A correspondent writes:
Movies put dialogue into the mouths of “characters of color” which marks their difference from normative English speakers but which is meant to resemble an admixture of their “original language” with English. Hence, fake Indian talk — “Me want-um heap big tomahawk!”.[…] The question I have is where the screenwriters picked up the allegedly original language features. Does movie-Indian dialogue bear any resemblance to the speech of any American Indian, and, if so, what is the extent of that resemblance?
An excellent question, and I thought I’d pass it along to the assembled multitudes. Anybody know the history of this form of stylized speech? I took a look at James Fenimore Cooper, but his version of Native American dialect, while piquant, is quite different in style: “He ole, now; like top of dead hemlock, wind blow t’rough his branches till leaf all fall off.”
According to John T. Frederick (“Cooper’s Eloquent Indians,” PMLA 71 : 1004-1017), Cooper did extensive research on how Indians were said by earlier travelers and writers to have lived and spoken—”Cooper’s daughter, Susan Fenimore Cooper, testifies in The Cooper Gallery to the careful research on the basis of which Cooper sought to give validity to his portrayal of Indian characters.”
Addendum. Lauren of Superlinguo kindly sent me the following reference:
Meek, B.A. (2006). “And the Injun goes ‘How!’: Representations of American Indian English in White Public Space.” Language in Society 35/1: 93-128.