“Boontling” Language Dying in Northern California Town of Boonville

Boontling is only one of two homegrown languages remaining in the United States

If you’re driving in the tiny town of Boonville, Calif. – a 115-mile drive north of San Francisco – and hear expressions like “Ilden pike to the chilgoory nook,” you better grab a dictionary, because you’re bound to get lost in the translation.

Actually, probably even a dictionary won’t help.

That’s because in these coastal mountains of the Anderson Valley, home to roughly 1,000 people, the dying language of “Boontling” is on its way out.

Boontling is a dash of English, with a whole lot of boont. Technically, it’s a mixture of Scottish Gaelic, Irish and even some Pomoan and Spanish – a lingo locals created in the 1800s to talk behind each other’s backs. But because only elderly Boonville residents speak it, it’s fading away.

Even Boonville teachers don’t teach it in the schools anymore, and you’d be lucky to find 12 people who actually say phrases like “A hoot hoot jim sheet,” and “Me and kimi says you’re deekin’ for pearl netties.  And he joles.”

Most of the 12 people are graying men who sit on their front porches trash talking and joking around. As they rock in their chairs and chew the fat, they’re holding onto a small slice of history on the verge of extinction.

When Boontling goes the way of the Dodo bird, natives like Reuben Thomasson will have no one who understands him when he says “Pike the macdonald to the sea japeway.” And who will know what Rod Dewitt means when he says “You might deke on bonny tonker too.” (Huh?)

Who will keep up the tradition of passing down the words "ricky chow" to the younger generations?

Oh, if you didn’t know already, ricky chow, Boontling speaker Wes Smoot explains, is “when a newlywed couple goes to bed the first night and the bed springs start squeakin'."

And who in town will know to avoid a tinkler?  Only the dwindling Boontling speakers in town, like Wes Smoot.

“A fella sat there jigglin’ a glass of ice,” Smoot explained. “So she said he’s a tinkler.  Well now, now an alcoholic is a tinkler.”

Unless, a linguist discovers this quaint, country-poke tongue, most think that Boontling is “pikin’ to the dusties,” or in other words, getting ready to die.

“We’re trying to keep it alive," Thomasson said. “But once it’s lost, it’s lost.”

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