Intertribal canoe race: A challenge in Chinook

oregon building alaska yukon pacific exposition

Oregon State Building, Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, Seattle, WA (the fairgrounds became the University of Washington campus) (image credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s an oddity & a curiosity.

It’s fictional Chinuk Wawa — or facilitated communication — in that the “speaker”, a Siberian Yup’ik named Ogkok from the Chukchi Peninsula, isn’t choosing the words, and the text is obviously written with the help of a published dictionary.

It’s genuine in that contemporary publications show Frank J. Smith of Oregon was someone with real exposure to Salem-Grand Ronde-Siletz area Chinook Jargon and a mighty keen eye for documenting it. Also, his use of hyack as a verb meaning ‘hurry’, towards the end, is genuinely an English-influenced usage that we know from other speakers of similar background.

Sandwiched into the following, I’ll add interpretive information that reveals the differences between the intended meaning and what actually emerges.

This points to Smith’s surprising lack of self-confidence in relying on bookish words (marked by ##, and I think taken from J.K. Gill’s dictionary) that he couldn’t have been familiar with from actual Oregon use.

challenge in chinook 1


Letter of Eskimo Translated Into the Jargon Predicts Unparalleled Enjoyment.

Ogkok, head man of the Eskimo village, who has accepted the challenge of the Quinaults to engage in canoe races, whale hunts and harpooning contests during the Alaska-Yukon-Pacifie exposition, has caused a letter to be written in the Chinook jargon. Ogkok does not speak Chinook, so the services of Frank J. Smith, superintendent of the Oregon building, were sought to get the letter into the words known by all of the Washington Indians. The letter indicates that there will be “much strong talk” at the tournament and much mirth, or as the jargon has it “hi-yu hee-hee.” Ogkok’s letter follows:

“Kon-away hyas salt chuck pee tenas chuck.
kánawi háyás-sáltsəqw pi tənəs-tsə́qw
all big-saltwater and little-water

‘(To) all the saltwater and river’
All salt water and river

Siwash tillicum pee hul-oi-mee tillicum.
sáwásh tílixam pi x̣lúyma tílixam.
Indian people and other people.

‘Indian people and other people.’  
Indian people and strange tribes.

challenge in chinook 2

O-koke papah Nika mamook tzum.
úkuk pípa náyka mamuk-t’sə́m.
this paper I make-mark.
‘I write this letter.’

This letter I write.

Hyas tyee Nika, nem Ogkok.
háyás táyí náyka, ním Ogkok
big chief I, name Ogkok
‘I am a great chief named Ogkok.’

Big chief I, name Ogkok.

Nika chaco cole illahee Siberia.
náyka cháku Ø kʰúl ílihi Siberia.
I come Preposition cold land Siberia.
‘I come from a cold land, Siberia.’

I come where cold country, name Siberia.

Nika tikeh mika mamook chaco.
náyka tíki máyka mamuk-cháku.
I want you make-come.
‘I want you to bring,’

I want you to come.

Nika tikey moka iskum.
náyka tíki máyka ískam
I want you take
‘I want you to take’

I want you to bring,

Huitan, opilka pee kanim.
kʰíyutən-, úpt’łikʰi- pi kəním-
horse-, bow- and canoe-
‘horse-, bow- and canoe-‘

People to where Chief Seattle live

Tillicum kopa yah-na Tyee Seattle mitlite Ahn-cutty. Chaco o-koke waum illahee.
tílixam kʰapa yawá táyí Seattle míłayt ánqati. cháku úkuk wám-ílihi
people to there chief Seattle live previously. come this warm-country
‘people to where Chief Seattle used to live. Come this summer.’

Long time ago. Come this summer.

Boston man mamook hi-yu kulah pee
bástən-mán mámuk háyú q’əláx̣ pi
American-man make many fence and
‘The Americans are building a lot of fence and’

Americans make big corral and

Hi-yu skookum house pee-kah-ta kon-away
háyú skúkum háws pi qʰáta kánawi
many strong house and how all
‘a lot of solid houses and how [sic] all’

Big strong houses wherefore all

Kloshe tillicum chaco. Nesika
łúsh tílixam cháku. nsáyka
good people come. we
‘the good people are coming. We’

Good people come. We

challenge in chinook 3

Sopenah kopa chuck, mamook sail canim.
súp’na kʰapa tsə́qw, mamuk-síl kəním,
jump in water, make-sail canoe,
‘will jump in the water, sail canoes,’

Dive in water, sail canoe

Sitchum, iskum pish olhiyu, eena
síc’hum, ískam písh[,] ulx̣áyu, ína
swim, get fish, seal, beaver
‘swim, catch fish, seals, beaver,’
Swim, catch fish, seal, beaver

Pee sammon. Mamook illahee #ona#
pi sámən, mamuk-ílihi < ona >,
and salmon, make-earth clam,
‘and salmon, dig [for] clams,’

And salmon. Dig clam

Itlokum, hyak coolee ku-i-tan pee komoox.
íłəkum, háyáq kúli kʰíyutən pi kʰámuksh., fast run horse and dog.
‘play bonegame, race horses and dogs.’

Gamble, race horse and dog;

Hi-yu hee-hee, hi-yu tanse, hi-yu tin-tin.
háyú híhi, háyú tánis, háyú tíntin,
much fun, much dance, much music,
‘Lots of fun, lots of dancing, lots of music,’

Much amusement, much dance, much music.

Hi-yu muck-a-muck, hi-yu skookum wawa; pee
háyú mə́kʰmək, háyú skúkum wáwa, pi
much food, much strong talk, and
‘lots of food, lots of powerful speeches, and’

Much food, much oratory, and

Kon-away klosch ickta. Nesika #pittuck# mamook tum-tum
kánawi łúsh íkta. nsáyka < pittuck > mamuk-tə́mtəm
all good thing. we think make-think
‘all kinds of good things. Our minds think’

All good things. We think

Nesika tillicum elip kloshe kopa kon-away ickta.
nsáyka tílixam íləp-łúsh kʰapa kánawi-íkta.
our people more-good in all-thing.  
‘our people are the best at everything.’

We people best, in all things.

Hyack pee #tikeh mamook# tolo.
háyáq pi tíki-mamuk túluʔ.
hurry and want-do win.
‘Hurry and try to win.’

Come on and try to win.

Kopet nika wawah. Ogkok.
kʰapít náyka wáwa. Ogkok.
finished my talk. Ogkok.
‘My words are finished. Ogkok.’

That is all. Ogkok.”

— from the Olympia (WA) Washington Standard of August 6, 1909, page 1, column 7

What do you think?