JP Harrington’s letters in Grand Ronde-ish Chinuk Wawa (part 2 of 2)

The legendary linguist of Native American languages, John Peabody Harrington (1884-1961), worked with quite a number of Chinook Jargon speakers, and documented some great stuff from them.

[Thanks to Henry Zenk and Bruce Rigsby for copies of this material.]

But this 2-part miniseries shows that he didn’t speak the Jargon terribly well — despite being strongly influenced by the speech of the Native people he worked with.

Here is our second exhibit, a draft letter to Quinault, WA, area preachers Mr. & Mrs. Nick Sivonen in the 1940s. It’s an intelligible communication, and it shows the signs of reflecting folks’ actual informal speech, but it’s not the most fluent…


     Klahowya naiga niga tillicum
     ‘Hello my my friend(s)’

     Alda ko pictures, miga mail
     ‘Now arrive pictures, you mailed’ 

lockit pictures George Sparks hyak,
‘4 pictures of George Sparks quickly,’ 

pee mox Emily, pee mox
‘and two of Emily, and two’ 

pictures Cy. Wek (???) lali nasiga
‘pictures of Cy. Not ??? long until we’ 

klatawa Lil Boston Cayush Walla Walla
‘go to Little Boston, Cayuse, Walla Walla,’

Tahola. Kanawe tlush yaqua
‘and Taholah. Everything’s good here,’ 

tlush tlush stuff Siletz. lagali* tyee (???)
‘good good stuff (at) Siletz. God ???

tlush nanich nasiga.
‘watches over us.’ 

nasiga tolo. wek lali nanitch.
‘We are winning. Not long until see.’


Some notes: 

JPH’s spellings < naiga / niga >, < alda >, < miga > clearly come from his exposure to northwest Oregon Chinuk Wawa; both at Siletz and at Grand Ronde, folks pronounced nayka, álta, and mayka with voiced /g/, /d/.

Aside from those words, Harrington is using JK Gill’s spellings, that is, those from a Chinook dictionary published locally and easily available in PNW bookstores.

< Pictures > is a word well known in CW for decades prior to this; < mail > is a recent borrowing from English for sending things by post.

< Pictures Emily > etc., for ‘pictures of Emily’ etc., matches fluent CW’s unit-of-measure expression. Compare a Kamloops-style < iht pawn flawir > for ‘one pound of flour’.

< Klatawa Lil Boston > ‘go to Little Boston’ also matches fluent CW’s omission of a preposition with a verb of spatial orientation or motion, such as < klatawa > ‘go’. But < tlush tlush stuff Siletz > strikes me as non-fluent, because it has no such verb; if JPH had said *< tlush tlush stuff mitlite Siletz >, that would have been fine.

< Wek lali nanitch > ‘soon see’ similarly feels like it’s missing somethnig, this time pronouns; I’m accustomed to good speakers saying things like (using JPH’s spelling style) < wek lali nesiga nanitch konamox > ‘soon we’ll see each other’.

Bonus fact:

Harrington begins yet another letter to the Sivonens with what I take as a sort of Christian greeting, “Niga tloosh tumtum Six” ‘my good-hearted friend(s)’ (Oct. 27, 1942).

Kahta miga tumtum? What do you think?