James A. Teit writing in Chinook Jargon

Thanks to Dr. Wendy Wickwire…


James Alexander Teit (1864-1922) (image credit: Wikipedia)

…for passing along an article by Roy Gronneberg, “James Teit–friend of the Indians” that appeared in the “New Shetlander”, no. 126 (Yule number) 1978, pages 28-29.

I’d never heard of this piece!

It includes a bit of a letter dated Dec. 20, 1902 from Teit to his friend Haldane Burgess.

The letter accompanied a Chinook dictionary, so Teit wrote a paragraph in CJ for his friend to practice translating.

What a gift to us all, because this is a fluent Settler speaker’s representation of how he perceived southern interior BC (Kamloops-area) Chinuk Wawa to sound.

The part that’s in CJ goes like this…

  • (Apostrophes = Teit’s accent marks;
  • [CAPITALIZED square-bracketed stuff] = Teit’s own English translation of a word, which I’ll respect when I translate his letter later in this post;
  • any misspellings are due to the writer & typesetters at the journal, who couldn’t be expected to know Jargon.)

“Tena’s a’nkotte na’ika tlap pe’pa ko’pa na’ika tellekom Magnus Jamieson
kla’sla [WHO] me’tlait ko’pa Levenwik, pe ya’ka wa’wa kopa naika: ‘Hai’as
tloos poos na’ika cha’ko kopa ya’ka o’kook kool, pe me’tlait konamokst.’
Tena’s a’nkotte ya’ka me’maloost ight mo’osmoos pe ya’ka huihui haiyu’ dlai
pish, ka’kwa yaka stop [HAS] haiyu’ mo’kamok, pe ya’ka te’ke na’ika
ko’namokst ya’ka mo’kamok ko’nawe. Ya’ka ma’mook pish ko’nawe o’kook
kapi’t [LAST] warm, pe ya’ka tena’s too’ls [GAIN] chi’kamen, ka’kwa ya’ka
wa’wa tlona’s le’le ya’ka meli-i’. Naika komto’ks ya’ka to’mlon [HEART] —
ya’ka te’ke e’lep kopa’ na’ika, pe te’ke haiyu’ hi’hi poos na’ika ki’mta.
Pe na’ika to’mlon [THINK] ya’ka tsi’pi — poos ya’ka he’lo i’skom
kloo’tchman haia’k tlona’s na’ika e’lep. Na’ika kola’n te’llekom tlap
haiia’ [PLENTY] pish ko’pa Shetland o’kook warm. Dlet tloos ka’kwa, poos
kwa’nsem ka’kwa dlet e’lep tloos. Wek le’le na’ika tla’tawa moo’sem ka’kwa
na’ika ma’mook kapi’t o’kook pe’pa a’lla [NOW].”

Many of Teit’s spellings appear as if they’re influenced by those of Father Le Jeune of Kamloops, when not writing in the Chinuk Pipa alphabet. The two men were acquainted with one another, and to some extent worked together in support of Indigenous rights. Somewhere I believe I still have a letter in Thompson Salish from Teit to Le Jeune.

But Teit was a Shetlander, a far-north Scotsman by birth and upbringing, so his way of writing Chinook words might well reflect his accent also.

Now to do our deep dive into Teit’s Chinuk Wawa. Here I’m going to silently correct the misspellings introduced by modern folks having a hard time with his handwriting in this language:

Tena’s a’nkotte na’ika tlap pe’pa ko’pa na’ika tellekom Magnus
tənəs-ánqati nayka t’ɬáp pípa kʰupa nayka tílixam mǽgnəs*
little-previously I get letter from my friend Magnus
‘Recently I received a letter from my friend Magnus’

kla’ska [WHO] [1] me’tlait ko’pa Levenwik, pe ya’ka wa’wa kopa naika:
djéyməsən ɬaska* mí(t)ɬayt kʰupa lévənwik*, pi yaka wáwa kʰupa nayka:
Jamieson who live at Levenwik, and he say to me:
‘Jamieson who lives at Levenwik, and he says to me:’

‘Hai’as tloos poos na’ika cha’ko kopa ya’ka [2] o’kook kool, [3] pe me’tlait konamokst.’
hayas-(t)ɬúsh pus nayka cháku kʰupa yaka úkuk kʰúl, pi mí(t)ɬayt kʰánumákwst.’
very-good if I come to him this winter, and stay together
‘I really should come to his place this winter [or year], ‘

