whiskey”. This is straightforward: nayka táyí polis-mán Victoria, nayka tíki nánich mayka wíski ‘I’m the Chief of Police(,) Victoria, I want to see your whiskey”. That phrase tyhee policeman Victoria is a straight word-for-word translation, a calque, from English, and it sounds weird in Chinook. 

policeman s—; [2] Clearly meaning ‘cops are shit!’ in Jargon. Newspapers of the time were skating on thin ice just by printing the bowdlerized oath “s—“, so it isn’t any surprise that no translation is given. Anyways, both words are of English origin; readers would have no difficulty with this sentence. 

mash yokim [3]: maybe compare Kwak’wala ǥwa’s! ‘stop!’ + ya’wix’id ‘moving’ or Chinuk Wawa másh + a typological error for yawaba̱m ‘sail; canvas’, in a direct translation of CW mash sail in footnote 6. I think this latter view is likelier. 

“nika kumtux mika, — (I know you.) ikta mika tickee[4] — (I know you, what do you want?) nayka kə́mtəks mayka, íkta mayka tíki?

“nika tickee naanich mika canim, mika [sic] tum-tum whiskey micklaht,” [5] which means, I want to see your canoe, I think you have got whiskey. nayka tíki nánich mayka kəním, nayka tə́mtəm wíski míɬayt ‘I want to look at your canoe, I think there’s whiskey (there)’. The mika is clearly a typesetting error, cf. footnote 11. 

mash sail, [6] (down sail) = másh síl ‘remove sail’. 

Nika tickee okok whiskey, [7] (I want that whiskey.) nayka tíki úkuk wíski.

“closh nanitch,” [8] (look out) = ɬúsh nánich, an extremely common BC Chinuk Wawa expression. 

fire, — “pooh;”…Tom said [9] “closh pooh,” (very good, shoot)… p’ú ‘shoot’, ɬúsh p’ú ~ ‘go ahead and shoot’. I’m used to the imperative in BC CW being formed with ɬúsh + a subject pronoun mayka + verb, so this briefer phrasing sounds influenced by Settlers’ English. It seems significant that the speaker translates his own closh as ‘very good’ and ‘you’d better’! 

“Closh potlatch whisky”; [10] is untranslated; ɬúsh pá(t)lach wíski ~ ‘go ahead & give (me) the whiskey’.

“closh pooh mikah,” [sic] [11] you better shoot me = ɬúsh p’ú nayka ~’go ahead & shoot me’. I don’t seriously think mikah here was meant as ‘you’ (thus literally ‘go ahead & shoot, you!’). This seems like a run-of-the-mill typesetter’s error for nikah* ‘me’, cf. footnote 5. 

“closh mash okok” [12] (throw it away) = ɬúsh másh úkuk ~ ‘go ahead & toss that’. 

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?