Continuity: A deeper analysis of Alexander Ross’s early CW vocabulary

Here’s another early Chinook Jargon vocabulary that deserves further examination, from which we learn quite a lot.


Alec Ross is known for his good relations with Indigenous people; he married Syilx woman Sarah “Sally” Timentwa (1798?-1884), and retired to Red River Settlement (image credit: WikiTree)

Alexander Ross (1782-1856) emigrated from Scotland to Upper Canada in the first decade of the 1800s, and went on to work for the big 3 companies in the Pacific Northwest fur trade — Astor’s American Fur Company, the Northwest Company, and then the Hudsons Bay Company.

Despite being assigned as sole staffer at the new inland Fort Okinagan, he also was on the lower Columbia River enough to create our very best document of early (that is, pidgin) CJ.

Previous to the 1849 publication of Ross’s vocabulary as a 9-page Appendix to his memoir “Adventures of the First Settlers [SIC] on the Oregon or Columbia River, 1810-1813“, the only good information about early Chinuk Wawa that was publicly available was the short word lists in Gabriel Franchere’s 1820 French-language book, and in Ross Cox’s English-language reminiscences in 1831-1832. I’ve written about both of those in separate articles here.

A few other bits of CW had been published by 1849, but they referred to Fort Vancouver-era Jargon, which I consider a different “early-creolized” stage of the language.

For this reason, Alexander Ross’s “Chinook Vocabulary” is really precious to us, as it was a rare commodity and it was provided in greater quantity than the two preceding publications had supplied. I’ll reproduce it in full here.

Somewhat puzzling, and intriguing, is Ross’s separating-out of about a page of that vocabulary as

another lingo, or rather mixed dialect, spoken by the Chinook and other neighbouring tribes; which is generally used in their intercourse with the whites. It is much more easily learned, and the pronunciation more agreeable to the ear than the other…

While it’s clear Ross was noticing the difference between CW and natively-spoken Chinookan (whch is a much more complex language in phonology and morphology), I personally see only one principled difference between his two data sets. The first contains Chinookan- (and local Salish-!) as well as Nuuchanulth- (and Haida-!) origin words. The second additionally contains English-origin items. That is, both appear to be a local development from “Nootka Jargon”, with one being more “Chinook”-oriented, and the other more newcomer-oriented.

(Both share a single grammar, as far as I can discern, whose resemblance to later CW I’ll try to highlight, as we work through Ross’s vocabulary.)

I hypothesize that the “Chinook”-oriented list represents how outsiders spoke to “Chinooks” in an attempt to mimic the Lower Chinookan language; the “newcomer”-oriented list may represent “Chinooks” making the same sort of accommodation for the outsiders’ English.

Note that there are no provable directly French-sourced words in either set, because those only became prominent in CW from the founding of Fort Vancouver (1825+). Of the two possible counter-examples below, one is highly doubtful (Capawillaughtè ‘capot’, see its entry below). The other is nearly as tenuous (Pa-she-shi-ooks ‘White people’), which we have good evidence later was seen as reflecting the word français, but whose form here in earliest times is clearly Chinookan for ‘blanket people’, just as early sources claim.

Here I’ll try to flag the source language of a word only when it’s not from ChinookanAnd I’ll show the later CW equivalent of a word only when that word has stayed in use in CW.



One     Ight     [later CW, familiar to us, with “…” indicating differences:] íxt

Two     Muxt     mákwst

Three     Thlune     ɬún

Four     Lakat     lákit

Five     Quinum     qwínəm

Six     Tuchum     táx̣am [possibly an ancient borrowing from local Salish]

Seven     Sinamuxt     sínamakwst

Eight     Istought-tekin     stúxtkin

Nine     Quie-est     k’wáyts, k’wáyst [possibly a loan from Sahaptin]

