Early frontier humor in the Nicola (BC)
Here’s a funny memory of one of the last known speakers of the Nicola Dene (Athabaskan) language, south of Kamloops, BC.
Above: French in the same style of shorthand as the “Chinuk Pipa”, from Kamloops Wawa #150 (March 1897), page 38. Can you read it?
I see “Je me rends à la Nicola tous les ans au mois de janvier. Je partis donc le 8 janvier à 8 heures du matin…”
John Gilmore may have been an immigrant from Ireland; he’s noted in an 1882 newspaper item for his prize-winning horse “Irish Plowboy”.
Mitlait kopa Nikola ilihi iht
There lives in the Nicola a certain
ol man iaka nim Hápkrin, iaka
old man whose name is Hápkrin, his
wash nim Abraam. Iaka drit ol man
baptismal name is Abraham. He’s a really old man
alta, klunas <90>, klunas <95>.
now, about 90, maybe 95.
Ankati ukuk Hápkrin ayu
Long ago this Hápkrin used to
kuli [NULL] kanawi kah ilihi; iht
travel all over the place; one
son iaka chako kopa iaka haws
day he came to the house of
iht tkop man iaka nim Shon Gilmor.
a certain White man named John Gilmore.
Pi klaska makmak kanamokst. Pi Gilmor
And they shared a meal. And Gilmore
iskom ukuk paia makmak klaska nim
picked up that hot food they call
myustard. <X> Hapkrin wawa:
“mustard”. Hápkrin said:
= Patlach [Ø]. <X> Gilmor wawa: Ilo.
“Give me some.” Gilmore said: “No.”
<X> Hapkrin wawa: = Naika tiki [Ø].
Hápkrin said: “I want some.”
Gilmor wawa: = Wik kopa Sawash
Gilmore said: “It’s not for Native folks,
ukuk makmak. <X> Pus wik maika
this kind of food. If you won’t
siisim kopa klaksta naika patlach
tell anyone, I’ll give some
kopa maika. <X> Hápkrin wawa: =
to you.” Hápkrin said:
Wik naika siisim kopa klaksta man.
“I won’t tell a soul.”
<X> Gilmor wawa: = Tlus… Mamuk
Gilmore said: “All right…
halak maika labush pi aiak makmak [NULL].
Open your mouth and gulp it right down.”
Pi iaka mash patl iht spun myustard
And he put a spoonful of mustard
kopa Hápkrin iaka labush, pi Hapkrin
in Hápkrin’s mouth, and Hápkrin
aiak makmak [Ø]… <X> Wik lili pi iaka
swallowed it down… It wasn’t long until he
tlap kakwa pus paia iaka labush pi
got sort of a fiery mouth and
iaka kwatin, pi iaka rol kopa
stomach, and he was rolling on
flor, pi iaka aias skukum wawa:
the floor, and he hollered:
= Patlach chok, aiak chok!
“Give me water, water, hurry!
Naika drit paia kanawi… O!
I’m really burning all over… Oh!
Drit mimlus… Iskom maika
Really dying… Get your
pipa pi mamuk cim naika wawa:
paper and write my words:
Naika tiki patlach naika kyutan kopa
I want to give my horse to
naika tanas… Drit naika mimlus.
my kid… I’m really dying.”
Pi Gilmor ayu ihi: Iaka ankati
And Gilmore was laughing: It was the oldtimer
Shon Gilmor iaka siisim ukuk.
John Gilmore who told this one.
— Kamloops Wawa #205 (June 1903), pages 49-50
I did some research a few years ago into the last known speakers of the Similkameen-Nicola area’s kinda mysterious Nicola language.
(It’s also been said to have been spoken in adjacent Washington state, as was the related Kwalhioqua-Clatskanie Dene language down there adjacent to Lower Chinookan country.)
These old men were reported in the Kamloops Wawa.
The editor, Father Le Jeune, knew them personally, and he collected some vocabulary from them.
My study indicated that the language must have already been really moribund — I found many indications that the vocabulary, as well as the last speakers’ names, was heavily Salish-influenced.
But my impression of the very scanty available evidence is that Nicola was a close sister, or a dialect, of the fairly nearby Tsilhqut’in (Chilcotin).