Didactic dialogues in dictionaries of Chinuk Wawa (Part 2: H Hale)

The second installment in our mini-series on instructional sentences of Jargon has an especially great importance…


Note to Horatio Hale: good work, my friend! (Image credit: Stamp Community)

…This is because it’s just about the first document of actually spoken sentences in Chinuk Wawa.

For linguists such as I am, that’s awesome stuff, providing us with precious data about “syntax” — that is, about how fluent sentences are put together.

This beats, with a stick, essentially every other CW dictionary’s didactic dialogues, virtually of which are made-up sentences.

We’re looking at pages 644-646 of Horatio Hale’s chapter on “The ‘Jargon,’ or Trade-Language of Oregon”, in the report of the US Exploring Expedition, volume 6 (Ethnography and Philology) (Philadelphia, PA: Lea & Blanchard, 1846).

The date of 1841, when Hale was visiting Fort Vancouver and getting his data on this language, is well within what I analyze as the early-creolized era of CW, when the first generation of the mixed-ancestry community was making this a home language that was used in all areas of life.

This instructional genre of “Chinook” text hasn’t received scholarly attention yet, even though there exist lots of these teaching conversations. I want to shed some light on their history, and collect them so learners can easily find useful materials.

Here is Horatio Hale’s introduction to his set of CJ dialogues:

…the following colloquial phrases, written down as they were heard from the natives and others versed in the idiom, will show the manner in which it is employed as a medium of ordinary intercourse.

In other words, this very highly trained “philologist” (linguistic scholar) carefully recorded exactly what people were saying, as it was fresh in his mind. I find very few mistakes in his notes here. (I’ll add a few notes as appropriate.)

Let’s take a look at what he was hearing, encoded in his early phonetic notation. Hale carefully translates using the word ‘thy, thou’ for ‘singular you’ vs. ‘ye, you’ for ‘plural you’. And, being trained in ancient classical languages as most educated folks were, he writes offglide diphthongs with an acute accent on the last vowel, e.g. maúitsh, haíu.


Na, siks!      Ho! friend!
[ná, likely from Nuuchahnulth, is no longer used in modern CW]

Klahāweam      How do you do? (the common salutation.)

Kāh maika haus?      Where is thy house?

Kāh maika klatawa?      Where art thou going?


Naika tsolo      I have lost my way.

Kah wīkat klatawa Wakaikŭm?      Where is the way to go to Wakaikum?
[literally ‘Where is the path that goes to Wahkiakum?’]

Kah maika tshako?      Whence comest thou?
[I.e. ‘Where do you come from? Where have you come from?’]

Kántshiak maika klatwa maika haus?      When art thou going to thy house? 

Pātlatsh tsōk      Give me some water.

Haias olo tsok naika      I am very thirsty.
[The intensifier prefix hayas- is no longer used in modern southern CW, but it was extremely frequent until about the 1890s.]

Haias olo mākamak      Very hungry. 

Naika klátawa kuapa kanēm      I am going in a canoe.
[An older-fashioned pronunciation kuapa for the general prepositin kʰapa.]

Kwapet wawa!      Do not talk, or, stop talking!
[Also an older style of pronunciation, kwapet, for kʰapit.]

Wēk naika nánanitsh      I do no see, have not seen, &c.
[The older Nuuchahnulth-style pronunciation nánanitsh was already giving way to the simpler nánich, as Hale notes.]

Kántshiak maika tílikŭm?      How many are thy people?

Tátlelam pi klōn haus kanawē      Thirteen houses in all.
[Quantities of houses were the customary way of telling a village’s population.]

Naika tŭkéh mákamak maúitsh      I want to eat some venison.
[Hale’s spelling pretty clearly indicates that the earlier pronunciation tq’íx̣ was still frequent in CW.]

Kántshiak sámŭn maika makok tshako?      How many salmon dost thou bring to trade?
[Here Hale has accidentally blended 2 separate expressions, mamuk-tshako ‘bring’ (literally ‘make-come’, as seen elsewhere in his article), and makok ‘trade’. The resulting sentence is confusing.]

Kata okok win?      How was the wind? (what that wind?)
[Hale also consistently takes kata as ‘what’ in his article, although its main sense is ‘how’.]

Haias win. Hēlu win.      A strong wind. No wind. 

Okok sŭn haias wām      The sun (or day) was very warm. 

Okok maika haus?      Is this thy house?

Okok stik klátawa ilēhi      The tree fell to the ground.
[A frequent request from CW learners is for an expression for ‘fall’; here is the southern-dialect phrase, literally ‘go (to) earth’. Note the “null” preposition in ‘go to earth’.] 

Kántshiak tshako maika naa?      When is thy mother coming?
[In modern CW, Chinookan naa for ‘mother’ is no longer used.]

Sik maika pāpa?      Is thy father sick? 

Nawítika haias klahāwéam iahka      Truly he is much to be pitied. 

Naika kákshatl ūpitlki      I have broken my bow.

Kákshatl naika lepīe      My leg is broken. 

Maika na kŭmataks álkē shnās      Dost thou think it will rain?
[As written, this sentence really asks ‘Do you know that it will rain?’] 

Haias masátsi maika kanēm      Thy canoe is very bad.
[The use of masatsi is interesting, as the word typically refers to human badness, meanness, evilness. But some uses of it that I’ve seen appear to convey ‘unlucky’ things.]

Álkē klatawa kīkwili      By and bye it will sink.
[Just as klátawa ilēhi (literally ‘go (to) earth’) means ‘fall’, klatawa kīkwili (lit. ‘go down’) means ‘sink’.)


Kata iáhale maika papa, or
[Modern CW no longer uses iáhale as much as nim for ‘name’]

Kata nēm maika tílikŭm-mama, or }      What is the name of thy father?
[Modern CW no longer usees tílikŭm-mama]

Kata nēm maika ōluman?     

