Early Chinuk Wawa loans into English

Today we find that by 1850, people already were using Chinook Jargon words in local English without having to explain themselves…

A letter datelined Portland [Oregon Territory], Nov. 8, 1850 and addressed “To Maj. G. at Puget’s Sound” leads the front page of the Oregon Spectator of November 28th that same year. It’s signed “G.S.”, and that person narrates in it a tour of far southwest Washington to pick out a place to homestead as one of the first Settlers.

It references various people, including: Mr. Simmons, who I take to be Michael Simmons, later a Jargon translator at Gov. Isaac Stevens’ treaty councils. There’s also a Dr. Ford, and a Mr. W. who is chief trader at “the Cowlitz” (the Hudson Bay Company’s Cowlitz Farms establishment). And the Indians of the Chehalis River, already being spelled that way at Ford’s insistence, including the chief Karcowan who we know as Carcowan from James G. Swan’s 1857 memoir of Shoalwater Bay life.

When you bear in mind that 1850 is before the Jargon had anything like a culture of standardized spellings, you realize that some of the following are wildly original and thus they come from the writer’s own experience using Chinuk Wawa.

< ictas > ‘supplies’: 


< hiu salmon > ‘lots of fish’:

hiu salmon

The word “batteau” (bateau, a flat-bottomed riverboat) comes up in the same manner, in this narrative as in so many others from that era and region; you have to wonder if that Canadian French word is another stealth Chinuk Wawa word — I mean, one that never was listed in the Jargon dictionaries because it was “obviously” not Indian.

Blankety-blank: it’s going to be entertaining to hear what you think the asterisks ( * * * * * ) are standing in for here!

blankety blank

< Souwashes > ‘Indians’:


Is “Black River” a translation of a Jargon name, like < klale chuck >? Is “Saltuater” a version of the Jargon < salt chuck >?

black river

One of the earliest occurrences of the phrase “Chinook canoe”, which may or may not have originated in the Jargon. We know chinuk kənim in the language, but the earliest I find it is late: in Shaw’s 1909 dictionary. (The Native languages themselves seem to have called that kind of canoe by a Quileute-language name.)

chinook canoe

One of the earliest occurrences of < sallal > ‘salal berry’, which has been said to be a Chinuk Wawa word. I’ve read that oldtimers pronounced this word, in English anyway, with the stress on the first syllable, which could explain the double-L in the middle of it. (Nowadays I’m used to hearing “suh-LAL”.)


In the vicinity of Chehalis Point, which I understand as modern Westport, Washington, numerous former Indian villages are encountered, depopulated, the writer says, by (introduced European) disease. Yikes.

Smoke house“: here it’s interesting that the writer observes the use of Lower Chehalis people’s dwellings as smokehouses for salmon-drying, because nearly a century later, Emma Luscier called traditional native houses “smoke house” — which may be Chinuk Wawa smuk haws.

smoke house

The whole article is mighty worth a read.