Ten     Eattathlelum     …táɬlam

Eleven     Eattathlelum equin ight     …táɬlam … íxt

Twelve     Eattathlelum equin muxt     …táɬlam … mákwst

Thirteen     Eattathlelum equin thlune     …táɬlam … ɬún

Fourteen     Eattathlelum equin lakat     …táɬlam … lákit

Fifteen     Eattathlelum equin quinum     …táɬlam … qwínəm

Sixteen     Eattathlelum equin tuchum     …táɬlam … táx̣am

Seventeen     Eattathlelum equin sinamuxt     …táɬlam … sínamakwst

Eighteen     Eattathlelum equin istought-tekin     …táɬlam … …stúxtkin

Nineteen     Eattathlelum equin quie-est     …táɬlam … k’wást, k’wáyts

Twenty     Muxt-thlalth     mákwst … 

Twenty-one     Muxt-thlalth equin ight     mákwst … … íxt

Twenty-two     Muxt-thlalth equin muxt     mákwst … … mákwst 

[original page #343] Twenty-three     Muxt-thlalth equin thlune     mákwst … … ɬún 

Twenty-four     Muxt-thlalth equin lakat     mákwst … … lákit

Twenty-five     Muxt-thlalth equin quinum     mákwst … … qwínəm 

Twenty-six     Muxt-thlalth equin tuchum     mákwst … … táx̣am

[page # in the edition I took this from — DDR] 322     Early Western Travels [Vol. 7

Twenty-seven     Muxt-thlalth equin sinamuxt     mákwst … … sínamakwst

Twenty-eight     Muxt-thlalth equin istought-tekin     mákwst … … …stúxtkin

Twenty-nine     Muxt-thlalth equin quie-est     mákwst … … k’wáyts, k’wáyst

Thirty     Thlune-thlalth    ɬún …

Thirty-one     Thlune-thlalth equin ight     ɬún … … íxt

Thirty-two     Thlune-thlalth equin muxt     ɬún … … mákwst

Thirty-three     Thlune-thlalth equin thlune     ɬún … … ɬún

Forty     Lakat-thlalth     lákit … 

Fifty     Quinum-thlalth     qwínəm … 

Sixty     Tuchum-thlalth     táx̣am … 

Seventy     Sinamuxt-thlalth     sínamakwst … 

Eighty     Istought-tekin-thlalth     …stúxtkin …

Ninety     Quie-est-thlalth     k’wáyst, k’wáyts …

One hundred     E-tha-ca-munack     ták’umunaq

Two hundred     Muxt e-tha-ca-munack     mákwst …ták’umunaq

Three hundred     Thlune e-tha-ca-munack     ɬún …ták’umunaq

Four hundred     Lakat e-tha-ca-munack     lákit …ták’umunaq

Five hundred     Quinum e-tha-ca-munack     qwínəm …ták’umunaq

One thousand     Hi-oh     háyú [a Nootka Jargon word]

Two thousand     Hi-oh hi-oh     háyú, háyú

Three thousand     Hi-oh hi-oh hi-oh     háyú, háyú, háyú

Four thousand     Hi-oh hi-oh hi-oh hi-oh     háyú, háyú, háyú, háyú

Five thousand     Hi-oh hi-oh hi-oh hi-oh hi-oh     háyú, háyú, háyú, háyú, háyú, háyú

Head     Thlam-eck-took

Hair     Chlick-ax

Eyes     Etsuck-out

Eyebrows     T e-killikits-alepa

Chin     Come-ach-ouetts

Nose     Emeeats

Mouth     Emets-kill

Ears     Oak-cutsa

Beard     Te-ve-vex

Cheeks     Capala-ketanux

3 2 3     1810-1813]     Ross’s Oregon Settlers

[344] Teeth     Ots-ats-ach

Neck     Oak-quam-ux

Face     Sheaaugh-ouest

Arms     Etispol-etick

Fingers     Te-kux-ach

Ribs     Telleman

Shoulders     Ok-chak-chalea-quilea-matic

Breasts     Emets-aughtick

Back     Emeck-kuts-ach

Belly     Eats-awane

Legs     Eatsou

Feet     Tekick-acock

Grandfather     Eock-acka

Grandmother     Eye-kecka

Father     Mamah

Mother     Naha

Uncle     Eyat-tessa

Aunt     Elkitch-outcha

Brother     A-u     áw

Sister     Ats     áts

Son     Etsicha

Daughter     Oque-cha

Nephew     Ack

Husband     Tlick-chall

Wife     Oquack-ekull

Brother-in-law     Ek-keck

Sister-in-law     Oquetam

Son-in-law     Exs-ech

Daughter-in-law     Okuste

Relations     Cap-whoo     kápxu ‘older sibling’

Lad     Equal-esso

Maiden     Ulick

Boy     Ekass-cass

[Vol. 7

3 2 4

Early Western Travels

Girl     Ok-thla-pelchech

Fear     Quass     k’wás

Enemies     Il-keck-o-why-matick

I or me     Nica     nayka

[345] Mine     Nissika     nsayka ‘we’ [weird misunderstanding or mis-remembering by Ross! It doesn’t seem to have been picked up by other speakers, so that’s all I think it is. See ‘yours’, two entries below.]

