John Enrico’s insights on the old “Haida” Jargon

Independent agreement that there was a sort of pidginized Haida in use during early days of contact with non-Indigenous people…

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(Image credit: Research Gate)

…Comes in John Enrico’s wonderful Haida Dictionary, volume 2, pages 1807-1808.

These couple of pages are “Notes” to his very thoughtfully curated list, “Appendix 1A: Unalphabetizable Items”. (There is no Appendix 1B; Enrico goes straight into Appendix 2.)

I want to preface the following quotation-in-full of Enrico’s Appendix with an observation that his overall point is quite right, and we need to give him the credit for his realization that a pidgin language was spoken in greater Haida Gwaii in the first years of non-Indigenous contact.

However, Enrico appears to have focused his research tightly on Haida Gwaii only, so that he missed a number of contextualizing facts that my own work has brought to light.

For example, I have shown that there was, effectively, a single amorphous Northwest Coast trading pidgin (call it a “Nootka Jargon” if you like to) between Natives and Newcomers, the vocabulary of which varied quite a lot from place to place. (We don’t know a lot about its grammar.) To the extent that using more Haida-derived words was helpful to trading in Haida Gwaii, and more Tsimshian-based words on the northern mainland, etc., folks did so. But Enrico doesn’t seem to have known that they still relied, everywhere on a core vocabulary that always reflected the “early” fur trade’s being centred on the west coast of Vancouver Island, thus using “Nootka” words, even as far north as Prince William Sound among the Alutiiq (“Eskimo”) people, and as far south as the lower Columbia River among the Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinookans and Lower Chehalis Salish folks. Here on my website, I’ve written quite a lot about this, and thanks to some sources mentioned by Enrico that I need to chase down, I’ll be writing more about the NW Coast Jargon that’s the ancestor of Chinook Jargon. My overall point at the moment is that I find no convincing evidence that there was any separate Haida Jargon having any kind of consistently unique vocabulary and grammar.

I find that I’m also skeptical of Enrico’s claims of Hawai’ian vocabulary being used in a Haida Gwaii pidgin language. The word “toe”, for a small piece of iron meant for trading, is as far as I’ve ever found just a metaphorical use of the English word. Because earlier Hawai’ian /t/ became modern /k/, I do leave open the possibility that it comes from the word pronounced in modern Hawai’ian as ko’i ‘adze’ and/or ku’i ‘to pound, to strike’. In any case this noun was a widely used word in Pacific maritime traders’ English. And the idea that “enah” etc. come from Hawai’ian wahine ‘woman’ is a stretch for me, since the Haida language itself provides a more closely matching source word, which Enrico cites.

Whatever caveats I may provide, you should read for yourself Enrico’s incisive thoughts concluding that a pre-Chinuk Wawa pidgin form of speech was in use in Haida Gwaii around 1800:

The early sources from which many of the words in this Appendix were taken give evidence of the formation of a trade jargon mostly based on Haida; indeed, such a jargon is hinted at by De Marchand and Anderson and explicitly described as a “ship dialect” by Jonathan Green:

[le capitaine Chanal] observe que quelques-uns de ces terms sont communs aux autres parties de ces îles qu’il a visitées, ainsi que quelques autres terms [sic] qu’il a pu saisir, et par lesquels les Naturels expriment les objets suivans [sic]

    • Ouiné     Un présent.
    • Coutesk     Une veste ou un gilet. 
    • Nock     Une fourrure. 
    • Tesch     Le feu.
    • Pe:check     Une caisse. 
    • Smoguet     Un Chef.

Cette similitude des terms numériques et d’autres termes, employés également par les diverses Tribus, séparées les unes des autres, qui occupent la partie de côtes des îles de Queen Charlotte que le capitaine Chanal a visitée, me semble démontrer, contre l’opinion hasardée du Rédacteur du Journal de Dixon, que ces Tribus communiquent habituellement entre elles; cette identité de langage pourroit encore prouver que les Peuplades qui habitent ces îles ont une origine commune. (Fleurieu 1801:361)

[DDR: [Captain Chanal] observes that some of these terms are common to the other parts of these islands which he has visited, as well as some other terms which he has been able to grasp, and by which the Natives express the following objects:

    • Ouiné     A present.
    • Coutesk     A jacket or vest.
    • Nock     A fur.
    • Tesch     The fire.
    • Pe:check     A crate.
    • Smoguet     A Chief.

