A variation of You No Take Candle
, but one which applies specifically to Native Americans. For decades (if not centuries) American Indians were portrayed in fiction speaking a form of broken English characterised by the phrases "heap big", "ugh" and "how", and verbs conjugated with "um". Trains are referred to as "iron horses", white people as "palefaces" (who speak with forked tongue), a baby as a "papoose", the tribal leader as "Big Chief", money as "wampum" and whiskey as "firewater"note
There is a grain of Truth in Television
in this, as there would obviously have been a point in history when English was not the first language of most North American Indians. However, it was never realistic to depict all
Native Americans speaking the same
patois— there are over five hundred indigenous cultural groups in North America, each with its own language or dialect. Over time, fiction turned this from a "mere" stereotype to a complete caricature which often made Indians look foolish and primitive.
Some fiction, particularly cartoons and comics, portrayed Indians speaking this way well into the 20th century.
Straight usages of this trope have fallen out of favour due to racial sensitivity, although it is still often parodied. A common gag involves a white (or otherwise non-Indian) character speaking to a Native American in this manner on the assumption that this is how all Indians talk, only to receive a bemused response in perfectly articulate English.
See Asian Speekee Engrish
for the Asian equivalent. Related to Braids, Beads and Buckskins
. Sometimes the dialect of choice for the Magical Native American
or, for extra-special Unfortunate Implications
, The Savage Indian
or Hollywood Natives
- In a short story set in the Shadowrun Verse, a mercenary company is led by an ork and his Native American second-in-command. Joking around, these long-time friends speak to each other in their respective minstrel-show-dialect equivalents: the Native saying they'll "make-um heap hot for paleface", and the ork replying "smash 'em good, ook ook!"
- Aaron Latham's 2002 novel Code of the West stars a white man who was kidnapped as a boy and raised by Comanches. He speaks fluent English, but when he is using the Comanche language the novel renders his speech into English as Tonto Talk.
- In the Winnetou novels, Indians often use the word "howgh" and some other terms like "palefaces" and "firewater", but the Indian protagonist speaks pretty good English.
- A variant of this was still used, of all places, in My Heart Is On The Ground, a 1999 children's book in the "Dear America" series. Native reviewers called the style "Early Jawbreaker".
My teacher, Missus Camp Bell, say I must write in this book each day. She calls it die-eerie. It is the white man's talking leaves. But they talk not yet.... Teacher tells it that I know some English, that she is much proud of me, but wants be more proud.
- In The Sign of the Beaver, a children's historical novel by Elizabeth George Speare, an Indian character named Attean is portrayed speaking in a stereotyped pidgin dialect ("What for I read? My grandfather mighty hunter, he not read"), to the dismay of some modern teachers.
- The Geronimo Brothers of the Brentford Trilogy. Neither brother is in fact any kind of Native American, but Paul believes he and Barry are the dual reincarnation of Geronimo and feels obliged to "act the part". Sadly he learned everything he knows about Native Americans from watching old Westerns. Barry tags along because he likes playing dress-up.
Paul: If paleface not talking out back of loincloth, that technological miracle of first order. Nobel prize in it for inventor
- Subverted in Peter and the Starcatchers: When the heroes meet Fighting Prawn, chief of the Mollusk tribe, they assume this trope and greet him with "How", to which Fighting Prawn replies "Can we start the conversation along, old chap? I'm getting frightfully tired of 'How'."
- Played with in The Indian in the Cupboard. Little Bear has fairly stunted English, but is shown to be intelligent otherwise, sometimes more intelligent than Omri, who's just a boy. Inversely, Boone, a white cowboy, has just as terrible English, and also is clever in his own way.
- Inexplicably, the Sparra tribe, otherwise entirely based on English sparrows, speak this way in Redwall, with the additional use of the word "worm" to mean either "food", "anyone that's not a sparrow", or "anything the sparrow dislikes". Probably why they didn't show up again after Mattimeo, when it became less acceptable to use this trope.
- Subverted in an animated segment in Sesame Street. Two boys play Cowboys and Indians, with the "Indian" speaking in this manner. A modern-day Indian boy shows up and explains that that's not how Native Americans actually speak.
- The Indian chief in the Supermarionation series Four Feather Falls spoke this way. Oddly, he was able to make animals speak fluent English using his magic, so why he didn't cast this spell on himself is unclear.
- On The Brady Bunch three-part episode where they went to the Grand Canyon, at one point Bobby and Cindy get lost in the canyon. When they encounter a Native American boy about their age, Bobby opens with Tonto-like "How!" while putting his hand up. The Indian boy is only confused by that and replies "How, what?" with an American accent. Bobby quickly says, "How are you?" The boy's grandfather shows up to take him home, played by Jay Silverheels (Tonto) himself!
