Didactic dialogues in dictionaries of Chinuk Wawa (Part 3: JK Gill / FN Blanchet)

Spoiler alert: there’s a real Grand Ronde connection here.

In our collection of the rare old examples of how to actually talk Chinook Jargon, we’ve so far seen…

gill 1902
(Image credit: Google Books)

There will be further installments, too.

The motivation for my showcasing these sets of complete sentences is that Chinuk Wawa dictionaries traditionally just supplied you with a list of words — but no guidance on how CW grammar works. So any full phrases and sentences that you could glean were valuable information on the syntax of this language. 

And it turns out, despite what some old-time commentators (and one modern linguist) claimed, that CW does indeed have a grammar of its own. (See Gill 1902:6!) There are right & wrong ways to speak the Jargon. So let’s make it easy for folks to find some guidance, okay? 

Part 3’s text is to be taken as made-up material, possibly mimicking if not plagiarizing AC Anderson’s dialogue between a Native man and a newcomer trying to hire him for work. (A la John Sutton Lutz’s excellent history of British Columbia, “Makuk: A New History of Aboriginal-White Relations“.) 

But in his favor, JK Gill has created exponentially more dialogue than Anderson, and better still, it turns out to be some good northwest Oregon — that is, early-creolized — Chinuk Wawa!

Speaking of swiping other folks’ creations, a 1907 British Columbia newspaper article turns out to have lifted Jargon dialogue wholesale from the JK Gill material that we’re about to look at.

Anyway, here is the “Conversation” section of Gill’s 14th edition. I won’t indulge in very many comments here, but I will show you the modern Grand Ronde spellings of the words.

[page 55:]


ENGLISH.                          CHINOOK.

Good morning;
Good evening;                                                                          Kla-hów-ya, six? [sic] [1]
Good day, etc.                                                                           ɬax̣á(w)ya(m), shíks.

Come here.                                                                             Cháh-co yáh-wa. [2]
                                                                                               cháku yákwá.

How are you?                                                                          Kár-ta mi-ka?
                                                                                               qʰáta mayka?

Are you sick?                                                                          Mi-ka sick?
                                                                                               mayka sík?

Are you hungry?                                                                    *Náh, o-lo mi-ka?
                                                                                               ná*, [3] úlu mayka?

Are you thirsty?                                                                     *Náh, o-lo chuck mi-ka?
                                                                                               ná*, úlu tsə́qw mayka?

Will you eat something?                                                       Mi-ka tik-eh muck-a-muck?
                                                                                             mayka tíki mə́kʰmək?

Do you want to work?                                                          Mi-ka tik-eh mam-ook?
                                                                                             mayka tíki mámuk?

At what?                                                                               Ikta mi-ka mam-ook?
                                                                                            ikta mayka mámuk?

Cut some wood?                                                                  Mam-ook stick?
                                                                                             mamuk-stík? [4]

Certainly.                                                                              Ná-wit-ka.

What do you want for cutting that lot of wood?                Kon-sí dol-la spose mi-ka mam-ook
                                                                                            kon-a-way ó-koke stick?
                                                                                            qʰánchi dála spus [5] mayka mámuk 
                                                                                            kʰánawi úkuk stík?

One dollar,                                                                          Ikt dol-la.
                                                                                            íxt dála. 

* Nah? is the interrogatory sign and may be placed before or after the first word.

[page 56:]

That is too much. I will give half a dollar.                    Hy-as mar-kook Ø. Nika pót-latch sit-kum
                                                                                    hayas-mákuk Ø. [6] nayka pá(t)lach sítkum 

No! give three quarters!                                              Wáke, six! pót-latch klone quáh-tah.
                                                                                    wík, shíks! pá(t)lach ɬún kʰwáta. [7]

Very well; commence.                                                  Klóshe káh-kwa; mam-ook al-ta.
                                                                                    ɬúsh kákwa; mámuk álta. 

Where is the ax?                                                          Kar la-hash?
                                                                                    qʰá lahásh? [8]

There it is.                                                                    Yáh-wa.

