WHAT IS CHINOOK WAWA? Chinook Jargon (also known as chinuk wawa) originated as a pidgin trade language in Cascadia long before the first European explorers arrived, incorporating elements of the
Wakashan, Salishan, Athapaskan, and Penutian languages. After contact with Europeans, many new words were added from French and English. During the fur trade in the early 19th century, Chinook Jargon spread from the lower Columbia River, first to other areas in modern Oregon and Washington, then British Columbia and as far as Alaska and the Yukon Territory, quickly becoming the lingua franca of Cascadia. It is related to, but not the same as, the aboriginal language of the Chinook people, upon which much of its vocabulary is based. Modifications were made in pronunciation to suit those accustomed to different sounds, until only those sounds that could be pronounced by all speakers were used. Grammatical forms were reduced to their simplest expression, and variations in mood and tense conveyed only by adverbs or by context; thus, while the basic vocabulary was small, it was possible to say almost anything with a little patience and imagination. While Chinook Jargon has virtually died out since the 20th century, it lives on in many place-names throughout Cascadia, within many indigenous languages, and in some regional English usage, to the point where most people are unaware that some words they use were originally from the Jargon.
HOW IS IT PRONOUNCED?
As a trade language, Chinook Jargon is by its very nature meant to be usable to people from many different linguistic backgrounds, so naturally there is no “correct” pronunciation. An individual’s pronunciation of a Jargon word was necessarily going to be dependent on that person’s own language and dialect, be it English, French, Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth or even Hawaiian. Furthermore, all published lexicons were created by English speakers influenced by English spelling methods (and, as everyone knows, there is no consistency at all in English spelling). Still, the wide variations of spellings for many words can give a clue to their potential variation in pronunciation, or for a pronunciation that falls “in between” the sounds represented. Hiyu / hyiu / hyo is one example, and tikegh / tikke / ticky is another.
Yes – Ah-ha
No – Wake
For sure! / Right on! / Indeed! – Nawitka!
Good Day – Kloshe Sun
Hello everybody! – Kloshe Konaway!
How are you? – Kahta maika?
Good, thanks. – Kloshe mahsie
My name is____ – Nika nem ____
I’m Cascadian! – Nika Cascadia tilikum!
Take care. (stand guard, watch out, ect.) – Kloshe nanitch.
Trick or Treat! – Tenaskli pe cultus potlatch!
Happy Halloween! – Tumtum Halloween!
I’m celebrating Thanksgiving this month, then I’m going south and celebrating it again next month. – Nika mamook Thanksgiving potlatch okoke moon, kimta nika klatawa kopa waum illahee pee potlatch weght moon.
WORD OF THE MONTH
Mesachie / Mesahchie / Mesatchee
[Me-sah-chee] — adj., n.
Origin: Chinook Jargon: Bad; wicked; evil; vile; sin; bitter; grumpy; cruel; depravity; dissolute; dung; filthy; immodest; nasty; obscene; vice; insolence; unworthy; unruly; iniquity; unrighteous; nasty; malign; naughty < Chinook masachi “evil”,”nasty”,”malign” (Chinookan languages of Washington and Oregon)
“Mesahche” is used in Chinook to indicate anything worse than “Cultas” (bad). While there are other words in Chinook Jargon to describe spirits or malign forces and states of being, mesachie has only a negative meaning, representing somethingbad, vile, vicious in the sense of vileness, filth, dirtiness, vice, rottenness, etc., whether in the abstract or in the concrete. It is probably more often used to describe things as being obscene or depraved than in any other sense, though it covers the whole catalogue of things or conditions that are “worse than the worst,” “rotten to the core,” and all like ideas where the term “bad” does not reach far enough. It also means dangerous or “danger-from” vile things. The words used before or after it qualify its meaning or it is used to couple the vile meaning with the ordinary meaning of any other word.
It has sometimes been translated as “naughty” or “mischievous” when referring to a child, but this does not seem to embrace the malice and innate evil implicit in the context of this term, and appears to be used hyperbole, i.e. “evil child” as a scold. Generally it is understood to mean “the limit of human depravity” from all angles, and can be used to mean “enemy” (mesachie tillikum), describe “a very wicked man” (Delate mesahche man), describe something “worse” (Elip mesachie), or discuss “witchcraft” or “necromancy” (mesachie tamanêwês).