George Robinson’s store vocab from Kitamaat, BC (Part 1 of 2)

(Here’s the link to Part 2 of 2.)

The late, admired linguist Emmon Bach (1929-2014) “worked on”, as we linguists say, some BC languages.


Image credit:

In particular he’s known for his valued research on the X̄a’islak̓ala / Haisla language (northern branch of the Wakashan family). So Emmon spent time in Kitamaat (a.k.a. Kitimat), British Columbia, building relationships with native speakers there.

Shortly before his passing, Emmon emailed me a kind note of compliment on my dissertation “Kamloops Chinuk Wawa, Chinuk Pipa, and the Vitality of Pidgins“, and on my investigation of an apparently pidginized version of Haíɬzvq (Heiltsuk), a sister language of Haisla.

He was moved to repay me for my work by sending over a document that “friends in Kitimat” had given him many years before.

This unpublished treasure of Chinook Jargon, Emmon told me, is

from a notebook by George Robinson, a lay preacher and storekeeper who settled in Kitamaat village in the nineteenth century.  I’m guessing the notebook is from the 1890’s.

I’ve managed to learn that George Robinson was born in 1869, that he married a Haisla woman named Kate, and that they had a son Samuel. George was sworn in as an official interpreter (presumably of Chinuk Wawa) for the McKenna-McBride commission’s hearings in Kitimat in 1913. He must have been trading for skins at his store, judging by such entries below as ‘animal’ and ‘hunt’; this source confirms that, and says he’s been in the locality since about 1892.

There was also a local Kitamaat Native author, Gordon Robinson, whose surname perhaps comes from an association with George’s family. He may have been a descendant of George Robinson.

As for George’s notes on Jargon, I present them here as transcribed, with a linguist’s great care for details, by Emmon Bach; I have not yet seen the original document.

Some of the spellings used by Robinson are modeled after published popular sources, but not all are. SImilarly, the storekeeper assigns a “part of speech” abbreviation to the entries, much as George Gibbs’ influential 1863 lexicon did. (As a linguist I disagree with many of these syntactic analyses!) 

There are entries here (such as ‘afternoon’; ‘animal’, ‘gun nipple’, ‘mask’, ‘oar’) that aren’t found in those previous authorities. 

So this document would appear to reflect Chinuk Wawa as actually used on the northern BC coast in the late frontier era. That date makes this information interesting to compare with the voluminous CW data we have from the southern interior of BC, especially Kamloops, at the same era. The same result as always emerges: BC Chinook Jargon was a remarkably uniform thing, with such words as ask, sleep, box, brother, scotty (here scot-te(e), for ‘crazy’), cut, lost, meat, help, and long showing up as CJ throughout the province.

Among the features that give away the more precise geographical origin of this vocabulary are ‘railway engine’, given in CJ as steam-boat koppa’ il lay (literally ‘steamboat on land’), clearly a calque with local Indigenous languages such as Tsimshian

When I first looked through Robinson’s lexicon, I was surprised by the frequency of his spelling  < ay >, often where I’m accustomed to the sound /a/ in Jargon. But I’ve come to suspect that this digraph frequently represents something like [ε], the “short e” sound in English ‘bet’. Perhaps this, as well as Robinson’s < ar, er, ur > where there’s certainly no /r/ sound in Jargon, indicate that this Englishman came from some particular dialect area in Britain.

With no further preamble, here’s the first half of George Robinson’s Chinuk Wawa vocabulary:

adze n English: uncertain Chinook: “(lay-ash)” crossed out twice

afraid v kwass

after prep kim-tah

afternoon n kop-pet.sit-cum-sun

again ad waght

all a kon-a^-way

also wa’t

always ad kwaine.sum Chinook: may be “kwine.sum” or “kura’ne.sum”

amid } prep (k’oppa’ set.cum) Chinook: may be among } prep “(koppa’ set.cum)”, or “(k’oppa’ sit.cum)” with “i” not dotted

alike ad ka’r-kwa’ Chinook: apostrophe after/above first “a” may just be xeroxing imperfection

angry man n sol.lex-man Chinook: may be “sol-lex-man”

and con pe^

angels n sock-kel-e il lay-he til le-cum English: may be “angel” Chinook: may be “sock-kel-e il lay-he til.le-cum”

anger n sol-lex

animal n skin

answer v kel-le^-pie waw-waw Chinook: may be “kel-te-pie waw waw”, “kel-le^-jue waw-waw”,
or “kel-te-jue waw-waw”

arise v get-up

ascend v coo-ley sock.kel.e Chinook: may be “coo-ley sock-kel-e”

ask v waw waw (or ask)