You or thou     Mika     mayka

Yours     Miss-ika     msayka ‘you plural’ [weird misunderstanding or mis-remembering by Ross! See two entries above]

He     Oeach

She     Awaugh

It     Ek-ek

That     E-kech

These     Ock-ock     úkuk ‘this, these, that, those’

Here     Ek-kech

Who     Tluxta     ɬáksta

They or them     Yaugh-ka     yáx̣ka ‘(s)he, they’ (emphasis form; note early CW using this for a plural, which we also find for yaka ‘(s)he’ in much of later CW) [see yough-ca below]

And     Equin

If     Sminich

By-and-by     Alke or quana     áɬqi

Where     Kach-e-walchoo

That     Cat-ta     qʰáta ‘how’

When     Tshech     chxí ‘just now; starting to’ (I’m guessing)

Nothing     Onetan

How many?     Queen-tshech     qʰə́nchi(x̣)

Yes     Aa     áhá

No     Next or keya

That is it     Yough-ca     yáx̣ka ‘(s)he’ [see yaugh-ka above]

Long ago     Ankate     ánqati

Be quick     I-ake     áyáq

Just now     Alke     áɬqi ‘in the future’

None     Canext

More     Wought     wə́x̣t

Little     Eanux

Good     E-toukety [see ‘handsome’ below for signs of Euro-American misunderstanding; for a parallel example, also see next entry]

1810-1813]     Ross’s Oregon Settlers 325

Bad     Mass-atsy [note, as far as we can tell, this word always meant ‘beautiful’ in Chinookan (!), so this would seem to be early evidence of Euro-American influence on CW in the form of a misunderstanding of the word; see previous entry for a similar case]

Chief     Tye-yea or Ecock-a-mana     táyí [a Nootka Jargon word]

Slave     Slave [sic], elitè or missche-miss     iláytix, mischimish [the latter is Nootka Jargon, sometimes said to display either a Spanish or more likely an English noun plural -s, but if it does, that’s probably a Euro-American folk reinterpretation of the Nuuchahnulth “Diminutive” suffix, i.e. masčim-ʔis ‘little commoner’, which I don’t think has been noted previously in the CW literature.]

Indians     Tilloch-um     tílixam ‘people, person’

Man     Col-el-acuhm

Woman     Tlack-allè

House     Tolth

Horse     Keutan     kʰíyutən [Chinookan, but of uncertain ultimate origin]

[346] Dog     Camux     kʰámuksh [possibly an old loan from local Salish]

Cat     Piss-piss     píspis* [thought to be of European origin; interesting to see it so early]

Hog     Polobax     p’alə́kʷqs* (SW Washington Salish, literally ‘nose-digger’)

It is true     Na-wetca     nawítka

Sit down     Meth-lite     míɬayt [note, Ross Cox’s 1831-32 book, volume 2, page 134, has in its much shorter CW lexicon mittaight o kok ‘sit down there’, which is its only material deviation from Alexander Ross’s; Cox is displaying his own miscomprehension by taking o kok (úkuk ‘this, that, these, those’) as ‘there’, but his syntax matches later CW’s.]

Rise up     Echa-latsa     [possibly local Salish]

Come here     Essa     ísaʔ* (Lower Chehalis Salish, ‘come!’, single addressee)

Go away     Alchoya

Large     Eya-quantle

Too small     Minich

For what     Cat-the-ass

Affection     Te-keigh     tq’íx̣, tíki [thought to be of possible Sahaptin origin]

Barter     Killemuck     [a Chinookan particle, evidently not to be confused with t’ilímuksh ‘Tillamook people’]

Idle talk     Kaltash wa-wa     kʰə́ltəs wáwa [second word is Nootka Jargon]

Perhaps     Thlun-ass     t’ɬúnas

Give it me     Thlum-èluta

Falsehood     Ettlè-mena chute     …t’ləmínxwət [apparently borrowed long ago from local Salish into Chinookan]