Cut it small for the stove.                                            Mam-ook ten-as spose chicka-min pi-ah.
                                                                                    mamuk-tə́nəs* Ø spus chíkʰəmin-páya. [9]

Give me a saw.                                                            Pót-latch la-sée.
                                                                                    pá(t)lach lasí. 

I have no saw; use the ax.                                           Ha-lo la-sée; is-kum la-hąsh.
                                                                                    hílu lasí; ískam lahásh. 

Yes.                                                                              Ná-wit-ka.

Bring it inside.                                                             Lo-lo stick ko-pa house.
                                                                                    lúlu stík kʰupa háws. 

Where shall I put it?                                                    Kar ni-ka marsh ó-coke.
                                                                                    qʰá nayka másh úkuk?

There.                                                                          Yáh-wa.

Here is something to eat.                                           Yáh-kwa mit-lite mi-ka muck-a-muck.
                                                                                   yákwá míɬayt mayka mə́kʰmək. 

Here is some bread.                                                    Yáh-kwa mit-lite pi-ah sap-o-lil.
                                                                                   yákwá míɬayt páya saplél. 

Bring me some water.                                                 Klat-a-wa is-kum chuck.
                                                                                    ɬátwa ískam tsə́qw.

Where shall I get it?                                                    Kar ni-ka is-kum [Ø]?
                                                                                    qʰá nayka ískam Ø? 

In the river there.                                                        Ko-pa chuck yáh-wa. 
                                                                                    kʰupa tsə́qw yáwá. 

Make a fire.                                                                 Mam-ook pi-ah.
                                                                                    mámuk páya. 

Boil the water.                                                            Mam-ook lip-lip chuck.
                                                                                   mamuk-líplip tsə́qw. 

Cook the meat.                                                          Mam-ook pi-ah ó-coke itl-wil-le.
                                                                                   mamuk-páya úkuk íɬwəli. 

[page 57:]

Wash the dishes.                                                        Wash ó-coke la-pláh.
                                                                                   wásh [10] úkuk lipʰlá. 

In what?                                                                     Ko-pa kar?
                                                                                  kʰupa qʰá?

In that dish.                                                               Ko-pá ó-coke la-pláh.
                                                                                  kʰupa úkuk lipʰlá.

Come here, friend.                                                     Cháh-co yáh-kwa, six.
                                                                                   cháku yákwá, shíks.

What do you want?                                                   Ik-ta mi-ka tik-eh?
                                                                                  íkta mayka tíki?

Carry this trunk to the steamboat.                           Lo-lo o-coke la-cás-set ko-pa pi-ah ship.
                                                                                 lúlu úkuk lakʰasét kʰupa páya-shíp.

Carry this bag.                                                         Lo-lo o-coke la-sák.
                                                                                lúlu úkuk lisák. 

What will you give me?                                           Ik-ta mi-ka pót-latch?
                                                                                íkta mayka pá(t)lach?

One quarter.                                                            Ikt quah-ta.
                                                                                íxt kʰwáta.

Very well; and something to eat?                           Kloshe káh-kwa; pee ten-as muck-a-muck?
                                                                               ɬúsh kákwa; pi tə́nəs* mə́kʰmək?

Is it heavy?                                                             Hy-as till o-coke?
                                                                              hayas-tʰíl úkuk?

No.                                                                         Wāke.

Are you tired?                                                       Mi-ka cháh-co till?
                                                                              mayka chaku-tʰíl?

Are you able to carry it?                                      Nah, skoo-kum mika lo-lo ó-coke?
                                                                            na skúkum mayka [11] lúlu úkuk?

How far?                                                              Kon-si sí-ah?

A short distance.                                                 Wake si-áh.
                                                                            wík [12] sayá. 

Will you sell that fish?                                        Mika tik-eh m[a]r-kook ó-coke pish?
                                                                           mayka tíki mákuk úkuk písh*?

Which of them?                                                  Klax-tá?
                                                                           ɬáksta? [13]

That large one.                                                   O-coke hy-as.
                                                                           úkuk háyásh. 

