Only at Grand Ronde?

I’m far from the first to observe that the Chinuk Wawa of the Grand Ronde Tribes, in Oregon, is unique in many ways…


The Grand Ronde blacksmith shop, 1909 (image credit: Hillsboro News Times)

Unlike the great Franz Boas in 1933, I don’t think this means the Grand Ronde variety of CW is not “correct” Chinook Jargon.

Papa Franz himself unknowingly got quite close to a better analysis than that, when he pointed out that

(1) the Lower Chinookan Charles Cultee (born about 1830), whom Boas worked with around 1890,

(2) “an old Clatsop woman who was married to an Iroquois, an old Hudson Bay employee” whom Boas also met around 1890, and

(3) a “Clackamas blacksmith” at Grand Ronde in 1890,*

— all of them Chinookan lifelong residents of the lower Columbia River area, within mere miles from Grand Ronde — all spoke the earlier style of CJ.

That earlier Columbia RIver Chinuk Wawa is what I’ve called the “early-creolized” CW, associated with the fur trade headquarters at Fort Vancouver.

That is, these older people’s Jargon was presumably learned before the Grand Ronde Reservation community took shape in 1855-1856!

To be more specific, it’s only starting with the generation born after GR was founded (and up to about 1900) that we know folks were talking what we now recognize as GR Chinuk Wawa.

(Which we can usefully think of the “later-” or “re-creolized Chinuk Wawa”.)

Neither the blacksmith nor Cultee nor the Clatsop woman can be expected to have known the not-yet-existing GR CW!

Anyhow, the Jargon of Grand Ronde is still just about 100% understandable to speakers of other varieties, aside from a few unique local words.

(For instance, t’uʔan ‘have’, lóqa ‘drink’, pʰáʔ ‘egg(s)’.

Big deal, I scoff; every dialect of Jargon has that going on.

(For instance in British Columbia, jabon ‘credit; loan’, leydawn ‘lie down, be lying down’, stalo ‘river’.)

The more substantial differences, to my mind, are that Grand Ronde has some grammatical features that are post-1890 and thus lacking elsewhere.

Some examples are the “short form” personal pronouns such as na / nay for nayka ‘I, me, my’, and the entrenchment of certain forms as grammatical operators, leading to their shortening: mamuk- > munk-, chaku- > cha(u)-, etc.

At GR, relatedly, a few words have taken on new functions that are quasi-grammatical in nature.

I think of dret, which already was an adverb ‘really’, and then became GR’s usual Intensifier of adjectives and adverbs, displacing the early-creolized hayas-.

Another example of a quasi-grammaticalized word developing at Grand Ronde is kʰəltəs.

Originally this Jargon word was an adjective ‘useless; worthless’, and an adverb ‘for no particular purpose; idly; just for fun’, preserving its sense in the Lower Chinookan language that it came from.

Different words and suffixes had been used in Lower Chinookan for the various senses of ‘only’, as in ‘(there were) only four’, ‘only they’, and so on.

Throughout Chinook Jargon-speaking areas, the original word for ‘only’ was kʰəpit, from a Lower Chinookan word for ‘enough’.

Somehow, in the circa 1890 re-creolization process, this kʰəpit was partially displaced at Grand Ronde by kʰəltəs

I’d summarize these remarks by saying that Grand Ronde Chinuk Wawa has a noticeably different “rhythm” from the rest of the southern dialect, and from the northern dialect.

As with every instance of languages creolizing, this has to do with the unique demographic blend in the community.

At Grand Ronde, you had a strongly Indigenous-oriented population, primarily of western Oregon Native ethnic groups, as well as already-established Métis families from the Fort Vancouver zone.

It seems probable to me that the young Grand Ronde generation of circa 1890, whose parents and grandparents spoke K’alapuyan, Chinookan, Salish, Athabaskan, Molala, Klickitat, etc., grew up speaking the reservation’s lingua franca Chinuk Wawa in a way influenced by the structure of Chinookan (CW’s major source language), and of Native languages generally.

There I mean that Grand Ronde tilixam of the time had an awareness that tribal speech is typified by comparatively complex words, built with plenty of affixes.

This dynamic alone could go a long way toward the result that we see in the GR re-creolization: a Chinook Jargon variety in which there are more affix(-like), (quasi-)grammatical elements than in the other varieties.

(A variety in which, also, Indigenous sounds are better preserved than elsewhere.)

Henry Zenk’s important PhD dissertation proposes similar ideas about some community dynamics that influenced GR CW’s (re-)creolization.

Melville Jacobs in the 1930’s published a couple of excellent early studies of GR CW that look like he, too, as an outsider, perceived this variety as using fairly complex phonological and grammatical words.

All in all, I think folks have been noticing the uniqueness of Grand Ronde’s newer Chinuk Wawa variety since soon after it began taking shape.

But this variety wasn’t discussed in the scholarly or other published literature until decades later, and many readers familiar with older types of CW were amazed by and sometimes disbelieving of its differences.

*Bonus fact:

That Clackamas blacksmith at Grand Ronde who Boas spoke with circa 1890?

He may very well have understood and used re-creolized GR Chinuk Wawa…with the younger generation of reservation citizens, whose casual daily language it was.

He may likewise have heard Boas speak CW, in what we know to be the older style of the language, and chosen to respond and chat with the researcher in that same variety.

PS: why am I thinking that we can figure out who this blacksmith was? Hmm…maybe he’s in our photo today.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?