(Image credit: Dreamland Comics)

Spellings matter.

Certain old spellings of Chinuk Wawa words have been pointed out as containing clues.

Sarah Grey Thomason’s influential 1983 paper mentioned < tzum > ‘write, mark’. The “tz” implies that folks back in the day were noticing and trying to represent the popping sound at the start of it. The modern Grand Ronde spelling uses an apostrophe to show this, in t’sə́m.

(If I play the devil’s advocate, though, you won’t find many examples where non-TZ spellings — using TS instead — represent a non-popping sound! Only < tsiltsil > ‘button’ is reasonably common. Other than that, you have < tsiktsik > for t’síkt’sik ‘wagon’; < tseepee > for t’sípi ‘to miss’; < tsee > for t’sí ‘sweet’; < tsugh > for t’sə́x̣ ‘split, chop’; and < tsolo > for ‘to get lost, lose the way’!)

French-speakers who also wrote Chinook Jargon tended to use an “R” instead of an apostrophe. So up at Kamloops, Father Le Jeune would write < kro > for q’úʔ ‘arrive’. I’ve mentioned that strategy many times; it was well-established.

Well anyway, another example came to my mind of conventional Jargon spellings that helped to keep two pronunciations separate. In my born-and-bred Pacific Northwest dialect of English, the common Jargon spellings < cole > and < kull > sound identical, essentially /kəl/. But in Jargon, they’re noticeably different:

  • < cole > = kʰúl ‘cold’
  • < kull > = q’ə́l ‘hard’

Pretty neat little trick!

(More devil’s advocacy…not too many people ever wrote Chinuk Wawa using the English-speaker-oriented spellings I’m talking about. They were mainly devised by the compilers of the popular dictionary booklets, for teaching purposes.) 

Can you think of more examples where Chinook Jargon spellings tried to capture those distinctive Native sounds?

What are your thoughts?