"American Indian Pidgin English"

David Robertson drobert at TINCAN.TINCAN.ORG
Tue Mar 16 02:29:50 UTC 1999

Clarke, how are you?  :-)

This subject is one not much known to me.  I have however read squibs by
Ives Goddard on very early (1600's) "Pidgin English" from records of
interactions by Whites, mostly with Algonquian speakers.

There are a few items there that look like they'd demand some admirable
creativity of a stereotyping English speaker, were they to be invented:

"...what much hoggery, so bigge walke, and so bigge speake, and by and by
kill.."  i.e. "?are you very angry?; [you] walk and talk so fiercely, and
then kill"

"...what cheere what cheere Englishmans squaw horse..."  i.e. "?How are
you, how are you, Englishman's mare?"  [spoken to a trapped horse]
	(It's noted that around Hudson Bay, ?Cree speakers
	still use the greeting "what cheer".)

"... me no stomany..."  i.e. "I don't understand [it]."

These were found in Ives Goddard's "Some Early Examples of American Indian
Pidgin English from New England", in vol. 43 no. 1 (pp. 37-41) of the
_International Journal of American Linguistics_.  Translations for the
first two examples actually come from a reading of another of Goddard's
papers, which I do not have at hand.

Goddard says,

	"It is evident that Indians who 'daily conversed' with the English
	used pidgin Massachusett and pidgin English, and that Wituamat,
	whose pidgin Massachusett Winslow quotes elsewhere, could
	completely baffle Miles Standish by switching to real
	Massachusett.  The functional relationships between the two
	coexisting pidgins remain to be investigated.  It does appear,
	however, that the Europeans who learned the various forms of
	pidginized Algonquian believed that they were using the real
	Indian language."

It is not outlandish to me that the Indians may have thought they were
speaking real English while uttering Pidgin English.

For better or for worse, though, the progress of North American Indians
through time to a native command of English was not evidently
systematically documented at any time.  Any research into this historical
process demands much detective work and inference.


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