Another reason why it should be called “Chinúk-T’səx̣élis Wáwa”

chinook salish style knives

Replica Chinook-Salish style knives (image credit:

A modest proposal I want to make about Salish-looking words of Lower Chinookan, many of which became Chinuk Wawa…

Salish material is typically…

  1. full, inflecting, independent words in Salish…
  2. that got borrowed into (Lower) Chinookan (i.e. Shoalwater-Clatsop-Kathlamet), not Upper Chinookan (i.e. Clackamas-Kiksht)
  3. where it was almost always taken in as particles, that is, non-inflecting, invariable words (Boas’s ~ “attribute complements”, a category that otherwise encompasses native Chinookan onomatopoeia / ideophones); second choice: taken in as a noun, which has extremely little morphological variation in Chinookan (in effect varying by gender and number only).

Why am I saying such obscure things?

My longtime readers can see this coming…

I think it’s very important that we begin to give more recognition to the role of Lower Chehalis (and other southwest Washington) Salish in the early formation of “Chinook Jargon”.

Over the course of several years, my research has, to my surprise, been moving me in the direction of analyzing Chinuk Wawa as a pidgin version of not just Chinookan but of Salish.

I’ve already posted many discussions in this space about the large number of previously unrecognized Lower Chehalis words in the Jargon.

Today I’m making the case that we also have a lot of evidence, in the form of “linguistic archaeology”™®©, for an even older tradition of blending Lower Chinookan with Salish.

Anthropologists and historians take it as a fact that Lower Chinookans’ language was one that other tribal people perceived as “too hard to learn” — with the result that Lower Chinookans also typically spoke a foreign language, Salish, to make themselves understood.

It can’t be any surprise (but hasn’t previously been demonstrated as far as I’m aware of the research literature) that there would therefore exist traces of such heavy Salish use, left behind in the Lower Chinookan language(s).

Today, unavoidably, I’ll be repeating some points I’ve already written about in this respect — but rest assured, I’ve got a number of new observations about Salish-looking material in Lower Chinookan.

All of this, as I say, is in service to an idea that any pidgin(-creole) of Lower Chinookan speech, which was already bilingual between two unrelated tribal languages, is more accurately called “Chinook-Chehalis Jargon”. (Chinúk-T’səx̣élis Wáwa.)

Let’s revise history!

Look at a list of words…

…wherever I don’t give a source (cited in full on first occurrence only), a word is taken from the Grand Ronde Tribes 2012 dictonary of Chinuk Wawa…