Tena’s a’nkotte ya’ka me’maloost [4] ight mo’osmoos pe ya’ka huihui haiyu’
tənəs-ánqati yaka míməlust íxt músmus pi yaka húyhuy háyú
little-previously he die one cow and he trade much
‘Recently he killed one cow and he traded for a lot of’

pish, ka’kwa yaka stop [HAS] haiyu’ mo’kamok, pe ya’ka te’ke [5]
dláy písh, kákwa yaka stáp* háyú mə́kʰmək, pi yaka tíki
dry fish, so he have much food, and he want
‘dried fish, so he has lots of food, and he wants’

na’ika ko’namokst ya’ka mo’kamok ko’nawe. Ya’ka ma’mook pish ko’nawe
nayka kʰánumákwst yaka mə́kʰmək kʰánawi. yaka mamuk-písh* kʰánawi
I together.with him eat all. he make-fish all
‘me together with him to eat it all. He fished all’

o’kook kapi’t [LAST] [6] warm, pe ya’ka tena’s too’lo [GAIN] chi’kamen, ka’kwa
úkuk kʰəpít wám, pi yaka tənəs-túlu-chíkʰəmin, kákwa
this finished summer, and he little-earn-money, so
‘this last summer, and he gained a bit of money, so’

ya’ka wa’wa tlona’s le’le [7] ya’ka meli-i’. Naika komto’ks ya’ka to’mtom [HEART] —
yaka wáwa t’ɬúnas líli yaka malyí. nayka kə́mtəks yaka tə́mtəm —
he say maybe long.time he marry. I know his heart —
‘he says he might (not[!]) soon get married. I know his heart –‘

ya’ka te’ke [8] e’lep kopa’ na’ika, pe te’ke haiyu’ hi’hi poos na’ika ki’mta.
yaka tíki íləp kʰupa nayka, pi tíki hayu-híhi pus nayka kimt’á.
he want be.in.front from me, and want much-laugh if I behind.
‘he wants to be out front of me, and wants to laugh it up if I’m behind.’

Pe na’ika to’mtom [THINK] ya’ka tsi’pi — poos ya’ka he’lo i’skom
pi nayka tə́mtəm yaka t’sípi — pus yaka hílu ískam
and I think he mistaken — if he not choose
‘But I think he’s wrong — if he doesn’t take’

kloo’tchman haia’k tlona’s na’ika e’lep. Na’ika kola’n te’llekom tlap
(k)ɬúchmən (h)áyáq[,] t’ɬúnas nayka íləp. nayka q’wəlán tílixam t’ɬáp
woman fast, maybe I be.in.front. I hear people catch
‘a wife soon, I reckon I’ll be first. I hear the people caught’

haiiu’ [PLENTY] pish ko’pa Shetland o’kook warm. Dlet tloos ka’kwa,
háyú písh* kʰupa shétlənd* úkuk wám. dlét (t)ɬúsh kákwa,
much fish in Shetland this summer. really good like.that,
‘plenty of fish in Shetland this summer. This is really good,’

poos kwa’nsem ka’kwa dlet e’lep tloos. Wek le’le na’ika tla’tawa moo’sem [9]
pus kwánsəm kákwa[,] dlét íləp-(t)ɬúsh. wík-líli nayka ɬátwa músəm[,]
if always so[,] really more-good. not-long.time I go sleep
‘(and) if’s always so, it’s certainly even better. Pretty soon I’m going to sleep,’

ka’kwa na’ika ma’mook kapi’t o’kook pe’pa a’lta [NOW].
kákwa nayka mamuk-kʰəpít úkuk pípa álta.
so I make-finished this letter now.
‘so I’ll finish this letter now.’

Comments on Teit’s letter:

First off, it’s totally straight BC Chinuk Wawa, for instance in its use of the frequent (but undocumented in dictionaries of that time) verb stop ‘have; be located somewhere; exist’. Teit’s apparent spelling too’lo ‘gain; earn’ seems to correspond with how we pronounce the name of the modern Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics based, guess where, in Kamloops, BC.

Now some detailed observations:

…kla’ska [WHO] [1] me’tlait ko’pa… ‘(Magnus,)…who lives at…’ — this is a very Settler way to form a relative clause in Chinook Jargon. Those speakers not so heavily under the influence of English typically do not use any special word for the ‘who’ here. If they use any pronoun at all, they use yaka ‘he’ to reflect Magnus. They would never use this word klaska (ɬaska) ‘they’! But let me amaze you: there’s a solid and very genuinely BC reason why Teit wrote klaska rather than klaksta (ɬaksta, which is the question word for ‘who?’). My dissertation documents the fact that basically everybody in BC was confusing klaska & klaksta. That was able to happen because the fluent speakers so seldom used the plural pronoun klaksta, preferring to just use the technically singular yaka ‘he; she’ for all 3rd persons. 

…cha’ko kopa ya’ka [2] … is where I want to remind you that kopa + a pronoun expresses ‘at her place‘, ‘at our place‘, etc. etc. 

O’kook kool [3] could equally mean either ‘this winter’ or ‘this year’. But because Teit goes on to refer to ‘this summer’ in [6], I understand him to be contrasting the two seasons. 