- In the Seinfeld episode "The Cigar Store Indian," Jerry gives Elaine the title object as a gift with a note that reads, "Let's bury the hatchet. We smoke um peace pipe." Unluckily, Elaine's attractive friend Winona is a Native American, and Jerry spends the rest of the episode trying unsuccessfully to convince Winona he's not a racist.
- Spoofed in the Monty Python sketch "Red Indian in Theatre". "She fine actress... she make interpretation heap subtle."
- Saturday Night Live had multiple recurring sketch characters (including a Tonto expy and Frankenstein's Monster using this instead of the more traditional Hulk Speak). Several even appeared together in a sketch called "Succinctly Speaking".
- On Modern Family, Cam and Mitchell try to apply Lily to a classy kindergarten that is very keen on finding Token Minorities, and figured Lily is bound to be admitted as a Twofer Token Minority (being both Asian and the daughter of two gay fathers). Upon realising their competition for the only available slot was an interracial lesbian couple, one of whom was in a wheelchair, Cam resorts to bringing up being 1/16 Native American, and talking like this in the interview as a final Hail Mary.
- On One Life to Live, a woman tries to endear herself to the son of the man she's dating by talking like this when she sees his Halloween costume—he's dressed as a Native American boy. Unfortunately, the boy's already upset by her presence in the first place—his beloved stepmother died only two months earlier and his Jerkass father is refusing to deal with either his or his own grief—and her act makes him blow up at her.
- Tonto from The Lone Ranger is the Trope Namer and possibly the trope codifier.
- Language aside, he was portrayed as highly intelligent (actor John Todd's "Hmmm..." could speak volumes), often coming across as smarter than the Lone Ranger. Jay Silverheels in interviews and comedy skits used to make fun of the "him say" stuff.
- Modern versions, such as the 1981 film and the Dynamite comic series, did away with this, due to the creators wanting to portray Tonto respectfully. The 2013 film, however, brought it back.
- Our Miss Brooks: Chief and Mrs. Thundercloud in the episode Bartering With Chief Thundercloud.
- Parodied in a 1949 Bob & Ray skit featuring Pronto, sidekick to the Lone Agent:
Pronto (Bob): Ug. Lone, that be completely impossible. You would be implicating me in crime, in which I can have no hand.
Lone (Ray): Huh? Is this Pronto speaking?
Lone: Where'd you get the education?
- In Sunset Riders, stage boss Dark Horse enters battle with the line "You in heap big trouble!" and then "Me in heap big trouble!" when defeated. However, he doesn't look particularly Native American despite the mannerisms and the game's Wild West theme.
- Chief Scalpem, who is an obvious Native American, also speaks this way, saying "Me ready for Powwow," and "Me Powwowed out" before and after his boss fight, respectively.
- Averted in Red Dead Redemption, where the Native American Nastas speaks fluent English; however, supposed anthropologist MacDougal treats him as though this trope applies.
- Wumba in Banjo-Tooie speaks like this - but then, most of the characters use some form of broken English.
- The Indian Chief in Peter Pan. He even performs a musical number about Indians, in which having red skin and saying "how" and "ugh" are presented as the defining characteristics of the race.
- In a Family Guy episode, Peter and Lois decide to enter a community talent show by reviving their old folk act in the '60s (or whatever) called "Pocket Full of Peter". They flash back to the longhaired duo playing a song lamenting the plight of Native Americans, which used various speech stereotypes, such as the "ababababababa" sound made by vibrating the hand against the mouth, and at the end Peter speaking the lyric, "How did this happen... HOW" (speaking the last word like the stereotypical Native American greeting, with his hand held palm out).
- The Martians in Futurama, who are based around stereotyped Indians, speak this way. "Oh no! Martians kidnap Amy! I know it them 'cause they no use good grammar!" remark Amy's parents.
- On one occasion, Pepper Ann found out she had some Native American heritage and found some of that tribe, who were your typical modern people, and kept trying to talk to them like she'd heard Indians talk in westerns.
- In an episode of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids the kids go to see an old cowboys-and-Indians movie and come out thinking that that's how real Indians act. When an Indian boy moves into the neighborhood, they don't believe he's a real Indian because he doesn't talk/act like they did in the movie.
- In the Wacky Races episode "Why Oh Why Wyoming", Dick Dastardly enlists the aid of an Indian who talks like this.
- The Woody Woodpecker version of The Barber of Seville has a Native American walk into the barber shop, speaking like this and wearing a headdress in the 1940's.
- A Green Aesop speech attributed in Urban Legend to Chief Seattle — actually written in The '70s by screenwriter Ted Perry — has elements of this, with references to "the smoking iron horse" and "The red man is a savage." Seattle made several such speeches, and they weren't nearly as pleasant. His real words are filled with heartbreaking bitterness.