Circa 1900: Mixed CPE + CW in Idaho

Chinese Pidgin English & Chinuk Wawa spotted in Idaho — a rare bird!


Image credit: PicClick

In the book “Idaho Chinese Lore” by Sister M. Alfreda Eisensohn, published in 1970 by the excellent Caxton Printers of Caldwell, Idaho, page 86 bears these anecdotes about Polly Bemis, a Chinese-American woman (1853-1933) of the Warren, Idaho area:

[T]he parrot began to chatter, ‘What does Polly want for breakfast?’…The Chinese woman was puzzled and wanted to know how the bird knew her name…Polly called it a ‘talkee bird’. She said, ‘This is the first talkee bird me see um since I leave um Shanghai. Most birds in Shanghai talkee hi-yu bad; this talkee bird talkee nice.’…Polly left Grangeville in 1923…‘Maybe I come back next year,’ Polly declared, ‘it take hiyu money, but maybe I come back.’

This is great stuff, among the few quoted uses of CJ material (hi-yu) by Chinese immigrants. And it’s some of the only CJ-related speech I’ve found from Idaho.

You scholars of pidgin languages will notice Polly spoke in a recognizably Chinese Pidgin English-influenced way. But that “-um” on the transitive verbs sounds more like South Seas Pidgin English influence, or conceivably even inspired by (stereotypical?) American Indian Pidgin English.

Thanks to the excellent Josh Scott for bringing this book my way. I can recommend his shop, Time Bomb, for visitors to Spokane.

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