“Mákook pi Sélim”

A brief illustration of how Chinook Jargon words change meaning over time…


“Jesus Chasing the Merchants from the Temple” (image credit: Wikipedia)

…Which is what happens in all languages.

The instance I’m showing you today is mákuk.

This word started life evidently in the Nootka Jargon, that is as a bit of Nuuchahnulth language that got pidginized into a generic verb for ‘trade, buy, sell’.

It held onto those meanings when it became a foundation-stone of the earliest Chinuk Wawa.

Maybe a generation later, though, a big infusion of Canadian/Métis French words was supplied to CW when it “creolized” into a family and community language around Fort Vancouver.

In that process, we’re told, Canadian slang húyhuy ‘trade’ entered the language.

And so, mákuk became more precise, getting limited to ‘buying’ and ‘selling’.

This may have been the era when the phrase mákuk-háws (literally the ‘buying/selling-building’) entered Chinook, as the term for a Euro-American-style ‘store’ or ‘shop’. For sure that term existed by the days of early Seattle, where there was a business named the “New York Markook House“.

It was natural that Chinook Jargon, once it went on to be a major British Columbia language, would develop further; it gained a further word, sél or (in pidgin English style) sélim, meaning only ‘to sell’.

By this stage, mákuk was narrowed down to a meaning of only ‘buying’, for a lot of speakers.

One lovely illustration of this is in a BC Chinuk Wawa translation of a passage in the bible’s Luke 19 —

Pi ShK klatwa kopa styuil haws, pi
‘And Jesus Christ went to the church, and’

iaka tlap tilikom klaska makuk pi klaska
‘he found people who were buying and who’

sil iktas kopa styuil haws, pi iaka
‘were selling things in the church, and he’

mash klaska klahani…
‘tossed them out…’

— page 176 of the “Chinook Book of Devotions throughout the Year” (Kamloops, 1902)

Bonus fact:

A little bird told me that there’s a new BC Indigenous business magazine that’s also titled Mákook pi Sélim!

What do you think?