TENAS WAWA--The Chinook Jargon Voice Chinook Jargon Notes

"Tenas Wawa" was a semimonthly newsletter published in Jargon, with English translation, for the purpose of preserving and teaching the Chinook Jargon. This letter was sent by writer and editor Duane Pasco to his subscribers in 1995 when publication ceased after a four-year run. It is posted here as it provides an overview and comparison of the various Jargon dictionaries, as well as the story of "Tenas Wawa" itself.

June 16, 1995

Dear friends,

Several years ago a friend of mine, Lloyd Averill, stopped by for a short visit. He had just purchased a copy of George Shaw's 1909 publication, "Chinook Jargon and How to Use It." Interpreting the acquisition of this dictionary as a desire on his part to learn and speak this Jargon, I suggested that we start a "Chinook write a letter" club.

A week later I sent out a few letters. Some time went by and no communication was forthcoming.

Pat and Meriden Huggins, Debi Knight and myself decided to put together a newspaper in Chinook Jargon, a one-time thing, and pass it out to a larger circulation of friends and get a lot of feed-back. There was no feed-back; in fact it was a dud. One reason for this was probably that there was no universal interest in it. It was a surprise to the four of us locked away in our own little "fantasy world" in Kitsap County, Washington. Another reason was that apparently no one understood Chinook Jargon. How could this be?

Born in Seattle in 1932 and raised in Alaska and Washington, I had heard Chinook Jargon sporadically during my life and had always been fascinated with it. I had some knowledge of it and could speak and understand to a limited degree.

Undaunted by the failure of the "Chinook write a letter club" and the first edition of "Tenas Wawa," with a new desire to learn Chinook Jargon well, I decided to launch myself into a Chinook Jargon research program. Coincidentally I had received as a gift a copy of the popular "Chinook, A History and Dictionary" by Edward Harper Thomas. In reading through it, I had an uncomfortable feeling. It seemed faulty to me somehow.

I began searching out anything that had ever been written in or about Chinook Jargon. Much to my surprise I discovered that over the years beginning with the first contact between whites and the natives of the lower Columbia River in 1792, several glossaries and dictionaries had been published on the subject; works by Alexander Ross, Fr. LeJeune, George Gibbs, James Swan, Theodore Winthrop, Myron Eells, Franz Boas, to name a few. Needless to say, many of the early examples varied as each author collected lexemes from various locations and speakers. Also there was no standardized form of spelling and phonetic systems varied.

Some very important academic works on Chinook Jargon have been done as doctoral papers   Melville Jacobs "Texts in Chinook Jargon," 1936; Samuel Victor Johnson "Computer-Assisted Analysis of Variations in an American Indian Pidgin," 1978; Henry Benjamin Zenk "Chinook Jargon and Native Cultural Persistence in the Grand Ronde Indian Community," 1984.

In examining and cross-referencing these and the previously mentioned sources along with many more, it became clear that the Edward Harper Thomas dictionary was a poor source from which to learn to speak comprehensible Chinook Jargon. It is, for the most part, a copy of the George Shaw dictionary and, like it, has an extensive glossary. In fact it has a much larger word list than its parent and, like its parent, has many ambiguous definitions. It also contains historic information of which much is conjectural.

1855 was the year of the Washington Territory Indian Treaties. Governor Isaac Stevens had mandated that the terms of the treaties be given in Chinook Jargon. George Gibbs had been secretary and "sometime interpreter" on these occasions. In 1863 he published a Chinook Jargon dictionary which became the model for several subsequent works by other authors including that of the aforementioned George Shaw.

George Gibbs was a speaker of Chinook Jargon and most familiar with the Puget Sound form of it. Gibbs had been around Indians a lot, on both sides of the mountains and was fairly knowledgeable about native customs. He collected much information on the language of some of the tribes of the territory including Lummi and Klallam. I can say that from personal experience his Klallam glossary is fairly consistent with that language today.