Naika haias tŭkéh kŭmataks mamūk pēpa      I wish very much to learn to write.
[This may have been something a lot of CW speakers would say, as it was exclusively a spoken language and mostly used by illiterate people.]

Ānăkati haias naika kŭmataks kápshuāla, — alta kīlapai naika tŭmtŭm      Formerly I used to (lit., knew to) steal much, — now my heart is changed.
[This is the first of several instances where Hale shows us that the “Characteristic Trait” prefix kə́mtəks- was frequent by 1841. Also note, he shows us not just the frequent hayas- Intensifier prefix, but also the free adverbial word háyás in a similar function.]

Nawítika haias iáhka kŭmataks sūpina      Truly he can jump well (lit., knows to jump). 


Íkăta maika wek klátawa kākshatl ína, alke maika makok mŭskit?      Why dost thou not go and kill beaver, and buy a gun?
[Saying ‘why’ in CW has always been a complicated thing; here Hale has literally ‘what (is it that)…’, interestingly spelled as if it were a variant of his kata ‘what; how’. Also note, he has kākshatl ‘hit’ for ‘kill’ an animal.]

Nawítika kanawē nŭsaika tílikŭm mémelust      Truly all our people are dead.
[This would seem to be a reference to the pandemics that killed 90% of the Northwest’s Indigenous people.]

Haias klosh okok mula; haiak okok mámuk klímenklímen okok sápalil      Very good is that mill; quickly it grinds the corn.
[By ‘corn’ Hale is using an older sense as ‘grain’.]

[Now starts the narrative of a shipwreck, quite the interesting set of sentences… Do you suppose these narrate the wreck of the Peacock on July 18, 1841?]

Wek nŭsaika kŭmataks wīkat      We did not know the channel. 

Kwapá ilēhi klátawa ship      The ship went aground.
[Literally ‘onto the ground went the ship’.]

Helu tsok      There was no water. 

Haias win      The wind was high.

Kākshatl; klímen tshako      Perished; went to pieces.
[This and the following sentence use the “silent it” for an inanimate subject, the ship. I feel we’d normally expect tshako-klímen ‘it became smashed’, but klímen tshako is understandable too: ‘smashed, it became’.]

Alta tilīp kíkwili tsok      Then sunk down into the water.


Wek klaksta mēmelust, — kanawē klátawa mālkwili      Nobody was drowned; all got ashore. 

Here we move on to other topics…

Nŭsaika sáleks masátsi-tílikŭm      We fought the enemy (bad people).
[Yes, sáleks means’to fight someone’, as well as ‘to be angry’.]

Klōn nŭsaika kākshatl      We killed three.
[Here we see the typical CW “fronting” of quantity expressions.]

Mákust kākwa haíu nŭsaika      They were twice as many as we.
[Comparing quantities in terms of ‘X times as many as…’ has never been a settled question in CW. Here Hale shows us literally ‘twice as we were many’. I might have expected to see Mákust haíu kākwa… here (literally ‘twice many as…’), on the analogy of modern southern CW’s máksti háyásh pi… (‘twice big and…’) for ‘twice as big as’. Compare ‘I am stronger than thou’ below.]

Kántshíak mŭsaika?      How many were there of you?

Mākust tātlelam pi kwánam.      Twenty-five.

A few more sentences are sprinkled throughout Hale’s chapter on the Jargon…

Page 641: 

naika kwapet kŭmŭtaks íkăta maika wawa naika I have forgotten (no longer know) what you said to me.  

kata nēm maika papa? what is the name of thy father?
[I.e. ‘how is your father’s name?’]

wēk maika skukūm kakwa naika I am stronger than thou, lit. thou not strong as I. 

haias ōluman okok kanēm very old that canoe
[You’ll see some old Chinook Jargon dictionaries (see what I did there?) claiming that only humans can be described as ōl or ōluman ‘old’, and that inanimate things have to be called something else such as kʰə́ltəs ‘worn-out’ or ánqati ‘old-time’.] 

Page 642:

kāh ókok sámŭn maika wawa kwapa naika where is that salmon [of which] you spoke to me?

wēk naika kŭmŭtaks íkata maika wawa I do not understand what thou sayest.

naika papa tŭkéh mēmelust my father is near dying, or about to die.
[This is a genuine usage. The same helping verb tiki can also express ‘trying to…’, depending on the predicate that it modifies.]

naika kwas naika tílikŭm-máma klunás mémemust [sic] I am afraid that my father will die (lit. I afraid my father perhaps die)
[Modern CW is more likely to say nayka k’was pus nayka papa miməlust, but this sentence is perfectly understandable.]

Naika tŭkéh pos maika mámuk klōsh naika lahásh I wish you would mend my axe (lit., I wish suppose you make good my axe)

Pos maika klátawa iáhwa, pi naika tshako kākwa If you will go yonder, I will follow (lit., suppose you go that way, then I come the same)
[Here’s a nice early example of using pi to link clauses in an ‘if-then’ sequence.]

maika na tŭkéh mákuk maika kíutan kuapa naika do you wish to sell your horse to me?

Haias ōluman maika kaném very old is thy canoe. 

kaltas naika mūsŭm I am only sleeping
[Here’s one of the earliest documented uses of kaltas (lit. ~ ‘for no good purpose’) as ‘only’, which is the normal way to express ‘only’ in modern southern CW.]

naika haias tŭkéh kŭmataks I very much wish to know

pātlatsh wēkt give more, or again

Naika klátawa naika haus I am going to my house.

All told, quite an impressive chunk of highly fluent sentences!

Read and learn from Hale’s excellent documentation.

What do you think? Kata maika tŭmtŭm?

et al.