Pre-1900: Genuine-looking old SW Oregon CW

A short quotation in a dramatized frontier-era scene looks like real Chinuk Wawa…

stories of old oregon

(Image credit: Google Books)

It’s said to be based in real events at the headwaters of SW Oregon’s Coquille River, and the unique spellings indicate a writer who knows Jargon more from speaking it than from reading it.


“Nika close tilicum, nika ticky mitlite copa myka house okook polikelee hiyou snash chako.”
nayka ɬúsh tílixam, nayka tíki míɬayt kʰupa mayka háws úkuk púlakʰli, háyú snás(h) cháku.
my good friend, I want be.located in your house this night, much rain come.

DDR: ‘My good friend, I want to stay at your house tonight, a heavy rain is coming.’

— from “A Test of Courage: A True Story of Early Days in Southern Oregon” by G[eorge].A[ndrew]. Waggoner, Oregon Native Son and Historical Magazine October 1896 (Vol. I no. 6), page 479

I’ve corrected the punctuation there. Regular readers know that I firmly maintain that oldtime typesetters often introduced errors that weren’t present in the handwritten master copies of CW material that they worked from.

There are a number of points of interest in this short quotation of a Native (likely Dene) man’s speech — represented as “his own language”, a classic Settler misconception (outside of Grand Ronde):

  • Many Settlers seem to have preferred the spelling < close > for ɬúsh ‘good’, especially when speaking of friendships, conversations, and inspections. I often feel that there’s some influence there from spoken English phrases like a ‘close friend’ and a ‘close look‘.
  • To my perception, the use of < tilicum > (tílixam) as ‘friend’ is more characteristic of Settler speech than of other peoples’. By extension, I suppose Native people would address Settlers as < tilicum > more often than they’d say this to other Natives.
  • The spelling < myka > for mayka ‘your’ is quite a rarity.
  • ‘Night’, púlakʰli, being spelled as < polikelee > is another rara avis. Both of these words are clues that the writer was self-reliant in Jargon. You won’t find them written this way in published CW dictionaries, though we’ve seen the similar < polikely > and < politely >. Another neat detail is that the writer perceived the /a/ vowel in púlakʰli as /ay/, something we find recurring in Settler CW. I suspect it shows us something about many Settlers’ hometown dialects of American English. For instance, many “Southern” dialects say the /ay/ diphthong more like /æ/, making “like” come out “lak”.
  • < Snash > for snás ‘rain’ is a distinctly un-Settler pronunciation; alternations between and sh are, however, common in Indigenous people’s CW.

Of course we can’t draw many conclusions from such a tiny sample of Chinook Jargon speech, but taking it in the larger context of Jargon as we’ve found it documented, I think we have here a pretty genuine quotation from an interaction across cultures.

Waggoner, a pioneer of 1852, was also the author of a book-length memoir, “Stories of Old Oregon” (Salem, OR: Statesman Publishing Co., 1905). “A Test of Courage” is in fact the second chapter of it, introduced as an eyewitness account told to the writer by a southern Oregon friend. Interestingly, this later publication of the story uses these even weirder spellings:


page 24

Nika close tilicum, nika ticky mitilite copa myka house uckok polakalee(,) hiuh snash chako.

That’s all the Chinook in this book, except for page 123’s anecdote of a Jargon-speaking Nez Perce Indian toll bridge operator in the Elk City / Lolo Pass area. This is one of the relatively few instances of Chinuk Wawa being documented in use in Idaho south of Kootenai territory, and typical for such, it appears to occur kind of early, approximately 1861.

What do you think?