George Coombs Shaw 1909: one of the first Northern-dialect reference sources

Publishing his dictionary out of Seattle in 1909, George Coombs Shaw was about the first lexicographer to start documenting Chinuk Wawa’s northern dialect.

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Shaw’s dictionary, “The Chinook Jargon: And How to Use It”

I notice lots of northern features in his Jargon, occurrences that corroborate words & phrases I at first was surprised to notice in BC people’s speech.

A simple example is Shaw’s consistent translation of anything to do with ‘sleeping’ as both < moosum > and < sleep >. The latter is the northern usage, partly because músum had famously taken on obscene connotations.

(I’ll show northernisms in red for the rest of this article.)

Here are Shaw’s formations on the just-cited roots:

  • ‘Nap’ is < tenas sleep / tenas moosum > — literally ‘a little sleep’.
  • ‘Nod’ is < kahkwa sleep / kahkwa moosum > (‘like sleeping’), or < wake siah sleep / wake siah moosum > (‘almost sleeping’).
  • ‘Awake’ or ‘sleepless’ is < halo moosum / halo sleep > (‘no sleep’).
  • ‘Drowsy’ or ‘sleepy’ is < tikegh moosum / tikegh sleep > (‘wanting to sleep’).

Many, many other entries in Shaw’s dictionary are “new”, if you’re only used to the big crop of earlier published word lists that emanated from the southern dialect. These “new” words of his show a Puget Sound Chinook Jargon matching up neatly with how folks spoke even farther north, in British Columbia. The briefest glance at a single page of the 45 in the word list shows me:

  • ‘Spirit’ is < tumtum > or < life >.
  • ‘Spring’ (verb) is < sopen > or < jump >.
  • ‘Spine’ is < bone kopa back >.
  • ‘Stab’ is < klemahun > or < mamook cut >.
  • ‘Soul’ is < tumtum > or < sele >.

An obvious reason why Shaw could be including northern words is that he says he’s seen the publications of Le Jeune and of Durieu, out of the Kamloops Mission. However, Shaw gives no indication of being literate in the Chinuk Pipa alphabet that those pieces, particularly Durieu’s “Bible History”, were written in. He’s missing lots of the Catholic religious vocabulary of those 2 authors that you’d only have gotten from reading texts in their “shorthand”. (E.g. haha milalam ‘confession’, lahanshut ‘to confess’, shilalam ‘a year’, et al.) Shaw seems more or less equally as unaware of BC usage as was Father Louis-Napoléon St. Onge, who generously provided writings to the Kamloops Wawa newspaper — which its readers complained they couldn’t quite follow!

So it appears to me that G.C. Shaw had plenty of real-world, firsthand experience talking Jargon in Washington’s portion of the northern dialect region. That portion shared largely in the same societal develpoments that shaped BC Chinuk Wawa from the 1850’s onward.

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