  • Jargon: k’áynuł ‘tobacco’, said to come from a Chinookan word.
    • Salish: southwest Washington Salish languages have definitely native words for ‘tobacco’ based on their word for ‘smoke’, as well as this Jargon word; it is potentially an old loan from these Salish languages, since these use a suffix -n̓əł ‘plant’. For a potential Salish root, we can consider Proto-alish *k̓ay̓ ‘to dry out, wither’, which is no longer used in SW WA Salish, so for k’áynuł to be a loan into Chinookan, it would have to be an old one.
    • Chinookan: all documented languages have this stem, so if it was loaned from Salish to Lower Chinookan, it’s had time to diffuse upstream along the Columbia.
  • Jargon: pʰáł ‘full’, said to come from Chinookan.
    • Salish:
      • Proto-Salish *pəł, *pł-u/ał ‘thick’. This root is seen for example in modern Lower Chehalis pə́ł ‘thick’…
        • …which, in a suffixed derivation, plus Chinookan-style consonant symbolism (which I think is due to longterm Chinookan-Chehalis bilingualism; see an upcoming post in this space on that), is the source of Chinook Jargon p’íłił ‘thick’.
        • Note the existence of some variation between /ə́/ and /á/ in the Proto-root & generally in Lower Chehalis.
        • It may be significant that this root is known to be used metaphorically, for instance in Lower Chehalis pəł-ús [literally ‘thick-face’] ‘forward, pushy’; in Chinuk Wawa compare  p’áłił ‘bullshit(ter)’ and expressions listed under p’íłił.
      • Interior Salish: perhaps compare Proto-Interior Salish *ʔapł, *pəł ‘having, provided with’ (Kuipers 2002; note the frequent Salish occurrence of “metathesis” where vowels and consonants can change places)
      • Coast Salish: a separate root is used to literally express ‘full’: Proto-Coast Salish *lə́k̓. What’s quite interesting there is that that root could possibly also be a metaphor, say from a blending of two inherited roots — compare Proto-Salish *luc̓ ~ lac̓ ~ yuc̓ ~ yac̓ ‘tight, crowded’ and older Proto-Salish *lək̓ ‘to tie, bind’. (Older // normally developed into Southwest Washington Salish /č̓/.) 
      • For the proposed ‘FULL’:’HAVE (a lot of)’ metaphor, we can bring in known real-world examples in other languages. Serbo-Croatian says puno (literally ‘full’) for ‘a lot of’. English full comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root as Greek poly- ‘many’.
    • Lower Chinookan:
      • Shoalwater-Clatsop: particle paƛ ‘full’
      • Kathlamet: particle pał ‘full’ (page 14)
    • Upper Chinookan:
      • Clackamas: particle paƛ ‘full’ (page 405)
      • Wishram: particle pał ‘full’ (page 52) (There seems to be an additional root for ‘full’, seen on the same page when Coyote’s fish trap calls out núłəmst ‘I am full’.)
  • Jargon: t’łəmínxwət ‘a lie, to tell a lie’, said to come from Chinookan.
    • Salish: this word looks an awful lot like some root or stem *ƛ̓ə́m ( = *t’łə́m, perhaps at a wild guess *ƛ̓áʔ-m ‘’; perhaps also seen in Jargon t’łə́mxwən ‘to prick, stick, stab’) plus the SW Washington Salish lexical suffix =ínwət / =ínut ‘mind’. (So perhaps ‘to search for something in one’s mind’.) This would have to be an old word, as it’s not found in modern SW Wa Salish languages, and there seems to be the alternation of /w/ ~ /xʷ/ that we find sporadically in old words of these languages. Note that those languages now use quite a number of words for ‘lying’, most being obvious or probable metaphors, including ‘talking crazy’. That variability suggests something going on such as a progressive tabooing of words for this antisocial activity.
    • Lower Chinookan:
      • Shoalwater-Clatsop: noun i-ƛ̓əmínxut ‘a lie’
      • Kathlamet: noun i-mí-ƛ̓əmínxut ‘[your lie]’ (page 91)
    • Upper Chinookan:
      • Clackamas: noun(?) i-ƛ̓əmínxut•i-ƛ̓əmínxut ‘a big lie’ (Very weird to reduplicate an entire inflected word! … Perhaps due to its feeling foreign to the speaker?)
      • Wishram: verb? čšudíƛ̓i ~ ‘he is lying’ (page 120)
  • Jargon: nixwá ‘show me!; let’s see!; how about… (etc.)’
    • Salish: Go re-read my article relating to this.
    • Lower Chinookan:
      • Shoalwater-Clatsop: particle níxʷa ‘let’s…; let (me), suppose… (etc.)’
      • Kathlamet:  (‘we’ form of verb is used instead…)
    • Upper Chinookan:
      • Clackamas: particle nixʷa ‘let us’ (Jacobs 1958-1959:332)
      • Wishram: (no distinct word noticed; 1st person dual or plural inflection expresses ‘let us’)
  • Jargon: k’úyʔ ‘hopefully…; wishing that…; wishing for…’
    • Salish: SW Wa Salish has a root k̓ʷíʔ ‘to give (as a gift)’; for the metaphor, compare English ‘granted that…’ and many languages’ development of ‘give’ into a sort of imperative/permissive form. Possibly a Salish command form k̓ʷíʔ-aʔ of this root was loaned into Chinookan; compare JK Gill’s dictionary that gives < quitz > as ‘give’ in Chinuk Wawa, apparently from Salish k̓ʷíʔ-aʔ-c ‘give (to) me’.
    • Lower Chinookan:
      • Shoalwater-Clatsop: particle qui ‘will; let us’
      • Kathlamet: particle qui ‘must’ (Boas 1894:39)
    • Upper Chinookan:
      • Clackamas: particle k̓úya ‘let us’ (Jacobs 1958-1959:321)
      • Wishram: (no distinct word noticed; 1st person dual or plural inflection expresses ‘let us’)
  • Jargon: — (not a Chinuk Wawa word, but read on!)
    • Salish: Proto-Salish *put ‘right, sufficient, exact, very’ (this shows up in various old fossilized forms in SW Washington Salish, typically as pət…)
    • Lower Chinookan:
      • Shoalwater-Clatsop: adverb (particle) pət ‘really’ (Boas 1910:684)
      • Kathlamet: particle pat ‘really’ (Boas 1894:218), as well as a couple of Chinookan synonyms
    • Upper Chinookan (Kiksht):
      • Clackamas: adverb Gánač̓a ‘really’ (Jacobs 1958-1959:368)
      • Wishram: Gánuid ‘really’ (Sapir 1901:86)

I realize all of this has seemed pretty dense and technical to some readers.

But I wanted to show some of my thinking about how there’s an old pattern of Salish playing a role, not recognized before, in influencing the old Chinookan languages spoken near it.

The Chinookan languages farther upriver only later, if at all, received the Salish loans, under this scenario.

These social dynamics and loaning patterns would’ve continued into the historical era, which is when phenomena like Chinookan bilingualism in Salish were documented in the first place.

To me all of this looks like a close Indigenous parallel to another dynamic that played into the formation of Chinuk Wawa — the known role of English-speakers in importing Nootka Jargon words into the lower Columbia region.

It’s as if both the Natives and the Newcomers were using their best “foreigner talk” on each other circa 1800…

Some folks believe that that is how pidgin languages get started.

What do you think?