What is the price?                                               Kon-sí chick-a-min?
                                                                           qʰə́nchi chíkʰəmin?

I’ll give you two bits.                                          Ni-ka pót-latch mox bit.
                                                                           nayka pá(t)lach mákwst bít.

I’ll give you a half dollar.                                    Ni-ka pót-latch sít-kum dol-l’a.
                                                                           nayka pá(t)lach sítkum dála. 

[page 58:]

No, that is not enough.                                      Wake o-coke hy-íú. 
                                                                            wík úkuk háyú.

I don’t want it to-day.                                        Ni-ka wake tik-eh o-coke sun.
                                                                           nayka wík tíki Ø úkuk-sán. 

What do you think of this country?                   Ik-ta mi-ka tum-tum ó-coke ill-a-he?
                                                                           íkta mayka tə́mtəm úkuk íliʔi?

It is very pleasant.                                              O-coke hy-as klóshe.
                                                                           úkuk hayas-ɬúsh. 

How long have you lived here?                         Kon-si lo-lo [sic] mi-ka mit-lite yáh-kwa?
                                                                          qʰə́nchi-líli mayka míɬayt yákwá?

I have always lived here.                                   Kwon-e-sum nika mit-lite.
                                                                         kwánisəm nayka míɬayt. 

Did you get your wife here?                             Nah, mi-ka is-kum mi-ka klooch-man yáh-kwa?
                                                                         na mayka ískum mayka ɬúchmən yákwá?

Yes, sir.                                                              Nă-wit-ka.


The examples given illustrate the use of many of the words in the vocabulary. The absence of the article and poverty of the minor parts of speech make the combination of words in sentences abrupt and harsh. The following attempt at representation in Chinook of the best known words in the English language shows the lack of adaptation of Chinook to any use hut that of simplest conversation and trading purposes.


Kla-hów-ya, six? [sic] [1] The question mark is typical Settler stuff, misinterpreting the Jargon exclamation ɬax̣á(w)ya(m) ‘hello (etc.)’ as if it were English ‘how are you?’ (Thus the doggedly persistent linguistic myth that “Klahowya came from Native people asking fur traders, ‘Clerk, how are you?’ ” or “Klahowya came from Native people asking Lewis & Clark, ‘Clark, how are you?’ “)

‘Come here’ showing up in Chinook Jargon as Cháh-co yáh-wa [2] is a typographical mistake. Yah-wa = ‘there’. Yah-kwa ‘here’ is what was intended. 

[3] This and the following Yes/No question seem to use the question particle na. (“Nah” in Gill’s spelling, cf. his footnote about it.) I’m hedging my bets here, because, reasons: 

  • Reason 1, the question particle normally follows the word(s) that it’s questioning. (Despite what Gill’s footnote claims.)
  • Reason 2, the question particle is unstressed, but Gill’s punctuation with a comma right after it makes it appear to be a fully stressed word on its own.
  • Reason 3, both of these sentences are offers of food / drink, in which case what we’re really looking at can be taken as a different “word” — the old Chinuk Wawa (possibly from the even older Nootka Jargon!) attention-getting exclamation ná, which you might translate as ‘hey!’ or ‘here, have some of this’. 

Gill does use his “Nah” at the start of a couple of other questions in today’s text that cannot be taken as offers of nourishment. Those are just weird. The good news for you, as a modern speaker of Chinook Jargon, is that you can ignore all of this. The southern dialect, in the modern Grand Ronde style that’s widely taught, doesn’t use either the interjection ná! or the question particle na. And the northern dialect, being a little newer, doesn’t really know either of these old words. 

mamuk-stík? [4] This a nice little example of the Jargon construction where mamuk- plus the word for a natural resource = ‘harvesting’ a supply of that resource. Here, it’s chopping wood. 

qʰánchi dála spus [5] mayka mámuk… Here is the use of (s)pus to express ‘for (the purpose of doing)’, which is normal for all Jargon dialects. (Mind you, this particular sentence can alternatively be construed as ‘how many dollars if you do…ʹ!) Note that thereʹs also at least one instance in today’s text of (s)pus being used to say ʹfor (a physical object)ʹ, which is a southern-dialect-only thing. In the north we say kopa for that. 

hayas-mákuk Ø [6] ‘It’s expensive.’ Here, using fluent Jargon style, JK Gill is using the “silent it” pronoun. Thumbs up 👍👍 You’ll find several more instances of this “null pronoun” in today’s text. 