Sleep     Optètè

Go off     Ach-ne-coyea

Go to bed     Mahockste

To-day     Chau

Yesterday     Tanilkey     táʔanɬki

To-morrow     Wo-chè

Elk     Moluck     múlak

Elk skin     Clemel     [does anyone know the origin of this important maritime fur-trade word, also spelled < clamon > etc. in old documents? the best match I know is Nuuchahnulth ƛ̓uunim ‘Roosevelt elk’, thus this may have been a Nootka Jargon word; “clamons” were bought on the lower Columbia & traded northward to Nuuchahnulth and Haida territories — DDR]


Early Western Travels

[Vol. 7

Small deer     Wow-wich     máwich ‘deer’ [Nootka Jargon]

Canoe     Kineve     kəním

Ship     Ma-ma-tle     mamaɬa [Kwak’wala], mamaɬn’i [Nuuchahnulth], both meaning ‘White people/person’ and referring to houses on the water (big ships), the latter language being a far more likely source; not a word known in later CW.

White people     Pa-she-shi-ooks     pʰa…sáyuks ‘French[-Canadian]’, pásisi ‘blanket’ [Chinookan; see below] + Chinookan -uks ‘human noun plural’. 

River     Ick-hol

Land     E-lè-hē     ílihi, íliʔi 

Salmon     Equanna

Sturgeon     Ulchy

Gun     Suck-wall-allè

Blanket     Pa-chichè-till-cup     pásisi, tk’úp

Blue cloth     Othlal-ough     [really just means ‘blue / black’, see below]

Red cloth     Pill-pill     [really just means ‘red’]

[347] White     Till-cup     tk’úp

Black or blue     Othlal-ough

Axe     Kits-tan

Knife     Opitch-ach     úptsax̣

Needle     Ke-pa-watt     k’ípʰwat

Beads     Cum-us-ack     kʰamusaq / qʰamusaq

Kettle     Useun [sic]     úskan ‘cup, dipper, can’

Wood     Ecskaun     [probably means ‘wooden chest’, see previous & next entries for uses of the same Chinookan root for ‘container’]

Chest     Ecskaun

Bad weather     Ecusach     …kúsax̣ ‘sky’

Rain     Is-tau-elch

Sun     U-laugh

Moon     Ul-chey

Night     Polackly     púlakʰli

Far off     Sciah     sáyá [Nootka Jargon]

Doctor     Keel-alley     kʰilali

Good spirit     Econè

Bad spirit     Ecutoch

Heart     Eats-im-oughts

Sick     Etsitsa     [Chinookan and/or local Salish]

It’s done     Hi-low     hílu ‘done, all gone, none, no’ [from Haida, certainly via Nootka Jargon]


Ross’s Oregon Settlers

Full     Pattle     pʰáɬ

Swan     Ou-wucha

Goose     Cal-a-cal-ama     k’əlak’əla(ma)

Duck     Oqueeh-quech     …qʰwex̣qʰwex̣

Prophet     Etaminua

Priest     Etaminua

Sea-otter     Elackie

Land-otter     Enanamux     …nanamuks

Beaver     Enna     ína

Musk-rat     Eminticoo

Bear     H-whoot     ítsx̣ut

Eat     Mack-amack     mə́kʰmək [Nootka Jargon]

Hungry     Oh-low     úlu

I am hungry     Nica oh-low     nayka úlu [here we see an example of early CW syntax; with the subject coming first in an intransitive/stative expression, this is one of the allowable word-orders in modern CW, and perhaps in early CW it’s a sign of English-language influence on the evolving Nootka Jargon]

Bread     Chap-all-ell     saplél [the presence of this Sahaptin-derived, i.e. inland PNW, word among the Lower Chinookans of the coast is remarkable in the 1810s — it represents an Indigenous food, pounded couse roots, so it may simply have been in use before Euro-Americans arrived]

Water     Ill-chu     …tsə́qw [Nootka Jargon and/or Chinookan

[348] Take it     Eskam     ískam

Fire     Uliptske     uləptski

Hat     Ohe-a-pool     siyápuɬ [Nootka Jargon and/or Chinookan]

Powder     Te-whoot

To look     Nananitch     …nánich [Nootka Jargon]

