Magnificat in lingua Chinook

Dave’s note: This post accidentally went public before I was done with it. Sorry for the confusion, and enjoy this valuable Jargon document now that it’s finished!

An unusual find is this Chinuk Wawa translation of the old Catholic canticle, the Magnificat, based on Mary’s words in Luke 1:46-55.

Magnificat in lingua Chinook

There are several distinct features to this text:

  • It’s written in the general orthography used by French-speaking priests, with acute-accented e’s and with “r” standing for Aboriginal velar and uvular fricatives.
  • The word for negation is “wék“, matching the usage of Fathers Demers and Blanchet down on the Columbia, instead of any version of “halo“.
  • “Slave”, “ilaiti“, lacks an expected final “r”; maybe French ears had heard it as a kind of “h” and given that the typical francophone silent treatment.
  • Another telltale sign here is the use of “selé” to mean “soul”; this is a Salish word, specifically from Central Coast Salish, so I’ve always taken it as having entered Chinuk Wawa after the Oblate (OMI) missionaries such as E.C. Chirouse (“Senior”; uncle of E.C. Chirouse OMI “Junior”) arrived as far north as Olympia and Tulalip on Puget Sound to convert Native people to Christianity, 1856-1857.  (By the way, this word was then handed on to a newer crop of Oblate missionaries, and one of them, JMR Le Jeune, put it to some use as far away as Kamloops in the BC Interior.)
E.C. Chirouse

E.C. Chirouse OMI

Attributed to early missionary Bishop Louis-Joseph D’Herbomez, OMI (read even more about him here), this is found in a volume typical of its time, a collection of devotional materials translated by missionaries worldwide:


Magnificat in CL Linguas versum et propriis caracteribus redditum et expressum, Typis M. Bernardi, 1886.

I’ll type it out for you in sets of 3 lines — first in Chinook, then a word-for-word ‘gloss’ in English, and finally a translation of what I understand it to say.


NAIKA selé • wawa tlous kopa Saralé Tayé.
1st.person.SinGular life/soul say good PREPosition High Chief
‘My soul speaks well of the Great Spirit.’

Pi chako aias ioutl naika tomtom • kора
CONJunction come big my heart PREP
‘And my heart becomes great for’

Saralé Tayé, naika Shésou;
High Chief 1SG Jesus
‘the Great Spirit, my Jesus;’


Кора oukouk iaka nanich naika kikoulé tomtom,
PREP DEMonstrative 3rd.person see 1SG down heart
‘for (the reason) that he sees my humble spirit,’

naika iaka ilaiti: • kakwa alké kwanissom télikom
1SG 3 slave so FUTure always people
‘I am his slave: so the people will always’

wаwа tlous kopa naika.
say good PREP 1SG
‘speak well of me.’


Кора oukouk aias iaka mamouk kopa naika, dlét
PREP DEM big 3 make PREP 1SG really
‘For this (reason) he does great things for me, and really’

skoukoum iaka • pi iaka ném aias tlous.
powerful 3 CONJ 3 name very good
‘powerful is he, and his name is very good.’


Iaka tlous nanich kanawé kol pous wék kansir
3 good see all winter for NEGative when
‘He is careful year-round so that never’

kopet • oukouk klaska kwash kopa iaka.
end DEM 3.PLural afraid PREP 3
‘will they be finished, those who are afraid of him.’


Iaka mamouk nanich kata iaka skoukoum, • iaka
3 make see how 3 powerful 3
‘He shows how powerful he is, he’

mamouk kaltash saralé-tomtom télikom.
make useless high heart people
‘makes arrogant people worthless.’


Iaka mamouk kopet tayé, oukouk skoukoum
3 make end chief DEM powerful
‘He finishes chiefs, those powerful’

tayé, • pi iaka eskom kikoulé tomtom télikom pous
chief CONJ 3 take low heart people for
‘chiefs, and he takes the humble people to’

mamouk tayé klaska.
make chief 3PL
‘make them chiefs.’


Iaka patlach kора klarawiam télikom, • pi iaka
3 give PREP pitiful people CONJ 3
‘He gives to the pitiful people, and he’

mamouk chako klarawiam iktas-télikom.
make come pitiful property people
‘makes the wealthy turn pitiful.’


Iaka tlous nanich Israel, kakwa iaka tanas, •
3 good see Israel so 3 child
‘He takes care of Israel, like his children,’

wék iaka mash komtax pous mamouk klarawiam
NEG 3 throw know for make pitiful
‘he doesn’t forget to take pity on’



Kakwa ankaté iaka wawa kopa nsaika olman, •
so PAST 3 say PREP 1.PL elder
‘This is how he told our ancestors,’

Abraham pi iaka tanas pous kwanissom.
Abraham CONJ 3 child for always
‘Abraham and his children (until) forever.’


Kloli kора Рара pi Tanas, • pi Saint-Esprit.
glory PREP father CONJ child, CONJ Holy.Spirit
‘ “Glory” to the Father and the Child, and the “Santuspri”.’


Kakwa ankaté pi alta pi kwanissom • pi wék
‘It’s this way, before and now and always, and not’

kansir kopet. Tlous kakwa.
when end good so
‘ever ending.  Let it be this way.’

M. D. d’Herbomez, Vic. Ap.

I believe the dots (•) represent cues to make the Sign of the Cross.  Elsewhere in the Chinook Wawa literature, you’ll find the equivalent being plus signs (+) in Father Le Jeune’s many shorthand writings in BC.

Here’s an English version to help you make sense of things (Liturgy of the Hours, also from the Wikipedia article):

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior

for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel

for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

the promise he made to our fathers,

to Abraham and his children for ever.


How clearly do you think this Jargon text expresses the intended ideas?  To me it’s very fluent Chinuk Wawa, but without a clear consensus between Native and white people about several of the concepts, I think this would have sounded mysterious indeed to most hearers.

An exegetical exercise that I won’t indulge in here would be to investigate the source of the Chinook Magnificat, and the reasons for its word choices.  (Maybe in a separate blog post.) But for those interested in thinking that through by themselves, I’ll show you some guides for understanding the text.  Because Latin was the liturgical language of the Church in the 1800’s, the Jargon translation is probably based on the Latin translation of the Biblical Greek original:

Latin (from the Wikipedia ‘Magnificat’ article)

(present official Roman Catholic form):

Magnificat anima mea Dominum,

et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo salvatore meo,

quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae.

Ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes,

quia fecit mihi magna,

qui potens est,

et sanctum nomen eius,

et misericordia eius in progenies et progenies

timentibus eum.

Fecit potentiam in brachio suo,

dispersit superbos mente cordis sui;

deposuit potentes de sede

et exaltavit humiles;

esurientes implevit bonis

et divites dimisit inanes.

Suscepit Israel puerum suum,

recordatus misericordiae,

sicut locutus est ad patres nostros,

Abraham et semini eius in saecula.

Otherwise, it’s likely based on a French translation, like this one.