1945: Skqee Mus letter from Nooksack country

On page xv of Robert Emmett Hawley’s book “Skqee Mus, or Pioneer Days on the Nooksack” (Bellingham, WA, 1945) is the following letter to the reader.


(Image credit: Amazon)

I thought some of you might enjoy the reading practice.

Here I’m supplying my own translation, and correcting one “nika” to mayka:

Copa nika klosh tillicum:
kʰupa nayka ɬúsh tílixam:
to my good person:
‘Dear friend:’ 

Spose mika tickie kumtux chinook waw waw, nika tsum conoway nika kumtux
spus mayka tíki kə́mtəks chinúk wáwa, nayka t’sə́m [1] kʰánawi [2] nayka kə́mtəks
if you want know Chinook talk, I written all I know
‘If you want to know Chinook Jargon, I’ll write all I know’

alta, nika alip iskum tenas chinook waw waw copa siwash tyee alta nika alip

álta, nayka íləp ískam tənəs chinúk wáwa kʰupa sáwásh táyí álta [3] nayka íləp
now, I first pick.up little Chinook talk from Native chief now I first
‘now, I first picked up some Chinook Jargon from a Native chief(,) when I first’

charco copa Nootsaak copa 1872, mitlite copa canim, conomox Jinsen, pe yaka
cháku kʰupa nútsak* kʰapa 1872, míɬayt [4] kʰupa kʰəním, kʰánumákwst djínsən*, pi yaka
come to Nooksack in 1872, be.located in canoe, together.with Jensen(?), and he
‘came to Nooksack in 1872, riding in a canoe, with Jensen(?), and he’

help copa nika chinook waw waw. Jim yake waw waw icta mica nim? pe nika
hélp* [5] kʰupa nayka chinúk wáwa. djím* yaka wáwa íkta mayka ním? pi nayka
help with my Chinook talk. Jim he say what your name? and I
‘helped with my Chinook Jargon. Jim asked, “What’s your name?” and I’

waw waw nika nim Emmett. pe yaka waw waw, nika potlatch nika[sic] hias klosh
wáwa nayka ním émət*. pi yaka wáwa, nayka pá(t)lach mayka hayas-ɬúsh
say my name Emmett. and he say, I give you very-good
‘said, “My name is Emmett”, and he said, “I’ll give you a fine’

nim. Nika tum tum Skqee mus yaka hias klosh nim copa mika.
ním. nayka tə́mtəm sqwíməs* yaka [6] hayas-ɬúsh ním kʰupa mayka.
name. I think Skqeemus he very-good name for you.
‘name. I think Skqeemus is an excellent name for you”.’

Mika klosh tillicum,
mayka ɬúsh tílixam,
your good person,
‘Your good friend,’

Skqee Mus

(Skqee Mus means ‘Red Face’ in Nooksack Salish.)


When Hawley says nayka t’sə́m [1] I understand what he’s saying, due to the context: “I’ll write”. But t’sə́m standardly means ‘(a) written (thing)’, and we expect ‘write’ to be expressed as mamuk-t’sə́m ‘make-written’. Settlers influenced by the English language were known to sometimes leave out the mamuk- causative prefix.

Another Settler-ism is in kʰánawi [2] nayka kə́mtəks, ‘all I know’. Again, this is a calque on how English expresses the idea. Regular Chinuk Wawa puts the concept of ‘everything’ as kʰánawi-íkta, literally ‘all-thing’. 

I suspect a third Settler-ism in álta [3] nayka íləp cháku, a phrase that we can tell is intended as ‘when I first came there’. Hawley is using alta ‘now’, as if he’s thinking in English, ‘now that I had come there’. The average, normal Jargon way to say this is with chxí ‘just now; having just done done something’. So it’s possible that Hawley also had in mind the frequent Jargon expression chxí-álta ‘just now; just this moment’. 

The adverbial phrase míɬayt [4] kʰupa kʰəním ‘sitting in a canoe’ feels mildly odd to my Chinuk Wawa-attuned ears. Both in English and in CW, I might expect just plain kʰupa kʰəním ‘in a canoe’. 

Genuine northern-dialect vocabulary shines in yaka hélp* [5] ‘he helped’. This verb is found pretty much everywhere north of the Columbia River, instead of the older/southern yéʔlan.

There seems to be another Settler-ism in the remainder of the clause in [5], …kʰupa nayka chinúk wáwa ‘with my Chinook Jargon’. My experience of the verb help in CJ suggests that ‘helping with a thing’ (a noun, that is) is a rare way to talk, because I’ve mostly heard ‘help someone to do something’ (a verb, that is). But in my native Pacific Northwest English, of course, we say ‘I’ll help you with that’ all the time. But a point in favor of Hawley’s fluency in Jargon is that he does use the preposition kʰupa for the idea of ‘with’ (or ‘for a purpose’). This is standard in the northern dialect, as opposed to the southern pus

Possibly a Settler-ism is  in sqwíməs* yaka [6] hayas-ɬúsh ním, literally ‘Skqee-mus he’s a very-good name’. Here I’m thinking about standard Chinook Jargon (in both dialects), which likes to limit yaka to living entities. Is a name a living thing? The answer to that may depend on your spiritual tradition. Settlers were known to over-generalize the CJ habit of “resumptive pronouns”, which adds yaka when the subject is already being expressed by a noun (here, Skqeemus). The point being, here, that yaka in the most fluent Jargon is only added when the subject is an animate noun. 

All around, I “hear” Hawley’s voice in Jargon as someone who is highly familiar with the language — which held on stronger for longer in his northwest corner of Washington state — but who seems to be “thinking in English”.

Which is no insult to him, because by 1945, even the Nooksack area was almost completely English-speaking in daily life. 

Bonus fact:

It’s of interest that Hawley chose the form of a personal letter for this preface to his book.

My readers know that letters were a pretty well-established genre in Chinook Jargon.

Few other kinds of prose writing were quite so readily available as a model.

And when I think of writers who did try to construct a Jargon “Dedication” to a book, what comes to mind is Laura Belle Downey-Bartlett’s not entirely successful venture.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?