1915: “J. Sox” Brown accepts invitation w/the “sitkum dollar” joke!

Twenty-five years after the closing of the frontier era, this Chinook Jargon from Canadian-born pioneer Josiah Sawyer “J. Sox” Brown (1845-1932) had to be translated for newspaper readers…

j sox brown

J. Sox Brown (image credit: Facebook)

But, for related reasons, the editor didn’t have to bother pointing out what appears to be an instance of the already vintage “sitkum dollar joke“.

Today’s news clipping is part of the then-burgeoning genre of Chinook invitations to oldtimers’ get-togethers.

What we have here is a less common variation — a Chinuk Wawa reply to such an invitation.

First read and see if you follow. I’ll add commentary after.

j sox brown

J. SOX BROWN SENDS UNIQUE ACCEPTANCE OF WEIR’S INVITATION

OLYMPIA, Feb. 22. — State Representative J. Sox Brown, of Rochester, a pioneer of this section, has penned a unique reply to an invitation sent by Allen Weir, secretary of the Thurston County Pioneer & Historical society, to attend the annual meeting and reunion of the society, which will be held in Olympia March 2. Governor Lister will preside over the meeting, while Attorney Charles D. King will deliver the address of the day. Representative Brown’s acceptance was as follows: 

“Allen Weir, Copa chook illihie, Delate nika tillicum, Alta nika iskum mika ‘tsum, ka mika wa wa Klosh muckamuck, conomox ankutty tillicums pe March 2. Spose halo mamock okok sun, hyas house ka konoway tyess milite nika tum-tum klosh nika chaco ka chook tillicums mamook muckamuck, pe sitkum dolla hyas klosh. Nika tika mamook klosh tim-tum.
“J. SOX BROWN.”

Which being interpreted means: “Allen Weir, at this land, my straight friend. Now I got your letter in which you tell about good food with old time friends on March 2. If we have no work on that day at the big house where all the chiefs live, I think it good for me to come where those friends eat dinner, and half a dollar is very good. I want to make good friends. 
           “J. SOX BROWN.”

— from the Tacoma (WA) Daily Ledger, Feb 23, 1915, page 12

There are a number of typographical mistakes made at the newspaper office that make this Chinook text more challenging to read than it needed to be. It still merits a closer look by us. Here the notation “DDR” indicates my own translation:

Allen Weir, Copa chook illihie, Delate nika tillicum, Alta nika iskum [1] mika ‘tsum, [2] ka mika wa wa
álən* wír*, kʰupa úkuk ílihi, dléyt nayka tílixam, álta nayka ískam mayka t’sə́m, qʰá mayka wáwa
Allen Weir, in this place, really my friend, now I get your writing, where you say
DDR: ‘Allen Weir, in this town, truly my friend, now I’ve taken your writing, where you talk about’
Allen Weir, at this land, my straight friend. Now I got your letter in which you tell about’ 

Klosh muckamuck, conomox ankutty tillicums pe [3] March 2. Spose halo mamock okok sun, Ø hyas
ɬúsh mə́kʰmək, kʰánumákwst ánqati tílixam-s pi márch* tʰú*. spus hílu mámuk úkuk sán, Ø
háyás
good food, together.with old.time friend-s and March 2. if no work that day,
big
DDR: ‘good food, with oldtime friends and [sic] March 2. If there’s no work that day, at the big’
good food with old time friends on March 2. If we have no work on that day at the big’ 

house ka konoway tyess milite nika tum-tum klosh [4] nika chaco ka chook tillicums mamook [5]
háws qʰá kʰánawi táyí-s míɬayt nayka tə́mtəm ɬúsh nayka cháku qʰá úkuk tílixam-s mámuk
building where all chief-s stay I think good I come where those friend-s make
DDR: ‘building where all the chiefs are(,) I think it’s good that I come where those people make’
house where all the chiefs live, I think it good for me to come where those friends eat’ 

muckamuck, pe sitkum dolla hyas klosh. Nika tika mamook klosh tim-tum. [6]
mə́kʰmək, pi sítkum dála hayas-ɬúsh. nayka tíki mamuk-ɬúsh-tə́mtəm.
food, and half dollar very-good. I want make-good-heart.
DDR: ‘food, and half a dollar is very good. I want to cultivate good relationships.’
dinner, and half a dollar is very good. I want to make good friends.’

The Notes:

When I was first teaching myself Chinuk Wawa, I felt confused about the presence of several words translated as ‘get, take’ in the old dictionaries. I don’t feel confused any more. Each of those words has a distinct meaning. So lúlu means to ‘take’ as ‘carry (along with you)’. And t’ɬáp means ‘to take or get’ by luck, including the way any hunter ‘takes’ a deer. By contrast, ískam means ‘to get’ or ‘take up’ by choice and effort, often specifically ‘to pick something up’ with your hands, or to ‘to choose or pick something out’. Today’s writer says nika iskum [1] mika ‘tsum, which to me then means ‘I picked up your letter’. I grade this as a “B” effort, since he almost certainly means ‘I received your letter’…

I don’t want to get too excited about the spelling ‘tsum [2] having that apostrophe in it. That mark could potentially have been Brown’s try at catching the “popping” or “ejective” sound that starts Chinuk Wawa’s word t’sə́m. It could be a typographical error, though 🙂 My main idea in creating this footnote is instead to point out that the more common word for ‘a letter’ in CW is pípa. So, maybe Brown’s Jargon was a little rusty by 1915. I’d bet money on that.  

The phrase mika wa wa Klosh muckamuck, conomox ankutty tillicums pe [3] March 2 means literally ‘you talk about good food, with oldtime friends and [sic] March 2′. This intrusion of an unexpected “and” is something we’ve seen from various other Settler speakers of Chinuk Wawa. Here it takes the place of a preposition. 

Settler speakers of Jargon often show another habit, of leaving out an expected pus (the marker of “irrealis”, hypothetical clauses). Thus for Brown’s nika tum-tum klosh [4] nika chaco ‘I think it’s good that I come’, we would expect fluent Jargon to say nayka tə́mtəm ɬúsh pus nayka cháku in order to more clearly express ‘I think it’s good if I come’.

Brown’s mamook [5] muckamuck is literally something like ‘make food’, although his expressed English meaning in the article is ‘eat dinner’, which would be the simpler verb muckamuck. This illustrates yet another English-speaking Settler tendency in Chinook Jargon, overusing mamook, generalizing it in the direction of being a universal marker of verbs. By the rules of normal fluent CJ, mamook- has a less broad function, of forming “causative” verbs from other verb stems — so mamook muckamuck can also be ’cause to eat; make someone eat’, a concept that I take as uncommon if not invalid.

The provided translation, which I imagine Brown himself provided to the newspapers, tells us that mamook klosh tim-tum [6] is meant as ‘make good friends’. My comment here is not that Brown was making a Settler-style mistake, but instead that a more precise translation of his words would be ‘cultivate good relationships’. In my view it would clarify things to add one word, saying mamook klosh tim-tum konamoxt, ‘make good feelings together, make good feelings with each other’.

Summarizing as I like to do, J. Sox Brown’s Chinook appears to be the real McCoy, if our definition of genuine Jargon is the way it was spoken by oldtimers who hadn’t used it very much in a quarter-century.

I take “sitkum dolla hyas klosh” to be a non-coincidental, intentional nod to the long-established Pacific Northwest interlingual pun on “sixty dollars and all my clothes?!”

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?