I love you: An old love letter, and emotions, in Chinuk Wawa

One of the most frequently asked questions! “How do you say ‘I love you’ in Chinook?” 

i love chinook

If you go Grand Ronde style, you can say “Nayka q’at mayka”.  That’s definitely romance.

In the pidgin dialects elsewhere, you’re stuck with expressions like “Nayka tiki mayka”.  This has the mild disadvantage (or worse — depends on what situation you’re in) of also meaning “I want you” and “I like you”.

At least in the latter instance, you can be clearer by saying “Naika łush-təmtəm mayka”, because that expresses the less intense idea of feeling well towards somebody.  It might be the way to say “I love you, man!”

i love you man

My favorite, lately, is a tidbit that I saw in the field notes of John P. Harrington.  (Frame 980 of reel 18, for us linguistics geeks.)  Anonymizing just a little, someone in Bay Center, WA, told Harrington how his brother was once visited, probably around 1900, by a young Native woman who had a letter she needed someone to read to her.  It turned out to be in Chinook Jargon.  What’s nice is that we have information about what it said; in the Kamloops area, we hear of young people passing each other notes in Chinuk pipa shorthand, which I infer were juicy because they were spoken of disapprovingly — but we don’t have those notes.

This Bay Center note is remembered partially, as having contained expressive words written as follows:

Sugar tumtum nika tumtum

(Harrington gives a translation of this, “My heart is sugar heart”, which serves okay.)  All you need to know to prove that these were effective words is this:

The girl was barefooted and held her big toe grasped in her hand while he read her the letter, it gave her such a thrill.

Sugar tumtum, there you go.  That’s your tip of the day: when you write a love note, express your own feelings.

Chinuk Wawa is very good for this, you know why?  Because there’s this uber-flexible expression “______ təmtəm”, which lets you say that your heart is “_______”…anything you feel.  I’ve seen emotions described in Jargon that were as varied as “kapshwala təmtəm” (greedy = stealing-hearted), “sax̣ali təmtəm” (conceited/arrogant = high-hearted), and “skukum təmtəm” (brave = strong-hearted).

These are real examples, although I’m noticing that the existing Chinuk Wawa dictionaries don’t make it easy to track down examples of this expression.  The Grand Ronde dictionary doesn’t break out any examples of it under the entry təmtəm.  Samuel V. Johnson’s dissertation does — but just a few.  My dictionary of Kamloops-area Jargon as written by Aboriginal people in shorthand collects all the examples I have; it’s just not published yet.  But use your creativity!

So how will you express your feelings, Chinook Jargon speakers of 2015? 🙂

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