site is also an introduction to the history and cultures of the societies
and times associated with the Jargon, and with the peoples and lands of the
Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, being the territories in which the
Jargon was known and used, and in which its remnants and memory survive, even
though its popularity and widespread knowledge have long passed. Still,
there's lots of people out there who know some.
really a full-developed language but rather formally defined as a pidgin,
the Jargon had very few words - 800 at most - drawn from half a dozen tongues,
including English and French as well as major native languages of the Northwest.
But it was said that someone skilled in the Jargon could say anything, or
rather, anything that was actually necessary. "If you can't say it
in the Jargon, it's not worth saying."
relative newcomers to the Northwest find themselves picking up peculiarities
of the local argot still in use in local English, but remain unaware of the
origin of the terms, despite their innate connection to the place and its
history. The three most prominent Jargon words that survive in regional
English are skookum, saltchuck (or simply 'the chuck')
and (high) muckamuck. If you're from the Northwest, you probably
know what these words mean, or at least have an idea (if you're not and/or
you don't, then please explore this site to find out..... )
fact, some people said that it was impossible to tell a lie in the Jargon
- but "English, now that was a language made for lying in!". Ideally,
Jargon was typically spoken sparingly, with a few carefully chosen words that
could pack a powerful punch, sometimes laden with puns and wit, despite its
sparse vocabulary and often-vague syntax. Meaning was often clarified
by gesture or tone, since certain Jargon words had a wide range of possible
meanings. Context was everything. It was known for a raucous,
even rowdy, flair for conversation-ability and phraseology, despite a preference
for economy of words. There was no real "proper prononciation" as Jargon
speakers came from all ethnic backgrounds; and not much in the way of formal
words that turn up locally, or become familiar to residents over time, include
hyak (swift), hyas (big), hiyu (many),
tenas (small), mowitch (deer), moolack
(elk), tillicum (people, or friend) and klootchman (woman)
- but it's not always obvious even to those familiar with "the Wawa"
when a word or phrase has Jargon origins. Even in the old days,
ordinary speech (in any language, from English and French to Hawaiian and
Chinese to the local Salishan and Wakashan languages) was often just peppered
with Jargon words; only rarely were whole conversations held in it, these
usually when people didn't know any of each other's languages. But
even when they did speak the same language, many frontier-era people
of all origins sometimes preferred to speak the Jargon to each other; this
includes old establishment families with pioneer roots.
||Because of its
simplicity and limited vocabulary, it could and would not convey meanings
that could be said in other languages; but equally so it became invoked as
an instrument of colonization, with the Jargon being used for everything
from court proceedings to evangelization as well as household speech and
the working language of canneries, placer mines, and logging camps. It
also functioned as a language of intertribal community and nearly replaced
the traditional native languages in some areas until efforts to resuscitate
these older, more complex languages began. Identified very strongly
with native culture, the Jargon nonetheless was intrinsically a product of
the heady mix of all cultures in the Pacific Northwest, and is as much a
non-native legacy as a native one.
|"The sticks", "hooch"
and "Big Smoke" (a nickname for Vancouver) all have Jargon roots, or at least
roots in the frontier culture of which the Jargon was the common speech.
Jargon words also survive in large numbers also in the vocabularies of many
native languages, notably Jargon words adapted from the French spoken by
the voyageurs of the fur trade. With increased immigration to the region
from other parts of North America and the rest of the world, the Jargon traces
in local English are fast-disappearing. Or are they? Yaka skookum
wawa - "them's strong words"....
||For most that used
it, however, it was a fluid and useful part of daily life, and an augment
to their own native speech, whether that might have been a local native tongue,
English, Chinese, or any of the gaggle of European tongues that arrived
with colonization. Although primarily perceived as a language of native
culture, and indeed having its origins long before colonization began, the
Jargon was as much widely used among non-natives for many years, even being
spoken by many in preference to English, apparently because of its pithiness,
directness, and potential for gamey-ness.
|From the turn of the century to the Great War, somewhere
between 100,000 and 150,000 people - maybe more - in the Northwest spoke
or at least knew some of the Jargon. Today, the total number of surviving
Jargon speakers is unknown, but it is far from extinct, with a small concentration
of speakers in Grand Ronde, Oregon and a scattering of relatively isolated
individuals of all ages throughout BC and the Pacific Northwest. People
who know at least some Jargon - common words like those above, even if they
don't know what the Jargon itself is - still number in the thousands, and
they're from all ethnic backgrounds.