“Chako” may be a Nootka Jargon compound, & Chinookan

cha cha cha

(Image credit: Twitter)

The unavoidable Chinuk Wawa word “chako(cháku) is typically explained as having come to us originally from Nuuchahnulth (“NCN”, of Vancouver Island, Canada)…but it may have as many as three sources. 


In NCN, as the 2012 Grand Ronde dictionary tells us, you find čukʷaa, ‘come!’, an imperative; this spelling is from my copy of Stonham’s dictionary, hayu masi to George Lang. (Hayu masi also to Jay Powell, but I haven’t yet found this word in the T’aat’aaqsapa dictionary.)

Here I have good and bad news for anyone researching this etymology with the help of Samuel V. Johnson’s 1978 dissertation on Chinook Jargon.

The good — SVJ lists under the root ‘COME’ several Chinook Jargon occurrences that look like čukʷaa: < tchooqua > from John Scouler (1841), < tchokwa > from George Gibbs (1863), and < chookwah > from Gilbert Sproat (1868).

The bad — upon checking these against their sources, every single one turns out to be a mention of a Nuuchahnulth etymology. It doesn’t appear easy to find any occurrences in Chinuk Wawa of forms that closely resemble these.

At any rate, let’s go ahead and think about this word within an NCN context. In the grammatical references I have access to, such as Adam Werle’s nice summary, I don’t find an imperative affix that resembles the end of this word, so I wonder (and this has not been suggested previously in the literature) — could it instead be an unanalyzable conventionalized exclamation used to encourage someone to approach or accompany you, much as nee is used in NCN for ‘say!’?

Or — What if it is analyzable, and (this is not been suggested previously in the literature) has a different etymology than has ever been proposed? There really are a number of these little particles/exclamations in NCN. Practically every learner knows a particular one of them: čuu, for ‘goodbye; hello; well…’. Well, I find another in Stonham, kʷaa ‘come here!’ So — what if “chako” goes back to something I’ve previously suggested for other Jargon words: *čuu+kʷaa (in linguistics an asterisk means a hypothetical form)a Nootka Jargon compound word (since I don’t find it in NCN) for ‘well, come here’??

The question of word stress is a minor puzzlement as well. We expect NCN’s long /aa/ in čukʷaa to attract stress, thus “chukwá” in Grand Ronde spelling. But there’s hardly any documentation of a final-stressed version of this word in Jargon.

I suspect its more-or-less unexpected first-syllable stress of being explainable, like quite a lot of Nootka Jargon features, as due to the influence of literate mother-tongue English speakers. Quite a number of the earliest White exploring and trading visitors wrote down all the words they could of NCN and/or Nootka Jargon, for future use. It wasn’t unusual for such a useful tool to be shared, hand-copied by others, which sometimes led to errors being introduced in the written information. Mistakes were surely compounded when future European visitors, or even an experienced hand who hadn’t memorized what NCN/NJ sounded like, tried to read aloud what was copied down. As we know, for instance, English has no simple or universally understood way to indicate word stress. So I find it pretty convincing to think that Anglophones could turn chukwá into cháko with a slip of the tongue.

Another view might be that the hypothesized compound *čuu+kʷaa, instead of tracing to the newer stage that is Nootka Jargon, goes back to the older stage that is Nuuchahnulth — old enough so that it had time to undergo some quite unremarkable sound shifts, thus giving rise to the modern NCN čukʷaa with its short(ened) first syllable.

Alternatively, if we instead think of an NJ compound word *čuu+kʷaa, then to the extent that NCN sound rules apply, I believe we would actually expect the stress to fall on the first syllable!

Whether any or none of the above were the case (!), “chako” became a word of the pidgin Nootka Jargon that eventually came south to the Columbia River estuary. That part of this story is established nearly beyond doubt.

But once this little word reached Chinookan land, and was used in pidgin speech between Whites and Natives, I might claim that a funny coincidence happened.

Cháku has a potential Chinookan co-antecedent. (I don’t believe this has been observed in the linguistic literature, either.)

Lower Chinookan includes an “exhortative particle” spelled < tca > (thus “cha“), and glossed as “come” by Boas in his “Chinook Texts”.

It’s interesting that Boas groups it with other Exhortative Particles on page 635 of his 1910 Lower Chinookan “Sketch“, but there glosses it only as a sort of discourse marker, “well! introducing a new idea”.

In his 1894 book of “Chinook Texts“, Boas consistently translates this frequent little sentence-starter as “come!” One out of dozens of examples, from page 219:

< Tca txcgāʹma, cikc. >
~ /chá txshgáma, shíksh/ in Grand Ronde-type spelling ~
Come we.will.play, friend.

Do you suppose Chinookan chá influenced, or at least reinforced, NCN > NJ > Chinuk Wawa cháku?

In closing this mighty involved essay, I’ll add that there are other Jargon words that we can only trace indeterminately to both Nootka Jargon and old Chinookan, such as siyápuł ‘hat’ and háyásh ‘big’. So I think it’s worth considering the new ideas about NCN, Chinookan, and cháku that I’m presenting today.

What do you think?