In 1881 John Gill authored a Chinook Jargon dictionary which has been reprinted at least sixteen times as of 1960. The first edition was, for the most part, taken from the works of Fr. Norbert Blanchet who published his first dictionary on the lower Columbia River in 1853 and the last in 1879. Gill's fourth through seventh editions were, for the most part, from the work of Gibbs. Subsequent re-issues were a crazy-quilt of borrowings from many sources, the lexemes and orthography as well as the definitions being extremely inconsistent.

Gill included several words from the vocabulary list that John Jewitt collected at Nootka Sound in 1804. While it is true that there are Nootka terms in Chinook Jargon, many of Jewitt's terms never made it into common Chinook Jargon. Also the Jewitt list does not include any words that are not of Nootka origin.

Gill also supplied several lexemes that were Chinook Language, not Jargon. But he included them in a separate list and explained that they were "never a part of the Jargon, [but] are printed for the sake of preserving them and offering examples of the original tongue."

Shaw included this list in his dictionary along with the explanation, and copying Shaw, Edward Harper Thomas also incorporated the words but omitted the explanation. Thomas also included other terms that were Chinook proper and not Jargon.

The first Shaw publication in 1909 consisted of five parts labeled (1) Lexicon, (2) Index   Vocabulary Words, (3) Supplementary Vocabulary, (4) Pronouncing Vocabulary, and (5) English-Chinook. Part 1, "Lexicon," contains entries from Gibbs with some exclusions and material from other sources.

Part 2, "Index," is a listing of the entries from Part 1, but he does strange things with it. For instance in part 1 he gives a discussion on the way several different sources define "grandparent." Shaw cites Gibbs, Gill, Swan and others as writing chitsh for "grandmother" and chope as "grandfather." He offers two other sources referring to chitsh as "grandfather" and chope as "grandmother," then gives it this last way in the index.

Part 3, "Supplementary Vocabulary," Shaw gives all the Gibbs words he left out of the index and labels them "less familiar, not strictly Jargon or of only local use." He then excluded many that were not labeled thus by Gibbs. This section also includes a lot of contradictory information and reverses his definition of grandfather and grandmother.

Part 4, "Pronouncing Vocabulary," includes some excerpts from Parts 1 and 3 using various marks over letters to show their proper pronunciation.

Part 5 is an extensive English-Chinook dictionary in which Shaw has merged a lot of material from several sources. Many of the idioms are fantastic such as "advice," "Protestant," "antideluvian" and, of course, the Chinook definitions are incongruous. As might be expected the number of English to Chinook lexemes greatly exceed those of Chinook to English.

Often publisher/authors of dictionaries were not speakers of Chinook Jargon and compiled word lists from various sources which were also often the work of non-speakers. This appears to be the be the case with George Shaw and later with the publication of Edward Harper Thomas' "Chinook, A History and Dictionary."

The Thomas book, unfortunately, has for many years been the "bible" for Indian hobbyists, black-powder organizations, scout groups and authors of novels about the Northwest. The first edition of the Thomas book was printed in 1935 and divided into two parts. The first 63 pages are devoted to trying to prove that Chinook Jargon existed before contact with Europeans and is unconvincing. The second half is a reprint of Shaw's first dictionary.

The 1970 Thomas edition is divided into two parts like his first edition, but replaces the bibliographical material from the first Shaw publication with examples of Chinook text copied from other sources, such as a sermon by Rev. Myron Eells, the Ten Commandments from a Laura Bartlett (Bartlett produced a dictionary in 1929 and a book of popular American songs in Chinook Jargon; the song book is very poor and gives very clear evidence that she was not a speaker of Chinook Jargon), a few hymns from other sources, and a quote from Theodore Winthrop's "Canoe and Saddle," 1863, the Lord's Prayer by Eells and a 90-sentence conversation from the Blanchet publications. The sentences in the conversation are, for the most part, accurate. However, if a student is attempting to learn grammar by memorizing sentences (a bad method) he may assume there is only one way to project a thought. Cataloging sentences may help one to speak, but this is not necessarily conversation.