Ya’ka me’maloost [4] ight mo’osmoos (‘he killed one cow’) is identifiably Settler as well. In using the unmodified verb root me’maloost (‘die’) for ‘kill’ (rather than the normal causative for mamook-memaloost known in all dialects), Teit is part of a trend. English-speaking settlers had a strong tendency of analogizing from the pair of simple roots, ‘die : kill’, to incorrectly say memaloost : memaloost. That’s part of the anglophone “accent” in Jargon 😁 Proof? Francophones, for whatever reason, didn’t seem to do this; the French speakers I can think of off the top of my head always correctly said mamook-memaloost, even though their language also has simple roots for both, mourir : tuer

Ya’ka te’ke [5] na’ika ko’namokst ya’ka mo’kamok… (‘he wants me(,) together with him(,) to eat…’). Hmm. This too is regular old Settler use of Chinook. The best practices of Chinooking have us throw in the “irrealis” particle poos (in Teit’s spellings) after “want”, when followed by a subject different from the “wanter”. Because the “wanter” is Magnus, and the following subject is both Magnus and Teit, we should expect to see that poos. This omission is another parallelism with English. Think of how we casually say “He wants me and him to eat…”, even though we’re able to use the equivalent of poos: (in some dialects) “He wants for me and him to eat…” or (very formal) “He wants that I and he eat”. Again a clear contrast can be made with Francophones who speak Jargon; they routinely stick to the standard Jargon grammar. I expect this is because their casual language has a word, que, that functions very much like the irrealis poos. Did I mention that the Settler lingua franca was and is English?

An expression that seems new to me is Teit’s kapi’t [LAST] [6] warm ‘last summer’. (Or, parallel to note [3], last year’). I can see how he came up with it, because kapi’t means ‘finished’, so this evidently sounded like ‘the finished summer’ to his mind’s ear. But kapi’t only means ‘finished’ in any dialect of Chinuk Wawa in the stative-verb sense of ‘be finished; be all done’ — I mean it’s only a “predicative adjective”, not an “attributive adjective” that can directly modify a noun. I’m not sure I can even chalk this particular expression up to the influence of Teit’s native English. It may just be from his well-documented love of language, a show of his creativity. 

Tlona’s le’le [7] ya’ka meli-i’ is literally ‘maybe in a long while he’ll get married’. But the context is Magnus’s report of how he’s prospered quite a bit recently, and of beating Teit to the accomplishment of getting married. So it makes next-to-no sense that Magnus or Teit would be seriously speaking of having to wait a long time to do so. Therefore I believe that Teit simply left out one little word by accident, the negative wek. I think he intended to write wek le’le ‘not long’, just as he actually does in the last sentence. I should say that we’d normally expect wek le’le to be followed by pe ‘and’. The fact that Teit slipped up and used only one word of what’s routinely a 3-word expression suggests to me that he had in mind some 1-word near-synonym, such as his haia’k ‘quickly; soon’! Again the English language may have been an influencer, since we normally express this concept with single words. 

Ya’ka te’ke [8] e’lep kopa’ na’ika is the kind of expression that can be tricky to state clearly in Chinuk Wawa. I’m confident Teit is saying ‘He wants to be ahead of me’. His CW wording is literally ‘he wants ahead of me’. Stop right now, if you’re thinking that that wording makes sense, because you yourself are under the spell of English. In English you can say ‘he wants ahead of me’, but that’s a resultive construction, i.e. it communicates that ‘he wants to get ahead of me’. Teit’s not saying that in Jargon, I think. The context in the letter indicates that he means Magnus wants to [already] be ahead of Teit. I can’t say that the CJ phrasing here is quite wrong, but I know that it would be much more clear if one or two words were added. Option (A): say Ya’ka te’ke ya’ka e’lep kopa’ na’ika, ‘he wants him being ahead of me’. Much better is Option (B): say Ya’ka te’ke poos ya’ka e’lep kopa’ na’ika, ‘he wants that he be ahead of me / he wants for him to be ahead of me’.

• If you’re remembering footnote [5]‘s comment that poos is used when the following subject differs from the subject of te’ke ‘want’, forget that now. A slightly different reason explains why we’d use poos here in footnote [8]. What matters here is that what’s wanted by Magnus is for himself to be in a currently-merely-hypothetical state of existence, ‘being ahead’. And hypothetical states are introduced by the “irrealis” particle…poos. (But, as in English and French, hypothetical actions need no such introduction, so we say e.g. nayka tiki məkʰmək / I want to eat / je veux manger, and not *nayka tiki pus məkʰmək / *I want that I eat / *je veux que je mange.)

• Another point: if you’ve stayed with me this far in our journey around the tip of a pin, I’ll have you know that Teit’s use of
e’lep as a stative verb is metaphorical. He’s of course not speaking of Magnus being situated somewhere physically in front of Teit (which would involve the use of the locative copula me’tlait). I’m not 100% sure but I think this is a “calque” directly translating from a specifically English idiom that has no conventional equivalent within Chinuk Wawa.

There now, the horse is flogged to death and I can go no further. 

Moo’sem [9] is actually a somewhat rare word in BC Chinook. Instead, I’ve more often found the more-recent loan of the English word sleep. But that loanword isn’t in the old Jargon dictionaries, and Teit wanted his friend to look up some vocabulary, so he used the word that is found in print there. 

Bonus fact:

Teit’s mention of trying to find a wife is poignant. His first wife, Nɬeʔképmx Salish woman Lucy Antko, had died just a couple of years earlier.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?