Trickster on NPR

Eileen Kane was featured on NPR's To the Best of Our Knowledge. Click here for the full programme.

Click here to listen to the Eileen Kane segment.

You are here

The Numu/ Northern Paiute language that Frieda Brown is speaking is part of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Other members of the family include, obviously, Aztec, but the Paiute spoken in Yerington is only distantly related; instead, it is part of the sub-family Northern Uto-Aztecan, and within that, the Numic Western group. Its closest relative is the Mono language.

The correct description of what is spoken in Yerington-Schurz is South Northern Paiute.  (You can look this up on several sites, including

http://www.ethnologue.com/show_family.asp?subid=1098-16        )

 

For additional information on this Yerington dialect, consult

Dick, Russell, Ed Williams, and Arie Poldervaart. 1987. Yerington Paiute Grammar. Anchorage: Bilingual Education Services. 168 p.

Poldervaart, Arie, compiler. 1987. Paiute-English, English-Paiute Dictionary. Yerington: Yerington Paiute Tribe. 118 p.

For pronunciation, see

http://www.native-languages.org/paiute_guide.htm

 

and for some basic vocabulary, see

http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=pao

 

Paiute English

In Trickster, set in 1964, I include a lot of dialogue. Most of the people in the book are amalgams of two or more people, but it's reasonable to ask whether people spoke the way I've recorded them as speaking.

 

At that time, a number of people spoke Paiute, but their English was indistinguishable from that of local white English speakers (Delaney and Morgan).  Other people spoke little or no Paiute (Cyril), and still others, a small and declining number, were most comfortable in Paiute and had very strongly marked accents in English (Archie). Most of the people I interviewed fell into the first two groups. A few people knew little or no English, but they're not represented among my characters.

 

In Trickster, for the reader's sake, I've tried to avoid writing in literal dialect, which can be distracting. To read the recorded speech of someone who had more English than Archie, but was still a good Paiute speaker, look at this excerpt from Corbett Mack: The Life of a Northern Paiute. Here, Corbett is in his seventies, and is telling anthropologist Michael Hittman about the day he was sent to Stewart Indian School. The relative who accompanied him registered him a under a different name and Corbett discovered for the first time that Big Mack was not his father, that his father was a white man.

 

'Cause you know what I think when I first go to Stewart? I think my right name's Corbett Douglass. 'Cause you see why? Buckaroo George Walker, he tell that superintendent that. And so the Old Man, he get mad.

'Cause we have to write letters home--You know, "How we're makin' out? Food's good. . . ." Letter like that kind. Copy 'em off the board from that school teacher . . . one who's learnin' us how to sign our name. You know, till we can write our own letter. . . . And you see what we call that kind? Matron. 'Cause they're not marry. No, sir! Never did see any them [even] walkin' with a man. . . . So anyway, when Big Mack find out I'm usin' "Corbett Douglass," why, he get mad at my mom. Wanna kill her!

"Go to that taivo if you like him that much!" What he tell my mom. Tell her to live with Bill Douglass if she like him better!

'Cause Old Man Readin' [ Smith Valley hotel owner-employer], he's the one read that letter I write home to my mom. And so, after Big Mack do [says] that, she tell him to write me back. Say I better change my name. . . . "Put down ' Mack' whenever I'm writin' home," my mom say. Or else the Old Man'll kill her! And so I do, by God! Do that!

And ever since, I'm always " Corbett Mack." Yes, sir!

 

From Corbett Mack: The Life of a Northern Paiute, by Michael Hittman, 1996. Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska Press, p. 67.