Cheechako and Nuuchahnulth?

Another mysterious word of Nuučaan’uł (Southern branch of Wakashan family) that’s reported to us by G.M. Sproat (1868:128)…

cheechako boat

Cheechakos in the same boat (image credit: “The Trail of ’98: A Northland Romance” (1911), via Flickr)

…is a term for ‘a stranger’:


Klahchoochin, “a stranger,” or literally, “the newly-
come,” is derived from klah, a root signifying “present
time,” and chookwah, “come.” This last word is con-
nected with the Chinook [Jargon] word chako.

The metaphor at the start of this selection, ‘newly-come’, is an intriguing parallelism with Chinuk Wawa’s well-known < cheechako >, chxí-cháku, and might indicate a shared metaphor or even a source of the latter.

I haven’t found a trace of < klahchoochin >‘stranger’ in the Nuuchahnulth dictionaries that I own, though. 

And I have, if not doubts of its veracity, then an alternative understanding of this word.

The form < chookwah > for ‘come’ is a specialized, command-only word. That is, Nuuchahnulth speakers don’t appear to use it to describe someone coming here.

  • A root morpheme, maybe what Matthew Davidson’s dissertation on Makah calls an “empty root”,  /hin/, is used extensively to create words denoting ‘come’. I imagine that, if there has ever been any trend of compounding in the language, it may be historically related to the suffix -in ‘come’ (glossed thus in Stonham’s dictionary).  
  • Suffixes -atsap and -atšiƛ also form verbs that give a similar sense of approaching a place. 

These notes suggest to me the possibility that local folks around Port Alberni, BC, who taught Sproat something like “500 words” of Nuuchahnulth by his estimate, and who he reports as knowing more Chinuk Wawa than closely related tribes did, were deliberately simplifying their language for his benefit. 

That is, I think this < klahchoochin > is perhaps their calque on the existing Chinuk Wawa < cheechako >.

A glance into the documentation of CW indicates that that phrase was in use by the time of J.B. Good‘s publication (1880) of a vocabulary based on his BC experiences since 1861. 

Interestingly (and maybe a further complication to this puzzle), as important a source on lower Columbia River / early-creolized CW as George Gibbs’s 1863 dictionary uses < chee > with the motion verb < ko > ‘arrive’, to indicate that someone has just come here. But I don’t readily find instances of *< chee > + < chako >* in that document.

In another major early/southern-dialect document, the Demers-Blanchet-St Onge dictionary and catechism of 1871, based on 1840s data, the only associations of < chi > with < chako > appear to refer to the birth of babies.

Similarly, St Ongeʹs 1892 dictionary manuscript only defines < chi chako > as ‘incipient’, evidently representing chxí chaku-___ (‘newly becoming-___’). 

Even in the 2012 Grand Ronde (Oregon) dictionary, chxí + cháku appears to be a somewhat infrequent expression, and only a verbal one — not forming a noun for ‘strangers’. 

So, could < cheechako > have come into common usage only later, in more northerly areas such as BC, where my impression is that the verb < ko > (q’úʔ) was less widely known?

I’ve previously written that, as a loan into English, cheechako is strongly associated with the Klondike gold rush, circa 1897. 

But was it already in use in CW, supplying the model for Nuuchahnulth < klahchoochin >? Or, did < klahchoochin > provide the stimulus for coining < cheechako >

Maybe my readers who are acquainted with the Nuuchahnulth language will be able to offer deeper insights than I can here.

What do you think?