TENAS WAWA--The Chinook Jargon Voice Chinook Jargon Notes

To Our Readers. . . .

A word regarding the Jargon dialog and English translations in "Moola John."

In the nineteenth century throughout the Northwest, Chinook Jargon was a very important and, at times, necessary means of communication. The jargon served as a means of discourse between those individuals whose language base was uncommon. A Makah of Neah Bay might converse with an Englishman, Frenchman, Chinese, SíKlallam, Tsimshian or Nisqually using Chinook Jargon. It is even conceivable that an Englishman and a Frenchman might find this an appropriate form of verbal intercourse. For any two persons sharing a mutual language to speak in Chinook Jargon would, however, be pointless, except for the purpose of amusement.

The author was told by a Suquamish elder that when he was a boy, people from his village did their grocery shopping at the store in nearby Indianola. The storeís proprietor was fluent in the Suquamish dialect as well as Chinook Jargon. When serving his white clientele the interchange was in English. When members of the tribe visited the establishment, Jargon was usually used for the simple act of purchasing articles. But should there be white people in the store when one of the Suquamish natives wished to gossip with the shopkeeper, they used a mixture of Chinook and Suquamish so the whites wouldnít understand.

When I was a boy in Seattle I was fascinated with old-timers on the waterfront, both Native and non-Native, carrying on conversations in Chinook Jargon, even though they probably could have spoken in English. There was obviously no necessity for speaking Jargon, but some mutual enjoyment was probably derived from the act. Maybe they just didnít want to lose it.

In the ongoing saga of "Moola John," conversation between the SíKlallam individuals is in Chinook Jargon, though any discourse between the SíKlallams would normally have been done in their native language. Even verbal exchanges between Moola John and Dungeness Jim would likely have included at least some English and perhaps some SíKlallam. Dungeness Jimís business involves a lot of contact with whites, so he would have more than likely picked up a lot of English. John also seems to have had a knack for language, for he had learned some Nez Perce during his stay with them. The purpose of "Tenas Wawa" is to help perpetuate Chinook Jargon, so some license is being used.

There were variations among individuals in their usage of Chinook, both grammatically and phonetically. It would probably be interesting to illustrate this; however, to achieve it with spelling would surely be confusing.

The purpose of writing the English half of "Tenas Wawa" in "Tonto-eze" is to enable people to learn to think in Chinook Jargon. Learning a vocabulary list wonít necessarily give one the ability to converse intelligently. There are approximately three-hundred words in Chinook Jargon. However, rarely are there over fifty different words in any conversation, or in one edition of this publication. For this reason, learning to speak comprehensible Chinook is fairly easy. To memorize fifty common words is "peanuts," as they say. Learning word order, context, and idiom is important, however.

Chinook Jargon is not an American Indian language, and we hope that Native American readers are not under the opinion that the editors of "Tenas Wawa" think it is, or that Native languages are this simplistic. When Chinook Jargon was in its hey-day, it sounded as strange to natives, with their highly elaborate and complex languages, as it did to Americans, Europeans, and Asians. They all had to learn to be creative in conversation within the limitaitons of the jargon.

Chinook Jargon was and is a wonderful medium for communication and we believe it is worth perpetuating.


(Copyright © 1991, 1994 by Duane Pasco)

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