El Comancho’s “copo” is copacetic

The other day I mused about Chinuk Wawa dictionary writer WS “El Comancho” Phillips’s weird pronunciation-spelling of k’áynuɬ ‘tobacco’ as < chinoos >.

Today I suggest he knew what he was about — just look at his prepositions.

One in particular. The all-purpose Jargon preposition kʰapa (in Grand Ronde style) / < kopa > (in its commonest spelling by non-Natives).

El Comancho (I think the name is Jargon for ‘Dude’) is really unusual in spelling that little word as <copo>, ending in “O”, throughout his “Chinook Book“. Here’s a good selection, with five examples by my count:

copo el comancho


“Chim, nika tika mahsh konaway stick copo nika
“Jim, I want taken (away) all timber from my

illahee. Konce chickamun ict sun mika tika spose mamook
land. How much money (per) one day you want if make

mahsh konaway stick spose mamook klosh copo piah
taken away all timber (and) if make good for fire

copo lasee pe lahash pe mamook haul copo kuitan copo nika
with saw and axe and make haul by horse to my

(Idea: Jim, I want this land of mine cleared. How much do you want per day to clear away all the timber and to cut it into stove wood for my fire with saw and axe and haul it to my house?)

“Ict dollah pe sitkum ict sun —  klosh spose kahkwa.”
“One dollar and one-half one day — good if like that.”
(Idea: I will do it for a dollar and a half a day and be satisfied to do it for that.)

— THE CHINOOK BOOK, page 117

Phillips is the only writer I know who routinely uses that spelling/pronunciation. It turns up plenty in his 1896 book, “Totem Tales“.

But if you find it from other published sources, it looks as if it’s a mistake: I found a single instance of < kopo > in an edition of TN Hibben’s Chinook Jargon dictionary; it’s got < kopa > otherwise. George Shaw also has a single < kopo >.

SV Johnson’s 1978 dissertation / collection of many Chinuk Wawa dictionaries shows, under his entry LOCATIVE, no telltale signs of folks ending this word in “O”.

(Mental note: SVJ 1978 doesn’t index the contents of El Comancho’s books; nor does he discuss them with respect to his ten “lines” that virtually all Jargon dictionaries fall into. This means we should make a point of checking in Phillips’s books when researching Jargon questions!)

Having gone to some lengths to portray El Comancho as the quintessential outsider…

I want you to know that this Seattle author was doing us the unique service of documenting good Salish Sea (Puget Sound-area) Chinuk Wawa!

It turns out, when you ransack the archives for audio of the Jargon to get a more detailed idea of how it was once spoken, there are a number of speakers from that area recorded.

And almost without exception, they give me the impression of preferring a kopo pronunciation!

Just like El Comancho.

There are no published references about this to point you to, and I’m sorry I have no prepared snippets of tape to post with today’s article. But this is a real thing.

I’ll surely be looking through Phillips’s books with fresh eyes, now that I realize he was not making things up but instead documenting the Salish Sea dialect of Chinook Jargon!