What’s your name?     Cat-the-achal?     qʰáta yax̣ali ‘how is the name?’ [the syntax here is the same as in later CW, with the WH- question word coming first]

Shame     Nachamats     [this is totally from Lower Chinookan, but it possibly reflects Euro-American syntactic and metaphoric influence if it’s Lo. Chin. níkšt ímačt ‘no shame’, cf. the identical syntax in later CW’s French-Canadian influenced < tapahote > and English-influenced hílu shím]

Balls     Caleitan     kalaytən ‘arrow; shot, bullet’

Strawberries     O’lele     úlali ‘berries’

Raspberries     Amute     amutʰi ‘strawberries’

Potatoes     Wapatoe     wáptʰu ‘native arrowleaf roots’ [ultimately a K’alapuyan noun]

Sweet onions     Ulalach     

A present     Patlatch     pá(t)lach [Nootka Jargon]

To make     Makouke     mámuk ‘to make, do’, mákuk ‘to buy’ [both Nootka Jargon]

Iron     Chick-amen     chíkʰəmin [Nootka Jargon]

Brass-wire     Thack-alle

Medicine     Eptl-ach     úpɬəx̣ ‘liniment, salve’ [possibly an old borrowing from local Salish]

[Vol. 7

328 Early Western Travels

Buttons     Cill-cill     tsíltsil

Steal     Capshewalla     kapshwála [Nootka Jargon]

Understand     Each-e-chimley

To speak     Kep-all-oulaw

Great many     Hi-oh     háyú [Nootka Jargon]

Capot     Capawillaughtè     [possibly Euro-American influence here, mistakenly blending CW kapu ‘coat’ (also a North American English word at the time, earlier from French) with Chinookan ~kalakwati ‘cedar bark’ and ‘garments made from cedar bark’, perhaps including the traditional rain capes]

The same     Quack-ick-qua     kákwa…

Game     Chal-e-chall     …(s)lahál ‘a particular game, the stick-game’

Handsome [meaning ‘beautiful’ at the time]     Etoughtey     …t’ukti ‘pretty’ [this word in Chinookan means generically ‘good’; we have here a sign of Euro-American influence via misunderstanding Native people’s metaphors]

Herrings     Owl-chaus     úɬx̣an(-s) [if there was an -s at the end, that would show English-language influence on this Chinookan word, and agreement with a very minor component of later CW syntax]

Tobacco     Cay-nult     k’áynuɬ [there is a chance this is an old Chinookan borrowing from local Salish]

How many whites?     Queentshech pasheshiooks?     qʰə́ntsi(x̣) pʰasáyuks? [identical syntax with later CW, again putting the WH- question word first]

Besides the foregoing language, there is another lingo,
or rather mixed dialect, spoken by the Chinook and
other neighbouring tribes; which is generally used in
their intercourse with the whites. It is much more
easily learned, and the pronunciation [349] more agree-
able to the ear than the other, as will appear from the
annexed specimen.

Great chief    Hias tye-yea     háyás(h) táyí [both words are Nootka Jargon; phrase has same syntax as in later CW, with the modifier coming before the noun]

Slave     Miss-che-miss     mischimish [Nootka Jargon; see ‘slave’ above]

Woman     Tlutchè-men     ɬúchmən [Nootka Jargon] 

Child     Tunass     tənás [Nootka Jargon; incidentally, Ross’s spelling may support a very early date indeed for the habit known in later CW of using distinct stresses between tenás ‘child’ and tənəs- ‘Diminutive affix’, etc.]

Good     Tlòsh     ɬúsh [Nootka Jargon]

Bad     Pishack     pʰishak [a Nootka Jargon word]

No     Wake     wík [Nootka Jargon]

Trade     Mackouk     mákuk [also seen above]

Canoe     Chippots     [a Nootka Jargon word]

Very little     Ta-an-ass     táaanas* [Nootka Jargon; see my remark at ‘child’ above; this entry may represent one of our very earliest instances of CW’s known strategy of hyper-lengthening a stressed syllable for intensification]

Balls     Poll-alley     púlali ‘powder’ [note that this word’s occurrence so early is evidence against the popular idea that it somehow came from French!]