This similarity of the numerical terms and other terms, employed equally by the various Tribes, separated from each other, which occupy the part of the coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands which Captain Chanal visited, seems to me to demonstrate, against the opinion of the Editor of Dixon’s Journal, that these Tribes habitually communicate with each other; this identity of language could still prove that the peoples who inhabit these islands have a common origin. (Fleurieu 1801:361)]

The language in which the trade is carried on is a jargon, as bad as the Chinook — the same that is used all over the Coast North of Newity (the most northerly place, I believe, where the Chinook Jargon is understood, and there indeed very imperfectly). ([Alexander Caulfield] Anderson 1834:1)

Traders have uniformly chosen the Queen Charlotte’s Island language as a medium of intercourse with the natives of different tribes, and this ship dialect is now tolerably well understood by all who do business with foreigners… In the ship dialect there is no distinction of mood or tense, nor is there any uniformity in the structure of sentences. Such a distinction and uniformity the Indians are careful to preserve. For example, a trader would say, — Kaigan stuttle king Hawaii. “I desire to see Hawaii.” An Indian would say, — Hawaii qanghi te gudunk. “Hawaii I desire to see.” A trader, — Kaigan cluto Nass sit down. “I have been to Nass.” An Indian, — Nass sit down to cluto kegone. “Nass there I have have been.” (Green 1915 (1984:34); see also Green 1829). 

The following citations, in which the Haida words have been re-spelled correctly but syntax remains untouched, are some of the further evidence of the existence of a jargon.

  • síig juuyáay ‘sunrise (lit. ‘upward the sun’) (Sturgis 1799) 
  • juuyáay ‘sunset (lit. ‘into the water the sun’) (Sturgis 1799)
  • “poo” ‘musket’ (Sturgis 1799)
  • “sumon, summun, etc.” ‘small’ (Hoskins 1791, Bartlett 1790, etc.) < Eng[lish]small
  • “enah, etc.” ‘woman’ (Ingraham 1791, etc.) < Haida 7iinaa ‘be married’? Hawai’ian wahine ‘woman’?
  • tluu daw ‘cross a strait’, Green’s cluto, Ingraham’s “cloo too,” etc. used as ‘go away’
  • gyaagan ‘speaker’s’ (alienable possessive) [elsewhere Enrico specifies that this means ‘mine’], Green’s “kaigan” used as ‘I’ 

Needless to say, ‘upward the sun’, ‘downward the sun’ are impossible as Haida compounds. Words of non-Haida origin appear in the earliest traders’ word-lists and suggest that an area-wide native trade jargon pre-dated contact with Whites. Some of these were: 

  • “ouine, ah win nee, etc.” ‘food’ < Tsimshian
  • “wa’ron, waakush, etc.” ‘Bravo!’ (used as a greeting) < Nootka
  • “wo’y, whee” ‘give it here’ < Tsimshian
  • “pushack, peeshuck, etc.” ‘bad’ < Nootka

The reader of this Appendix will observe that some of the evidently non-Haida trader vocabulary has not yet been traced to its source. Hawai’ian is the source of at least one word, “toe” ‘iron adze’, and possibly the source as well of “enah”, etc. ‘woman’. At least some maritime fur traders wintered in Hawai’i if their voyage encompassed that season and traded there for food (e.g., see Portlock 1789, Beresford 1789). Indeed, the King George and Queen Charlotte captained by Portlock and Dixon, respectively, traded at Hawai’i before reaching the Northwest Coast and they attached the appelation “toe” to iron adzes there before they reached North America. Unlike the native women of the Northwest Coast in the early trading years, the Hawai’ian women immediately availed themselves of trading vessel crews for recreation and gain, so the jargon term ‘woman’ may well have had the same source.

After the British Columbia gold rush beginning in 1858, Chinook jargon soon replaced the now poorly known Haida-based jargon, though various elements of the latter (such as the word ‘bad’ noted above) were incorporated into the coastal British Columbia version of the former.

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