‘Strolling’ through Chinuk Wawa dialects

My thanks go to reader Darrin Brager for inspiring this post.

chinook stroller

Skookum stroller, eh? The Thule Chinook (image credit: Emily Reviews)

The old Chinook Jargon dictionaries are pretty uniform in telling you there’s a phrase in the language, “cultus cooley”. Most of them spell it exactly that way, because they were silently stealing material from each other. Here are some of the definitions given:

‘Taking a walk’…

tate cultus

Charles Montgomery Tate (1931 (copyright 1889), southern coastal British Columbia)


good cultus

John Booth Good (1880, southern interior British Columbia)

‘To saunter; ramble; stroll’…

shaw cultus

George Coombs Shaw (1909, Puget Sound, Washington)

A rare non-dictionary use of this spelling, from a Lingít context (a.k.a. Tlingit, southeast Alaska): ‘just for a walk’…

kiksadi cultus

Anthropological Records (1965, I believe originally 1935)

But most of the actual, that is, non-dictionary, usages we can find of this phrase are spelled differently, as “cultus coolie“: here’s one from southern interior BC…

1889 cultus

(The Lillooet (BC) Prospector of June 30, 1899, page 6, column 1

And a fictional use in BC:

1911 cultus

(The Prince Rupert (BC) Daily News of September 23, 1911, page 2, column 4)

The first of several instances of it in a particular southeast Alaska newspaper:

treadwell cultus

(The Douglas Island (AK) News of February 3, 1904, page 3, column 2)

The phrase was known in Idaho, too:

caldwell cultus

(The Caldwell (ID) Tribune of March 28, 1913, page 2, column 2)

Pay heed: none of the newspaper editors above felt compelled to translate this phrase for their readers. It was part of local English dialect.

Speaking of dialects, it interests me that we find this phrase more or less exclusively in northern Chinook Jargon areas!

Here’s what I’ve found in the southern dialect, the same idea but using a different motion verb:

gibbs cultus klatawa

George Gibbs (1863, lower Columbia River area)

And modern materials from the southern dialect (i.e. the superb Grand Ronde Tribes learning resources) largely show cultus (spelled kʰə́ltəs) in idioms with nouns, connoting ‘not a real __’. I don’t find *kʰə́ltəs-kúli or *kʰə́ltəs-ɬátwa there.

I can also report that in the hundreds of pages of Chinuk Wawa that we have in the newspaper Kamloops Wawakaltash kuli is far more frequent than kaltash klatwa. (The latter sounds a bit odd, as klatwa in the north carries a decidedly intentional, directed, sense of motion, in contrast to the vagueness of kuli.)

I know of just one occurrence of that variant in local English, in the news clipping that Darrin Brager sent to me:

Screenshot 2022-12-27 111836

(The Nelson (BC) Daily News of April 23, 1919, page 4, column 3)

From the evidence, I conclude that cultus coolie is a distinctly northern-dialect expression. (And cultus klatawa is a rare variant on it.)

I guess I’m not amazed by this finding, as the verb coolie (kuli, cooley, etc.) gets much more use up north than in the southern dialect.

In northern dialect, it’s the generic word for ‘travel’.

Because of that, it’s lost much of its original (Métis French-derived) sense of ‘run’, which still predominates in its southern-dialect use (see the entry kuri in the 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary).

To express ‘run’ in the north, you specify ayaq kuri (aiak kuli, hyak coolie, etc.) — literally ‘to travel fast’!

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?