Sea-otter     Quatluck     [a Nootka Jargon word]

It’s true     Na-wetkaha     nawítka…


Ross’s Oregon Settlers

3 2 9

How are you?     Thla choea     ɬax̣á(w)ya(m) [the lack of the etymological final -m is fascinating evidence of extremely early English influence on this Chinookan word of CW! That is, English speakers throughout CW’s history are known to have supposed that it was an “Indian” pronunciation of English ‘(Clark/clerk,) how are you’.]

To speak     Wa-wa     wáwa [one of those words with pretty good etymologies in both Nootka Jargon & in Chinookan]

What     Ick-etta     íkta

Might     Polackley     púlakʰli

Come here     Chicko     cháku [Nootka Jargon]

Go away     Thlat-away     ɬátwa [English speakers are also known to have supposed that Nootka Jargon word included English ‘away’, but again, here I think we have the very earliest evidence of that folk etymology.]

By-and-bye     Winnippie     [Nootka Jargon]

Understand     Come-a-tax     kə́mtəks [a Nootka Jargon word]

Big or large     Hi-ass     háyás(h) [another word that may be both Nootka Jargon & Chinookan]

Rain     Snass     snás [a Nootka Jargon word, with a local Salish-style noun marker s- on it]

Ship     Shippo     shíp… [from English, but almost certainly part of Nootka Jargon; note the perhaps Indigenous final -o, which among other things resemble the local Salish suffix -uʔ ‘Diminutive’]

Good spirit     Is-co-com     …skúkum ‘monster’ [a word borrowed from local Lower Chehalis Salish into Chinookan]

Come in     Meth-lite     míɬayt ‘sit down’

I love you     Tekeigh     tq’íx̣, tíki [see note above]

Game     Omintick     [a Chinookan women’s game played with beaver-teeth dice]

What are you going to trade?     Ick-etta mika mackouk ?     íkta mayka mákuk? [same syntax as in later CW]

By-and-bye I’ll come again     Winnippie nica chicko     … nayka cháku [same syntax as later CW, where we’d say áɬqi nayka cháku.]

To summarize our findings, in both sets of words above, we have what looks like an evolution of the foreign Nootka Jargon into a local pidgin language — early Chinuk Wawa.

One variety uses Nootka Jargon-sourced words and a greater number of Chinookan words. The latter are particularly verbs and body-parts, and almost none of either type hung on into later Chinuk Wawa.

The second variety uses more English-sourced words (and shows more English influence on morpho-syntax), while there’s an indication of grammatical functions being expressed in it not by Chinookan but by Nootka Jargon words (e.g. wík ‘not; no’), which is precisely the pattern of later CW.

Both varieties have identical syntax with modern Chinuk Wawa, as far as we can find.

I would hesitate to analyze these two varieties as separate pidgin languages. In that, I differ with some scholars who have wrestled with the rich puzzle of Ross’s lexicon.

These varieties’ 1811 (or so) vintage tells all we need to know, I’d say. This was still less than a generation into contact with Whites, who until Ross & his fellow Astorians arrived, only visited sporadically.

Thus Indigenous people of the Chinook area were still used to Euro-Americans speaking Nootka Jargon. (NJ, as you may recall, I’ve recently concluded contained a good deal of English).

The “Drifters” (Whites) were still used to local Native people speaking Chinookan, but almost certainly simplifying it a bit for the outsiders’ benefit, and graciously responding to the outsiders’ mangled use of Chinookan. (Those soon-obsolete Chinookan verbs above typically have much more specific meanings within the source language, e.g. their ‘you will be going’ may be the general pidgin verb for ‘go’.)

Both parties must have understood each other pretty well by 1811, no matter which variety of local CW they were speaking.

One feature that we find all over this early Chinuk Wawa word list is a pervasive influence from Euro-Americans, which I believe has not been pointed out before in the literature.

  • This is found not only in the by now well-known form of simplified pronunciations of Nuuchahnulth-sourced Nootka Jargon words.
  • It’s also seen in distinctly non-Indigenous misunderstandings of Native words and metaphors within an Anglo-Saxon cultural frame.
  • It’s also present in the imposition of English-language morphology on Indigenous words, e.g. mischimi-s and uɬx̣an-s.
  • English syntactic influence is possible in the entry nayka úlu ‘I am hungry’.
  • A Euro-American cultural and semantic imprint is potentially detectable in the entry for ‘[no] shame]’.

What do you think?