ɬún kʰwáta [7] is a common Chinuk Wawa expression for ’75 cents’. It’s known in all dialects, and it even shows up borrowed into Indigenous languages. (There’s also the variant ɬún tʰúbits in CW, ‘three two-bits’!) 

qʰá lahásh? [8] A synonymous way to express this, using the usual verb for ‘to be located somewhere’ would be qʰá míɬayt lahásh?

mamuk-tə́nəs* Ø spus chíkʰəmin-páya. [9] This is a nice fluent southern-dialect sentence, with its “silent it/them” inanimate object and its use of (s)pus to mean ‘for (a physical object)’. However, the expression chíkʰəmin-páya (literally ‘iron-fire’) for ‘stove’ is a novelty for me. A fun fact: in the 1872 version of this dictionary (credited to Father FN Blanchet & published by SJ McCormick of Portland), this sentence had been phrased as “Mam-ook ten-as stick spose chink-a-min pi-a”, that is, saying ‘Make little sticks’ instead of this ‘make it/them little’. I’m fascinated and impressed that that was “corrected” to use the “silent it” pronoun!

wásh [10] úkuk lipʰlá for ‘Wash the dishes’ is kind of unusual, because we expect the transitive verb ‘wash something’ to be mamuk-wash. So this sentence is one of the rare indications of English-language influence in today’s text. 

With or without its initial na, which we’ve already discussed above, na skúkum mayka [11] lúlu úkuk? is worthy of comment. My sense of fluent Jargon in both dialects is that we would expect an expression of ‘strong enough to do something’ to use (s)pus as the expression of the potential activity. It would be placed where that [11] is located. Without the (s)pus, it’s as if JK Gill was thinking of skukum as being “the word for ‘can/able’.”. I know one or two of the old dictionaries claimed such to be the case — but we have next to no evidence that it was so. I’m sticking with my analysis that skukum just means ‘strong’ and also, in true Jargon fashion ‘strong enough’.

Forgive me for repeated lessons on this point, but Gill’s “Wake si-ah” [12] here is to be taken literally, meaning ‘not far (away)’. That’s in the southern dialect, you see; in the north it’d be “halo si-ah”. But in both dialects, the idea of ‘almost’ is expressed by a non-literal usage of wik-saya.

Gill’s expression of ‘Which of them?’ as Klax-tá? [13] also deserves a comment. The Jargon pronoun ɬáksta? of course means ‘who?’ in all dialects, and also ‘somebody’. Only in the northern dialect have I seen it in common use with another sense of ‘which/some’, and there I’ve only seen it with a following noun, e.g. ɬáksta man ‘some person; which man?’ So this particular question of Gill’s strikes me as more of a dictionary-ism than a specimen of anybody’s actual Jargon-speaking habits. 

blanchet 1869

The cover of the 1869 edition of Blanchet’s dictionary (image credit: Archive.org)

Quickly summarizing, today’s text is some good Jargon, in real Oregon style. It was put together during the first year of the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation (first edition 1856), or maybe even earlier if it really is the work of the pioneering missionary Francois-Norbert Blanchet. (Which is wonderful if so, because we don’t have much non-religious CW from Blanchet, and this would then be more of a specimen of Fort Vancouver-French Prairie CW usage.) 

So today’s text doesn’t have the distinctive form, munk, of Grand Ronde that developed out of the earlier mamuk. But you see, GR itself didn’t yet have that form!

So in a very real sense, today’s text is representative of early Grand Ronde speech, and that of the entire creole-Chinuk Wawa-speaking region. 

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?