How Father St. Onge’s “Chinuk Pipa” texts link early-creolized with northern Jargon (Part 1 of 2)

A veteran of frontier preaching in the middle- to lower Columbia River region went on to write to BC’s Native people in the province’s “Chinuk Pipa” alphabet…

st onge signature

St. O’s note inside his copy of Demers-Blanchet-St. Onge 1871 [1838-39]

And although he learned the northern dialect from Kamloops Wawa and tried to write in it several times*

— St. Onge’s Chinook Jargon is noticeably the early-creolized (and more directly Métis-influenced) southern dialect, the ancestor of the later-creolized Grand Ronde variety.

I’ve published his letter here previously, but I’ve never pointed out these facts.

[Kamloops Wawa’s editor introduces him:] Pir Sint Onsh iaka mamuk pipa kopa msaika,
Pere St Onge has written to you folks,

tlus msaika nanich ikta iaka wawa kopa msaika.
you should read what he’s written to you.

St Onge letter in KW (2)

“Iht mun alta naika skukum sik.
“For a month now I’ve been terribly ill.

Naika tomtom klunas naika aiak mimlus:
I think I may be rapidly dying:

naika pilpil kaltash mitlait kopa naika tiawit [1]
my blood just sits around in my legs.

Naika lipii chako aias kol, pi wik kata
My feet get very cold, and there’s no way

pus [2] naika mamuk chako wam [3] klaska. Naika
for me to warm them.  I

mamuk kanawi ikta lamicin pus mamuk
try all kinds of medicine to make

chako wam naika lipii pi naika tiawit,
my feet and my legs warm up,

pi kaltash. Mokst naika lipii chako
but it doesn’t work.  Both my feet have gotten

aias hloima, sitkom tikop, sitkom
very strange-looking, half white, half

tlil, pi kanawi hloima cim. Naika
black, and covered with odd marks.  I

kakshit klaska pus mamuk kuli pilpil;
beat on them to get the blood flowing;

naika pok’pok’ [4] pi hwip klaska, pi
I slap and whip them, but

kaltash. Alta naika tomtom klaska
it doesn’t work.  Now I think they’re

aiak chako puli, pi naika mamuk
quickly rotting, and I

chako doktor; iaka wawa: “Wik [5]
called a doctor; he said, “There is no

tlus lamicin pus [6] maika; naika lolo
good medicine for you; I’m taking

maika kopa aias skul haws, pi maika
you to the university, and you

iskom skukum iliktrisiti. Iaka drit
will receive jolts of electricity.”  He really

mamuk paia naika lipii pi naika tiawit.
burnt up my feet and my legs.

Klaska chako kakwa pus paia kopa liplip
They got to be like they were burnt up with boiling

chok. Ana! [7] Naika sik, pi pus
water.  Oh my!  I was sick, but when

iaka kopit mamuk paia, chi pilpil chako
it was done burning, the blood began

St Onge letter in KW (4)

kopa kanawi aias pi tanas pilpil=
running in all the big and little blood

oihat. [8] Tanas lili klaska chako
vessels.  For a while they

wam. Alta naika chako ihi tomtom
warmed up.  Now I’ve gotten excited

kopa klaska. Tlus pus msaika
about them.  You folks should

skukum styuil kopa ST pus naika,
pray hard to God for me,

pus wawa mirsi kopa iaka, kopa
to thank him for

ukuk naika chako tanas tlus, pi
my small improvement, and

pus iaka skukum hilp naika pus naika
for him to help me strongly when I


<L.N. St Onge.>

<Séminaire de St Hyacinthe>

<P.Q. Canada.>

— Kamloops Wawa #163 (April 1898), page 53

The footnotes to explain how very southern-dialect St. Onge’s Chinuk Wawa is
(and some of these features occur multiple times in his letter)

  • tiawit [1] is southern dialect for ‘leg’ (tʰiyáʔwit), and is unknown in my BC data, where lipʰyé ‘foot’ and lég are used.
  • wik kata pus naika [2] + verb means ‘cannot’ + verb. On its own, the expression wik-qʰáta is a known quantity in all dialects, although in the north it’s the only way to say ‘can’t’. The south is fond of x̣áwqaɬ, likewise placed at the start of the clause.
  • mamuk chako wam [3] is typical of the earlier stages of the southern dialect, when a Change-of-State expression formed by chaku- ‘become’ was made Causative by adding mamuk- ‘make’. In the northern dialect, this combination of prefixes is rare, and instead you just find mamuk- without any chaku-. (Exactly as in modern Grand Ronde usage.)
  • pok’pok’ [4] is a word unknown in the northern dialect, where you constantly find kakshit ‘beat; break; hurt’ instead.
  • wik [5] is really uncommon as a sentence/clause negator in the northern dialect (which prefers hílu), but in the south it’s the norm.
  • lamicin pus [6] maika (in Grand Ronde spelling lámachín pus mayka ‘medicine for you’) is a purely southern usage, where you say that something is “for” a person/place/thing by using pus as a preposition. In the northern dialect, that’s essentially always expressed by the generic preposition kopa (kʰupa).
  • Ana! [7] This interjection of regret is really uncommon in the northern-dialect data that I’ve collected, but it’s frequent in the south.
  • pilpil=oihat [8], i.e. pílpil-úyx̣at in Grand Ronde spelling, is a southern expression for ‘vein(s)’, literally ‘blood-path’. I’ve never found it in the northern dialect.

* About the “several times” St. Onge tried writing northern CW in BC’s Chinuk Pipa alphabet:

Louis-Napoléon St. Onge was enthused about educating people via Chinuk Wawa. He wrote some pedagogical stuff that we’re told the more-or-less crackpot CW enthusiast Thomas Sanderson Bulmer borrowed from him and never returned before walking off to his suicide in the Texas desert.

St. Onge also wrote a partial Chinook Bible History, the first part of it being published in BC’s Kamloops Wawa newspaper in the Chinuk Pipa alphabet. (Hear some of it in this YouTube video. I’ll blog a good sample of it next in this mini-series.) That paper’s editor J-M-R Le Jeune discovered to his chagrin that the BC Native readership had a hard time understanding St. Onge’s southern dialect! It was replaced with an original creation by BC’s bishop Paul Durieu.

St. Onge of course was also the editor of the deeply valuable 1871 Chinuk Wawa dictionary and catechism created circa 1838-1839 by his mentors, the Fort Vancouver-era missionaries Demers & Blanchet.

He also wrote, among other things, a superb large dictionary of southern CW, which I’ve been working on for years & hope to publish.

So this was someone who knew the Jargon inside and out, with the greatest of fluency. It tells you something that northern-dialect speakers nonetheless had a hard time grasping everything he was saying!

The two dialects diverge quite a bit. It’s remarkable that this fact wasn’t established until my research showed it in the last few years.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?