Takelma and Chinuk Wawa

Thanks to the great advocate of southwest Oregon languages, Patricia Whereat Phillips, for mentioning this new resource on her Facebook feed.


Elder Agnes Baker-Pilgrim in traditional woven hat (image credit: BLM.gov)

The Cow Creek Tribe has put up on its website a little user-friendly dictionary of the Takelma language, which is one of those brought to the then-new Siletz and Grand Ronde Indian Reservations in the mid-1850s. As you know, the resulting cultural and ethnic mix led to the (second) creolization of Chinook Jargon, among other results.

Takelma, a language of the diverse upper Rogue River area, and unrelated to its neighbors, gives me an impression of being more Californian than Oregonian.

That’s an incredibly vague statement by me. Don’t take my opinions as gospel. (But I see Edward Sapir, who originally researched this language, made similar comments.)

In the Cow Creek dictionary, I really do see structural strands that differ from what we’re used to in Indigenous languages of the traditional Chinuk Wawa region.

For example, ‘horse’ is literally ‘big dog’ in Takelma, rather than containing the possibly Spanish-origin syllable /KIW/ that we know in Chinuk Wawa’s kʰíyutən, Coast Salish stiqiwand perhaps in Cayuse“.

There are remarkably few signs of CW influence in Takelma, too.

Here are the few such that I noted down that have any resemblance to Chinook Jargon.

Five out of the 6 are biological species, and that’s a semantic domain typified by ancient “areal sharing” of forms (rather than newer borrowings) in the Pacific Northwest. But maybe the speaker Mrs. Frances Johnson, elderly in 1906 and evidently born just before the reservation era, could have picked up these words at Siletz.

  • ‘screech owl’ popópʰ — This is an interesting find. It’s a great match for Grand Ronde Chinuk Wawa’s pʰupʰúp ‘owl’, which the 2012 dictionary traces to K’alapuyan languages. I suspect we can add to that etymology, observing that this word is seemingly shared among SW Oregon languages. Compare Klamath p’ehp’e•hʔas ‘barn owl’.
  • ‘yellow-jacket’ téel — Compare CW ántʰiyəɬ ‘yellowjacket, bee, wasp’ from K’alapuyan (where an- is a noun-marking prefix); Takelma has no voiceless “ɬ” sound, so “l” is the closest it gets.
  • ‘grizzly bear’ xámkʰ — Compare CW sháyim from Chinookan and K’alapuyan, and the fact that PNW languages historically vary /x ~ š/ sounds; Takelma has only an /s/ but not a “SH” sound.
  • ‘hazelnut’ tʰkwíil — Compare CW táqwəla from Chinookan.
  • ‘chipmunk’ kwìskwas — Compare CW kwiskwis from Chinookan.
  • ‘summer’ sàma — Compare English ‘summer’, which could’ve come to Takelma speakers via CW?

If nothing else, the above Takelma words enrich our sense of the mix of tribal languages that was present on the early Indian Reservations in western Oregon.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?