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San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 500, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

23 April 2014

❖ CHINOOK JARGON ❖

The bottom image includes Chinook jargon..
Vintage postcards from the archives
of the Saltwater People Historical Society.
"Along the Pacific Coast from the California border to Alaska, Indian tribes traded with each other. Since each tribe, and sometimes each family within a tribe, had its own language, trade would have have been difficult without a common tongue. The one that developed was the Chinook jargon.
      The Chinooks lived around the lower Columbia River, and being centrally located, it was an area in which peoples from both north and south could meet and exchange their special products.
      The Chinook jargon was also picked up by most settlers who came to the area, and was the means of communication between the two races in many instances. It was actually a trade jargon, not the genuine Chinook language, and contained a mixture of French, English, and parts of the languages of several tribes. It continued to be used as slang quite commonly in the Northwest as late as WW II, even in the offices of city businessmen.
      Tillikum was possibly one of the most used words, and still shows up today. It means friend, actually a very good friend.
      A trade arrangement might be concluded with kloshe, which means good or fine.
      Nika Kumtux said "I understand." To become chako Boston meant to become civilized.
      Skookum chuck was a rapid stream or a coast eddy. Important for anyone on the water was chuck chako, the tide is rising.
      Illahee was the land or country in which one lived and which provided comfort. 
      Tyee referred to a chief. A man's klootchman was his wife. [As inscribed on one of the vintage postcards above.]
     Melas, derived from molasses, was syrup. Moos-moos were cattle. To muck-a-muck was to eat beef.
     By now the language has almost completely disappeared, although 100 years ago there were an estimated 100,000 persons––Indians, white, and mixed bloods––who could speak it fluently. Merchants, loggers, traders, seamen, and housewives all needed to use it to communicate."
Above text courtesy of Old Stuff, Vol. 37, No. l, 2014. Published b y VBM Printers, Inc. McMinnville, Or. 

"...It has generally been supposed that the Chinook jargon was introduced by the traders of the Hudson's Bay Co, for the purpose of facilitating intercourse among the interior tribes; but although that company made use of the language, and it has grown since the advent from a few common words into a recognized medium of correspondence between the whites and the natives, yet the Hudson's Bay Co did not introduce it. It came into use in the following manner: the former head-quarters for the fur traders on the northwest coast was at Nootka, on the north-western coast of Vancouver's Island, [BC.] There they established their winter quarters and had a general rendezvous, and from the time Meares built the schooner NORTHWEST AMERICA, in Nootka Sound, which was in 1788, to the settlement of Astoria, in 1812, but little time elapsed when there were no white persons ashore among the Nootkans. In 1802, the ship BOSTON was taken by the Indians at Nootka sound, and all hands killed with the exception of two men named Jewitt and Thompson, and the ship burned.  On Jewitt's return to the States, be published a narrative, and in it gave a vocabulary of the words of the Nootkan language in common use. From his vocabulary many words can be shown with similarity between the Nootkan and Jargon languages [and Swan lists several.]
      The various tribes on the coast have been accustomed for many years to trade with each other, consequently, individuals of each band could talk enough of the language of the other for the purposes of trade. Among these trading chiefs was Comcomoly, the one-eyed chief of the Chenooks, mentioned by Ross, Cox, and Irving, in his history of Astoria. Comcomoly made frequent voyages during the summer months to Cape Flattery, at which place he was accustomed to meet the great chief of the Nootka and other northern tribes, and as familiar not only with the Nootka language, but with the language of the other coast Indians.
      When Astor arrived in the Columbia in 1812, they found the Chenooks already in possession of a jargon which was readily learned by the whites.
      The Hudson's Bay Co next made their appearance on the coast and succeeded Astor's company. The Canadian voyageurs and half-breeds introduced from Canada by the HBC, took wives among the tribes of the Columbia, and as an Indian appears to learn French much more readily than English, it was not long before Canadian French was introduced into the Jargon. The language has also received additions by words from the Chehalis and some of the tribes on Puget Sound.
      A residence of several months with the Makah Indians at Cape Flattery, during 1859, and recently, for the past five months, during which time I have made the study of the early history of the coast tribes and their languages a speciality, has enabled me to trace out the origin of many of the words in the Jargon that have been derived from the Nootkan language..."
Almost Out of the World, James G. Swan.
Washington State Historical Society. 1971.
James G. Swan (1818-1900) was known for collecting artifacts (namely for the Smithsonian) and for writing the first ethnography of the Makah group, among whom he lived. He suffered many personal failures but posthumously attracted positive attention from historians such as Lucile McDonald.

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