The second half of the 1970 Thomas publication is changed from the first five dictionaries of the 1935 edition, which were taken from Shaw to a compilation of the work of Shaw, Gill and others along with material that seems to be made up by Thomas himself.

The Samuel Johnson paper is an extensive and extremely well-researched and compiled cross-reference of Chinook Jargon dictionaries. Containing 561 pages, the bibliography lists over 150 authors or publishers of Chinook Jargon dictionaries or word lists. Each work is dated and contains source material. Each Jargon word in Johnson's dictionary is accompanied by information on who recorded it and the publications in which it appears. For instance if a particular Jargon word appeared in the list of only one author it might indicate that it is obscure or of only local use, or fabricated. Johnson's dictionary also shows all the variations in spelling from one author to another. It contains much historical information including how many times a particular dictionary might have been reprinted, including any changes made, i.e., additions or omissions.

In my researching I never came across anything that described Chinook Jargon grammar to any degree so I decided to create one, along with a dictionary. I then devised a simple grammar system and with the help of Pat and Meriden Huggins and my daughter, Shelley Akutsu, designed and published "KLAHOWYA," A Handbook For Learning Chinook Jargon.

The language of "Tenas Wawa" and "KLAHOWYA" is an attempt to show Chinook Jargon as it might have been around Puget Sound country in the middle to late 19th century. The orthography is standard English, the grammar is based mostly on the Melville Jacobs' texts which were a collection of stories narrated in Chinook Jargon by natives from various tribes in the Northwest.

The vocabulary is mostly from George Gibbs but also taken from the Samuel Johnson paper. Obscure words were not included in the "KLAHOWYA" dictionary and therefore are not to be found in "Tenas Wawa." However, I must confess that because of the nature of my profession and that of some of my subscribers, real native terms for carving tools have been incorporated

In the 19th century Jargon terms did have a tendency to become trade-specific. As an example one is aware of words pertaining to farming. Most of these have French origins.

With a staff consisting of Pat Huggins, Meriden Huggins, Debi Knight, Katie Pasco and myself, "Tenas Wawa" then was launched as a bi-monthly publication, printed in Chinook Jargon and transcribed in English. This "newspaper" ran for a couple of years with regular features which included Indian legends, news about Indian Art shows, events from Northwest history, cartoons, grammar section, natural history and even recipes.

Many of these topics were difficult to write in Chinook Jargon and often seemed clumsy and hard to understand.

A decision was made to change the format and "Tenas Wawa" was given a face-lift. A new mast-head was created and Shelley Akutsu developed a type-face that would have the feel of the mid-nineteenth century, when the use of Chinook Jargon was at its peak. The contents were reduced to the continuing saga of "Moola John" with illustrations, a cartoon, an Indian legend and a history page.

The new "Tenas Wawa" was a delight to produce. However, it did require a lot of research and a large block of time every two months. Over time it had become what might be described as a joyful, but time-consuming burden.

So, because of lagging interest and dwindling subscriptions as well as continuing professional demands, a sad decision has made to close the book on Moola John and Dungeness Jim and his crew. I have it on good authority that they did complete their present journey and make it back home, in spite of a hairy encounter with a fierce storm in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. MacTavish fell from grace after the encounter and became an alcoholic. Mr. White, Dungeness Jim and Prince Albert shipped out on a sealing schooner. The canoe went on board with them. The rest of the men hired on at the mill in Port Gamble. Molly baked bread and supplied some of the lumber ships for their south-bound trips.

The main objective for publishing both "KLAHOWYA" and "Tenas Wawa" was to help those who wanted to learn Chinook Jargon and to help perpetuate it for those who are already fluent.

Many thanks to you, the readers, for as subscribers you have helped to keep Chinook Jargon alive. Mahsieh!

Mesaika sihks,

Duane Pasco

P.S. Back issues are still available, from Volume 1-No. 1 through our final issue. (Please visit the Tenas Wawa Bookstore for details.)

(Copyright © 1995 by Duane Pasco)

Previous Bookstore Duane Pasco Home Contents