The grammar of sickness

songs of a sick tum-tum

“Songs of a Sick Tum-tum” by Skookum Chuck, a.k.a. Robert Dalziel Cumming, 1912 — he even has a poem about “The Clallam and the Iroquois(image credit:

Stay well! From a dictionary of Kamloops Chinuk Wawa that I’ve finished but haven’t yet published, here’s a very topical entry.

For all of you learners of Chinook Jargon, I’ll add a useful note after this quoted block…

(also) sip, sk, slk, sp, stk, shk [Here I’m listing the various Chinuk Pipa spellings used by the Salish 1890s Chinuk Pipa writers, because some letters of that alphabet are very similar to others.]

– adjective (attributive). upset…, sick…

wal nsaika drit klahawiam kopa iakwa kwanisim drit sik tomtom kwanisim kopa iakwa [149.003] [The bracketed numbers tell which source document, and which line of it, contain the quoted example.]
Well, we’ve been really pitiful around here, [we] kept feeling really sorry all the time over here.

– adjective (predicative). ill, hurt.

ilo ayu sik alta kokit iht tonas iaka drit stk [020.012]
Not many are ill right now, just one child is really sick.

Near-synonym: klahawiam.

– noun. sickness, illness.

klunas kapit ukuk sik [121.015]
I reckon this sickness is over.

A standard Chinook Jargon term. (sick Thomas 1970 [1935]:95, sik CTGR 2011:194; S. Johnson 1978:408-409 s.v. SICK has sik Le Jeune 1924:6, ‘a common English word’ p.16 and from the same region sick ‘unwell, sick, etc.’ Lindley 1862:35; sick Good 1880:26; sik Nê’luk [n.d.]; sik Le Jeune 1892:11.) Ultimately from English ‘sick’.

— in phrases.

ilo sik
—- adjective idiom (pred.). healthy.

alta naika tlus naika ilo sik [096.016]
Right now I’m well, I’m healthy.

Synonymous with skukum. A mention of the writer’s and/or his people’s health is customary in the shorthand letters, as is the opening naika tiki wawa kopa maika (etc.) ‘I want to talk to you’ and the closing naika nim… ‘My name is…’.

kol sik
—- noun idiom. cold, flu.

kopit klaska tlap tanas= kol sik [115.010] [The equals sign in my dictionary marks a grammatical prefix, here, the Diminutive.]
They’ve just got a bit of the cold.

A standard Chinook Jargon phrase.

latit … sik [The intervening … tells you that other words can come between the elements of a given phrase.]
—- noun idiom. to have a headache.

pi klunas maika ilo drit komtaks ikta iaka= siisim ukuk pipa pi latit ayu= sik ukuk son [115.020]
And I reckon you won’t really understand what this letter says, but I have a headache today.

Latit is used without a possessive pronoun to express ‘my head’ in [115]; in KCW possession of body parts (e.g. also lipii) can optionally be handled this way.

tanas= sik
—- adjective (predicative). under the weather, sickly.

Kr Lshyun naika tanas= sik [070.004]
Père Le Jeune, I’m under the weather.

An expression known in standard Chinook Jargon.

tlap= sik
—- verb (intransitive). to get sick, to fall ill.

o pus nsaika skwakum tomtom kopa stiil nsaika ilo tlaf sip kopa wakuk ilxi [065.009]
Oh, if we make up our minds for praying, we won’t get sick on this Earth (in this life).

sik (…) tomtom
—- adjective idiom (pred.) (?). upset, anxious.

pi kakwa naika sik tomtom ukuk son [083.016]
And so I’m upset today.

—- noun idiom. bad feelings.

alta naika mash ukuk sik tomtom [143.012]
Now I reject these bad feelings.

An expression known in standard Chinook Jargon; elsewhere in the region sick tum-tum ‘regret, sorrow’ Lindley 1862:36; sick-tumtum [with hyphen] ‘sorry’ Fries 1951:377.

tanas= sik tomtom
—- adjective idiom (?). disturbed, a bit upset.

naika tomtom maika tlap= tanas= sik tomtom kopa ukuk maika shikman… [087.002]
I expect you’re going to get a bit upset about this money of yours.

An expression unique to KCW.

tlap= sik tomtom
—- verb idiom (intransitive) (?). to get sad.

tilikom klaska= tlap= sik tomtom kopa ukuk tanas iaka= mimlus kopa chyuk [080.016]
The people have gotten sad about this child drowning.

Possibly an expression unique to KCW.

Regarding this last expression tlap= sik tomtom, and tlap= sik above, these are two good examples of what I call “out of control” marking of ‘becoming…; getting (to be)…’ in Chinuk Wawa.

It’s an especially strong pattern in Kamloops CW, and it contrasts with the well-known chako=.

Here’s the difference: tlap= (literally ‘catch; find’) marks something happening without you being able to cause it, and chako= (literally ‘come’) suggests that you had some influence over the event’s occurrence.

So, normally when you talk about ‘getting sick’, you say tlap= sik, because it would be strange to intentionally become ill.

And you use chako= for other kinds of occurrences, for example ‘recovering’, which is chako= skukum, because you can actually exert some effort to overcome a sickness.

What have you learned?
Stay indoors & practice your Chinuk Wawa!