How long has Chinuk Wawa had compounds? Plus: a lost dictionary.


(Image source: The Billfold)

How long has Chinuk Wawa had compound words?

That may seem a ridiculous question, since one of the best-known traits of this pidgin-creole language is its constant mashups of two or more words.

But in my research into what parallels there might be between the Jargon’s grammar of compounding and similar structures in its source languages — especially the Native tribal ones that haven’t been researched in great depth — it’s going to be helpful to get an idea of when they started to appear.

If compounds arose relatively late in CW, for example, there would be a greater chance of French having inspired them.

If they’re present from the start, Indigenous models are likeliest because Indigenous people vastly outnumbered everyone else for the first few decades of known Chinook Jargon history. Besides, as I’ve noted in this blog previously, the Indigenous-based Nootka Jargon (pidgin) ancestor of CJ seems to have used compounding more than has been recognized.

So I want to take a look at several of the earliest signficant sources of Chinuk Wawa documentation today, with digressions into a fun little mystery or two.

Among the first substantial vocabulary lists of the Jargon is Samuel Parker’s (1840:396-398), where I find only two obvious complex expressions, < saghalle illaha > [above-land] ‘mountain’ and < kekulle illaha > [below-land] ‘valley’. Other than these, the focus is on isolated lexemes.

Canadian Jesuit missionary JBZ Bolduc‘s [first] “Lettre et Journal” (1844) contains the Pater (Lord’s Prayer) in “jargon tchinouc” and a very short vocabulary list, among which the only obvious compound is < Sakalé-Tayé > [above-chief] ‘God’. Aside from this, there are scattered interesting Jargon words in both of his “Mission de la Colombie” books. (Plus his French “le steamboat” in the second volume, which suggests it may not have been just English that contributed that word to the Jargon.)

Bolduc’s “Deuxième Lettre et Journal” (1845:6) finds him commenting in an October 7, 1843 letter to “M[onsieur] T.” datelined “Cawlitz” (Cowlitz Farms) that, having been in the Northwest for a year, “Je suis en frais de rédiger un dictionnaire de la langue ou jargon tchinouck; j’espère l’envoyer par Londres l’automne prochain.” — “I am in charge of editing a dictionary of the Chinook language or jargon; I hope to send it via London next Fall.” (This despite his commenting elsewhere that it’s “absolutely useless” to compile a grammar or dictionary of the Jargon.) Was the ultimate destination Quebec or Paris, and can we find this previously unseen treasure? Read on to an idea I suggest below.

John Dunn’s “History of the Oregon Territory and British North America Fur Trade” (1844:359) contains a compound: < Mecárche Tumtum > ‘a bad heart’.

Daniel Lee and Joseph Frost’s “Ten Years in Oregon” (1844:343-344) contains a vocabulary of “Clatsop” that contains heavy Chinuk Wawa content, but no compounds leapt out to my eyes. The main text of the book includes significant amounts of Jargon phrases, too scattered and unindexed for me to use in today’s short study, as well as what scholars have told me is pidginized Clatsop Chinookan. Here’s a thought — did Chinuk Wawa and pidginized Chinookan exist side-by-side for a time? They aren’t the same thing, I think.

Horatio Hale (1846:635ff) gives an excellent but again single-word-oriented lexicon of the Jargon, primarily arranged by source language; he observes that “to have included all the [compounds] would have swelled the vocabulary to many times its present extent” (page 646). Hale’s data make clear that compounding was already a vibrant feature of Chinuk Wawa, so it can be inferred that the above authors also witnessed it. The compounds that he does present are mostly obvious neologisms: < lasuai hakatshum > ‘silk handkerchief’, as well as < shipman > ‘a sailor’, < shipstik > ‘a spar’, and < selhaus > ‘a tent’. But some touch on precontact concepts: < stikskin > ‘bark’, < stikston > ‘a piece of petrified wood’, < kolsik-wamsik > ‘fever and ague’, < patlatsh tsok > ‘give me some water’, < olo tsok > ‘thirsty’.

Interestingly, and despite having collected a really good big data set of SW Washington Salish, Hale doesn’t really perceive the Salish component in the Jargon. So you’ll find Lower Chehalis words mainly as “Tshinuk” and in his “Doubtful”-origin category, which he says “must be either Tshinuk or Nootka”!

Joel Palmer’s “Journal of Travels over the Rocky Mountains, 1845-1846” (pages 264-270) contains a well-known Jargon lexicon, but again it’s single-word-oriented.

We come to realize that paper was much more expensive in the early 1800s than now. So, even if a publisher was willing to print every word you had to say about the Pacific Northwest for the reading public that was then avidly devouring bestselling books about the region, you as the person traipsing about the frontier probably had very little of it on your person. Thus your own written notes about Chinuk Wawa were going to be as skeletal as possible, and that’s what the publishers had to work with. Thus all these vocabularies listing just isolated words.

Alphonse Pinart’s (he was born in 1852!) lexicon dated 1849 (!) in French-style spellings as presented by Rena V. Grant is another word-by-word list, but has the compounds < tlosh’ stik > [‘good wood/tree’] and < kalakwaté stik > [‘skirt wood/tree’] ‘cedar’, < aias tom tom stik > [‘big heart/spirit tree/wood’] ‘elderberry’.

Grant is unsure of the precise origin of Pinart’s Jargon document, except that he had to have copied it from someone else, that it resembles Father Lionnet’s lexicon published by the Smithsonian in 1853, and that its core is Father Blanchet’s (originally 1838-1839) vocabulary that was later published in various forms. People shared their written Jargon resources routinely in those old days. The relatively few French-speakers in the Pacific Northwest would’ve especially shared with one another, I can imagine. I wonder if Blanchet made his notes available to another lower Columbia-area missionary, complainer-about-compiling-Jargon-reference-materials JBZ Bolduc, to copy — and whether Pinart then copied from Bolduc’s reported draft document?

I could go on like this. The overall picture from the first half-century or so of documented Chinuk Wawa is that it obviously had compound words galore, and it’s just that almost nobody bothered to write them all down because that would involve an order of magnitude more work and expensive materials.

I’ll move on to writing more about CW compounds’ sources in an upcoming post.