AF Chamberlain’s field notes of Chinuk Wawa from SE British Columbia (Part 1)

hayu masi to my BC friend and colleague, Dale McCreery, for finding this precious resource of northern-dialect Chinuk Wawa and sharing it. It richly rewards a closer look!

On December 5, 2013, Dale posted in the Facebook “Chinook Jargon” group:

Here, some of you guys might enjoy this. CJ from South-Eastern BC, actual transcription and stress marking, along with some interesting words.

Here is a never-published archival find of a document by the great early Pacific NW ethnographer Alexander F. Chamberlain (a student of Franz Boas), which is previously unknown to us, that happens to 100% back up the discoveries that my 2012 dissertation reports about BC Chinuk Wawa being quite a separate dialect from the southern/Grand Ronde/Columbia River variety.

It’s in the US National Anthropological Archives of the Smithsonian Institution. I date it at 1892 or later, based on Chamberlain’s own words below.

Today I’m just showing you the first page of Chamberlain’s study, merely introductory material.

But even this shows us a valuable new discovery — he carefully distinguishes the vowel sounds /a/ (as in “hahaha!”) and /ä/ (as in “hat”) from each other. This detail alone really sharpens our understanding of what BC Jargon sounded like. The Kamloops Wawa newspaper’s “Chinuk Pipa” alphabet used a single symbol for both of those sounds, making it nearly impossible for us to reconstruct where people differentiated them in speech. Chamberlain’s precise and consistent notation of this difference matches well with the sparse audio recordings we have of BC speakers of Chinuk Wawa.

Here’s what the first page looks like, as typed on the then-new and difficult to use device, the typewriter:

AF Chamberlain CW Kootenays 1

And here’s my transcription of the page:


By Dr. Alexander F. Chamberlain, Professor of Anthropology, Clark University, Worcester, Mass., U.S.A.

The “Chinook Jargon,” or “Oregon Trade Language”, the origin of which dates back to the very first years of the nineteenth century (or beyond that), is still a lingua franca in several parts of the North Pacific coast region of North America. Perhaps the most useful account of the Jargon is to be found in the late Horatio Hale’s An International Idiom. A Manual of the Oregon Trade Language, or ‘Chinook Jargon’ (London, 1890). A more recent work on the same subject is G.C. Shaw’s Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon (Seattle, 1909).

While on an expedition among the Kootenay Indians of Southeastern British Columbia and Northern Idaho, under the auspices of the Committee (of the British Association for the Advancement of Science) on the Northwestern Tribes of Canada, the author had occasion to become personally familiar with the “Chinook Jargon”, as spoken in that region at the time (1891) , and his records may be of some value in the history of this interesting “International Idiom”, as Mr. Hale has called it.

The vocabulary here presented contains such words and phrases only as the author actually heard used, by Indians, whites and Chinese, while in the Kootenay country, and is therefore not complete or exhaustive. It is offered as a contribution to the literature of a form of human speech, which has been recorded as used from far south in California to far north in Alaska, and from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the Plains beyond the Rocky Mountains. [DDR: AFC must have meant ‘as far south as [northern] California to as far north as [southeast] Alaska’, and the Jargon was never in use east of the Rocky Mountains.]

Vocabulary of Chinook Jargon as Spoken in S.E. British Columbia.

The alphabet here employed is the same as that used by the author in the Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science for 1892; cshtc= tch; E = u in but; ä = a in hat.

In the coming installments of this mini-series, we’ll see that Chamberlain’s experience of BC Chinook Jargon, while it’s totally independent from Kamloops Wawa and the First Nations shorthand writers (both being a little farther to the west and north), is essentially a perfect & confirming match for the northern-dialect Chinook found there.

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