Chinook Jargon: an Amerindian Lexifier Pidgin

Elise Washines


First Records of Existence

  1. John Meares 1790: English explorer uses several Chinook Jargon (CJ) words in “Voyages to the Northwest Coast”
    1. Uses CJ words to note exclamation of Nootkan chief Callicom in 1788 upon tasting blood – “kloshe”
  2. John R. Jewitt 1803-1805:     “A Narrative of the Adventures & Suffereings of John R. Jewitt”
    1.  uses 10 CJ words
  3. Lewis & Clark, Dec, 10 1805: recorded words from Concommolly, Chinook Chief.


Jargon becomes known


CJ on the Rise


Note:   Despite its widespread use, controversy existed and still exists today as to the origins of CJ.


3 Theories as to the Origin of CJ

1.  originated w/ Hudson’s Bay Co. – Discredited

2.  originated among Indians of Pacific North West prior to European Contact

a.  Edward H. Thomas “Chinook, A History, & Dictionary of North West Coast Trade Jargon” (1935) – “Chinook Jargon had its beginning in the trade necessities of pre-historic slave and shell-money commerce between Chinook and Nootka”

b.  authorities regard theory as unproved

3.  originated with Advent of white trader

1805 Lewis & Clark  visit Columbia River Valley

ąIndians with European Trade goods

ąIndians with European diseases

ąIndians that knew English

ąIndians could not understand one another


Note:   Whatever the origin, CJ is an example of an Interethnic Contact Language – used for trade, spread of religion, political negotiations, and various ceremonies


Decline of CJ

Use of CJ declines gradually as more & more Natives begin to speak English

1962ąSummer institute of Linguistics estimates that 100 speakers in North America, all over 50 years of age

1990ąSIL considers CJ scattered/extinct


CJ words

Š        ~ Salish origin is skookum “strong”

Š        Onomatopoeic terms in Jargon tik-tik “watch”

Š        Many words pass into Jargon in almost exactly original form



18 phonemes – 13 consonants & 5 vowels


Various rules associated with CJ


Reduction in place/manner of articulation

Note: I do not have the font to write the IPA symbols, so I am going to use only the word examples


“fish, fire”ą/pish, pa-ya/




Deletion of phonemes



(2nd) deletes any [d] following [h] or [l] & which precedes word boundary or stop consonant







ąextensive use of compound expressions in CJ

ąof all verb compounds “chaco, mamook, mahsh” most extensively used

ąMamook (verb & noun) declared most useful word in CJ: 198 compounds using “mamook”




Syntax/Syntactic words-

POSSESSIVE CASE – of nouns indicated in two way

(1)  “yaka” after noun

(2)  “kopa” before noun


PRONOUNS – are not inflected


ADJECTIVES ordinarily precede the noun, not inflected

               Types: Qualitative, Quantitative, Interrogative, Demonstrative, Numeral, Distributive




ADVERBS of time, of place, or manner, of degree, interrogative, conjunctive, negative participle


PREPOSITIONS: “kopa”=in, on, into, to, from, with, towards, during