Traces of Chinuk Wawa in Siuslaw

I’ve tracked down very little material in the Siuslaw language of the Oregon coast.


One of the modern tribes having Lower Umpqua ancestry (image credit: NPAIHB)

The material published by Franz Boas’s student, Leo J. Frachtenberg, was collected in 1911 on the Siletz Reservation of western Oregon — a hotbed of Chinuk Wawa usage.

Among the many difficulties in finding people with knowledge of Lower Umpqua (a dialect of Siuslaw), Louisa Smith, the elder who was thought the best native speaker of the language, mixed an enormous amount of CW into her traditional stories. You can hear Frachtenberg’s frustration over lost opportunities in his introduction to his “Texts” volume.

Aside from that seeming code-mixing with Chinook Jargon, there’s also noticeable borrowing that probably belongs to an older stratum, from traditional times. To old patterns of trade and intermarriage, I suppose we can attribute:

  • Loans from Chinookan (e.g. ‘beaver’ from a word for ‘muskrat’, I presume from the Lower Chinookan language, as that’s the coastal member of that family).
  • And loans from Salish (e.g. ‘dog’, I figure from Lower Chehalis, which is historically spoken in the same villages as Lower Chinookan).

Of course on this site, we’re most focused on the Jargon. Here are the few traces of it that I’ve detected in Frachtenberg’s publications. All of these appear to be loans into Lower Umpqua, except as marked.

From “Siuslawan (Lower Umpqua): An Illustrative Sketch” (1917):

  • kótan ‘horse’ (in the Lower Umpqua dialect), from kʰíyutən
  • kúšu ‘hog’, from kúshu
  • cəyíkcəyik ‘wagon’, from t’síkt’sik (note, an un-ejective [not popped] pronunciation seems typical of speakers of southwest Oregon languages in general, in which such sounds were rare or nonexistent)

From “Lower Umpqua Texts” (1914):

  • yaga pápa ‘his father’ (a phrase in Chinuk Wawa, with a typical NW Oregon accent similar to Grand Ronde Reservation speech)
  • tála ‘money’, from dála
  • kapó ‘coat’, from kapú
  • músmus ‘cow’

I expect if, and when, I have a look through Frachtenberg’s unpublished notebooks of Lower Umpqua, I’d find vastly more Chinuk Wawa data. That Jargon will probably be really similar to the Grand Ronde CW that you see if you have a copy of the GR Tribes’ awesome 2012 dictionary. (Those notebooks are probably available free of charge via the Smithsonian Institution website; I haven’t had time yet to search.) 

I’m very curious to know if the CW in Louisa Smith’s texts was truly code-mixing, or if it was instead just a large amount of loaned words. Each of those situations would tell us something interesting about that elder’s and her tribe’s language history.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?