Chinook Jargon, a trade language used along the West Coast from the 1830s until the early 20th century.
Chinook Jargon, a trade language used along the West Coast from the 1830s until the early 20th century. Sometimes inaccurately referred to simply as "Chinook" (the Chinook natives of the lower Columbia River area have their own language), this lingua franca was used for intercommunication between natives and traders, officials and settlers. It is not certain whether Chinook Jargon is based upon a previous trade language using words of the languages of the most enterprising aboriginal trading groups such as the Nootka. It probably arose as an aspect of the fur trade in postcontact times.
Like other pidgin languages, Chinook Jargon has a restricted grammar and small vocabulary of approximately 700 words which derive from Chinook (approximately 30%), Nootka (20%), English (20%), French (20%), other native tongues (8%) and new coinages (2%). It is estimated that more than 100 000 people could speak Chinook Jargon in 1900, and it was used widely in court testimony, newspaper advertising, missionary activity among Indians, and everyday conversation from Central BC to northern California.
A Chinook Jargon periodical, The Kamloops Wawa, was published 1891-1904, much of it written in a special shorthand script. Although entrenched in West Coast native life at the turn of the century (by which time Chinook Jargon was the first language of a growing number of children), it was supplanted by English and has now gone out of use except in a few songs of the native SHAKER RELIGION and some aspects of old-timer slang in BC; eg, the salt chuck, "the ocean, salt water"; skookum, "strong"; tillikums, "friends"; high muckamucks, "the powerful and well-off" (literally "the ones with lots of grub"); in the sticks, "in the woods, trees"; cheechako, "newcomer"; potlatch, "ceremony where goods are distributed" (literally "giving"); and klahowya, "greetings." Various plants and sea life have names derived from Jargon: tyee ("chief"), chum ("painted") and chinook salmon; gooeyduck clams, camas and salal.
Chinook Jargon words were used in place names throughout BC (as well as in Washington and Oregon), including the noted Siwash Rock (from French sauvage, "Indian," a place name used despite the current derogative implication attached to use of the term siwash). Other place names derived from Jargon are Cultus ("worthless") Lake as well as Canim ("canoe"), Nanitch ("see"), Kikwillie ("deep"), Eena ("beaver"), Siam ("grizzly"), Mesachie ("bad"), and Wahpeeto ("potato") lakes.
A successful CBC show called Klahanie ("out of doors"), Vancouver's Kumtux ("to learn") School and Tamahnous ("spirit") Theatre all took their names from Jargon, just as did Tillicum, the mascot of Vancouver's centennial celebrations. Numerous dictionaries of Chinook Jargon are available, including those of George Gibbs, Frederick Long and George Shaw.