awake v {mash sleep} {wake up }

axe n lay-ash

bad adj me-sat.she Chinook: may be me.sat.she

bag n le-sack

barrel n tay-mol itch

believe v {believe[DDR; is the preceding word being presented as being in use in Jargon?] Chinook: may be {mit lete tum tum} “mit lite tum tum” with “i” not dotted

belly n kwa’t-tin

bell n tin tin

berry tree n o^.lal.le stick

berry n o^.lal-le^

big adj hy-as

bird n kul-lay kul.e

biscuit n biscuit ((le

bite v muc-a muc English: “i” not dotted Chinook: may be muc^-a muc

bitter adj hay lo tsee

black blanket n klale Chinook: may be klale pay-sis se

black adj klale Chinook: may be kl ale” or “kl.ale”; but cf. “black blanket”

bleached calico n t.h’ope sail Chinook: may be t’h’ope sail” or t’kope sail

bleed v (pil pil chak.he) Chinook: may be “(pil pil chak.hi)” with final “i” not dotted, “(pil pil chak. ho)”  with “o” not fully closed, or “(pil pil chale.he)”

blind adj hay-lo se^.ah host

blood n pil-pil

board n lay-plash

boil v lip-lip English: “i” not dotted

bone n bone

boot laces n ( koppa’ shoes) Chinook: may be “(whaleum koppa’ shoes)”

boots n boots or shoes

bottle n lay-boo-ti

bow n stick musket

box n box ((lak-kay set))

boy n ten-nas man

bracelet n (kwe^-e kwe^ koppa le^ mah) Chinook: may be “(kwe^-e kwe^ koppa le-mah)” or “(kwe^-kwe^ koppa le^ mah)”

branch n (le^-mah koppa stick)

breathless adj haylo** wind Chinook: first word uncertain; cf. “calm”

breath n wind

brother n brother (ow)

bull n man moos-moos

bullet n le-ball

buy v mah-cook

by & by ad al ki English: connective uncertain

calf n ten-nass-moos-moos

calico n sail

call v (waw-waw) (call) (haul) [DDR: not sure why ‘haul’ is here]

calm n –hay-lo wind

cannon n hy-as mus ket

cannot wake kahla’ Chinook: uncertain

canoe n cay-nim

cat n puss

chain n chick-a-min rope

change v hoi-hoi Chinook: may be koi-koi

chief adj e^-lep Chinook: may be e^-lip” with “i” not dotted

chief n ty.he

child n ten-nass

chop v kock.shit

clean adj^sat.she Chinook: may be^ sat.she

cloud n (sock kel le smoke) {smoke koppa’ sock ke le} Chinook: uncertain whether apostrophe follows “koppa’ “

coffin n mem-mel-loost box

cold adj cold

come back v chack-ho. kel.le pi

come in v chack-ho koppa (house) English: “i” not dotted

come v chack-ho

commandment n law

conceal v ip-scot

cow n klootch man moos-moos

crab apple tree n si-wash apple stick

crab apple n si-wash apple

crazy adj scot-le Chinook: may be scot-te” with second “t” barely crossed

cry v cry

cut v cut

damp adj hay-lo-dry

darkness n po^.lak.le^

day n sun

deaf adj hay-lo kur.laar Chinook: “laar” uncertain

dear adj hy-as mah.cook Chinook: may be hy-as mah cook

death n mem.mel loost Chinook: final “t” not crossed; may be mem.mel loosh“; cf. “die”

deer n mow-itch

devil n le-jawb

die v mem. mel-loost

different adj hul loi moi Chinook: may be hul loi mei

dirt} as earth) n (me-sat-she) dirt

dog n kam-ox

door n lay-po te Chinook: may be lay-pote” or “lag-po te

drink v muc-a-muc chuckk Chinook: final “k” uncertain

dry adj dry

dung n me.sat.she Chinook: may be me.sab.she

earring n kwo-lan kwe-e.kwe Chinook: may be kwo-lan kure-e.kweor something else; untranscribed mark above middle “kwe-” may be significant

earth n il.lay.he Chinook: “i” not dotted; may be “el.lay.he

ear n kwo-lan

eat v muc-a-muc

empty ” adj English: ditto mark uncertain 

empty (people) adj hay.lo klax ta mit.lite English: “(people)” appears after Indian word in second column

empty (things) adj hay-lo ik-la^’ mit-lite English: “(things)” appears after Indian word in second  column Chinook: may instead be “hay-lo ik-ta’ mit-litewith “t” of “ta’ ” crossed above “a” of “ta’ “

end n nose Chinook: uncertain

eternal adj waks kun sick

evening n (ten-nass) po^.lak.le

Any comments, readers?

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?