July 08, 2008

Tonto talk was real?

A website devoted to teaching English as a second or foreign language gleans some info from a book titled All-American English by JL Dillard:

EIL/ELF quote of the dayWords and expressions he derives from pidgin include palaver, savvy, buckaroo, vamoose, mosey, lassoo, hooch, hike, dosie dough (as in line dancing, from the French “deux y deux” apparently, always wondered about that one), baloney, hepcat, fly (meaning cool), kick the bucket, joss (as in “joss stick,” from “deus,” the Portuguese for “god”), kick the bucket, wrangler, Davy Jones’s locker, Johnny come lately, caboose, and caboodle, along with the more famous “chop chop” and “look see.” I was even more surprised that comic book Native American speech has some basis in reality, with the pidgin they spoke again being based on naval lingua franca, with the (in)famous “…um” thing apparently deriving from Portuguese.

The book also has an interesting linguistic theory on why so many people thought they had found the long-lost Ten Tribes of Israel:

“The strangeness of the languages they encountered was almost too much for the European travelers and immigrants. They desperately needed to find some trace of the familiar, to be able to interpret the unknown in terms of some known. ... The analogy was slight: Hebrew was strange to the Europeans, ... and the ‘new’ languages were also strange to him--therefore these languages must be like Hebrew.” pg 5


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
For his part, writerfella well is familiar with the 'pidgin' English that his older Kiowan relatives spoke as they found themselves adrift in EuroMan's alien American language. Verbs are rarities in Kiowan and what English Kiowas spoke first was couched in Kiowan and then spoken as English, usually leaving out the verbs. Further, though they knew what tobacco was, of course, but the closest they could come to pronouncing the word was 'tah-bot.' The coined Kiowan word for cigarette then became 'tah-bot.' Indian Territory and then Oklahoma Territory was fraught with US Marshals, but the closest Kiowans could come to pronouncing the word was 'Mah-zame.' So, the coined Kiowan word for Marshal or the word concepts for sheriffs or even police became 'Mah-zame.' Interestingly, that word went western tribes-wide and many Native young people of other tribes now use it as slang for 'the cops.' The word even is heard in several documentaries about Wounded Knee 1973.
A humorous story about writerfella's great aunts says that in 1931, they went into a restaurant in Anadarko, OK, for breakfast. They wanted scrambled eggs but didn't know enough English to order that. After several failed attempts to tell the waitress what they wanted, Grandma Kitty Kieve rocked her arms as though she held a child, and said, "Aunh-aunh-aunh, baby!" They got their order...
All Best
Russ Bates

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the mention. The interesting theory in the book was not just that Native Americans spoke a pidgin, but that they spoke what was in some ways a decendant of the original pidgin, with words and phrases that could have come directly from China and even from the original lingua franca in the Meditarranean. An old book, and I've no idea if those ideas are long disgraced, but interesting anyway.