A reason, maybe, for that spelling “Ts’inuk”

I think the alternate spelling of “Chinook” as < Ts’inuk > goes back to one or more very well-informed researchers of our region’s Indigenous languages.


Eh?! (Image credit: Trademarkia)

George Gibbs, maybe.

This spelling has the look of being phonetically precise, as though the < ts’ > were the same popping sound (ejective affricate) as what the Grand Ronde Tribes Chinuk Wawa program spells < t’s >.

If that’s indeed what was intended by < Ts’inuk >, here’s a new thought that could make sense of that otherwise never-documented pronunciation.

The scholar who noted it, or some local person who told it to him, may have been influenced mentally by the close association between the Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinooks (known to outsiders as chənúk / chinúk) and the Lower Chehalis Salish (t’səx̣íl’s). 

The latter name does have the popping sound.

It would be poetic justice to a small degree if < Ts’inuk > happened to memorialize both of these ethno-linguistic groups, who jointly shaped the great mass of CW’s Indigenous component!

Caveat: George Gibbs did not typically distinguish ejective sounds in his CW spellings — not with an apostrophe as in < Ts’inuk > anyhow.

That strategy would be typical of the later researcher Franz Boas, though, who did a lot of work with Chinookan languages.

The question then is just who first came up with this spelling…one which is really persisting online for some reason.

In the interest of conscientious exposition, I’ll add that there’s already known phonetic variation between the original /t’s/ of “Chehalis” and its realization as /c’h ~ ch/ by most non-Chehalis people, including Chinookans.

And knowing as much as we know about Chinookan languages’ habit of mutating consonants for expressive power, the original Salish (yes, Salish) /ch/ of “Chinook” could be expected to sometimes be pronounced /ts/ by Chinookans.

All of this is just to say that /t’s/ in < T’sinuk > might be simply a rare but accurate document of of Chinookan speech. 

But still, you gotta think…

What do you think?