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Tonto Talk
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".

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.

Examples:

Comics
  • As the image above demonstrates, this was how Indians in the DC Universe spoke in the 1970s.
  • "Little Plum" from The Beano peppers his sentences with "um" so much that it becomes almost a self-parody.
  • Astérix plays with this trope: the Native American characters in Asterix and the Great Crossing speak a language consisting entirely of "how", "ugh" and "ole" (the last word being introduced to them by the Gauls, who believe the Indians to be Spanish). The loose film adaptation, Asterix Conquers America, averts this trope by giving the Indians a new language comprised of American place names.
  • Parodied in the New 52 version of Dial H, when Nelson becomes Chief Mighty Arrow (a character who appeared in the original series), he talks this way unless he concentrates on not doing so. Roxie refuses to let him leave the house because he's an offensive stereotype.
  • When the Archie Comics gang takes a trip out west, they stop at a Native American village. Reggie walks up to an Indian man and says something like:
    Reggie: Me come from land beyond blue water. How!
    Indian: Say Alice, come here! Like there's some kind of creep trying to make the scene, but I don't dig him.
  • Lucky Luke used this with the occasional subversion, with most of the humour stemming from just how odd this talk sounds when translated very literally into French.
  • Played with in a short story in Fear Itself: The Home Front, in which a bunch of white racists try and stir up American Eagle's neighbors by posing as Native American spirits in the wake of the murder of a white local sheriff. The fact that they resort to using Tonto Talk is part of how Eagle figures out that they're full of shit.
    American Eagle: Oh please. "Thunderstick"? "Pipe of peace"? What did you do — watch Pocahontas? Read some Custer fan-fic?

Film
  • Invoked in Maverick where Joseph, the chief of the local tribe, is being paid by a wealthy Russian to give him a "real west" experience which involves, among other things, talking in the stereotypical way, much to Joseph's disgust and annoyance.
  • Some of The Three Stooges shorts featured American Indians speaking this way, such as the 1940 short "Rockin' Thru the Rockies".
  • In The Frisco Kid, when Avram and Tommy are captured by Native Americans, they attempt some Tonto Talk, e.g. something like, "Me rabbi. Jewish Rabbi. I cross big ocean. I read much book about Indians." The chief is not amused and replies "You don't speak English very well."
  • In the Ma And Pa Kettle movies, Geoduck and Crowbar speak this way.
  • Averted in the negotiations with Cochese in Fort Apache, where we have a somewhat reverse situation: the focus is not on Cochese not being able to speak English, but on the negotiating officer York not being fluent enough in Apache. Therefore, York decides to use a Spanish interpreter to interpret for Cochese, who is rather fluent in Spanish.
  • Subverted in The Outlaw Josey Wales. The Comanche chief Ten Bears does tend towards whimsical turns of phrase, and his English is a bit stilted, but he sounds like someone who has learned a second language as an adult rather than a caricature. He even manages to get one over on Josey.
    Josey: You be Ten Bears?
    Ten Bears: I am Ten Bears.

Literature
  • 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.

Live-Action TV
  • 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.

Radio
  • 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.

Video Games
  • 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.
  • Subverted in Red Dead Redemption, where MacDougal treats the Native American Nastas as though he can't speak English. Nastas speaks it perfectly, however.
  • Wumba in Banjo-Tooie speaks like this - but then, most of the characters use some form of broken English.

Western Animation

Other
  • A Green Aesop speech attributed in Urban Legend to Chief Seattle — actually written in The Seventies 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.


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