Bringing 'good jargon' to light

01.15.2013 Ron Karten Culture, Education, History

By Henry Zenk

A new Chinuk Wa wa (Chinook Jargon) dictionary - Chinuk Wawa

kakwa nsayka ulman-tilixam ɬ aska munk-kə mtə ks nsayka / Chinuk Wawa

as our elders teach us to speak it - has been compiled by the Chinuk Wawa

Dictionary Project of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde (CTGR)

and published this year by the tribe for distribution by the University of

Washington Press.1 Chinuk Wawa is a unique expression of the linguistic

heritage of the Pacific Northwest, particularly through the language's

association with the era of fur-company domination, before the region's

incorporation into the modern nations of Canada and the United States.

The survival of this unusual language well beyond that era - it retained

vitality as a living language into the very recent past - makes for a remarkable

story in its own right, one I will summarize by briefly touching on my

own involvement with some of the Grand Ronde elders who were among

the last speakers to learn Chinuk Wawa as a first language. The dictionary

project was a major part of my job description when I first signed on as a

linguistic consultant with the tribe in 1998, and it has occupied a good deal

of my time and energy since then.

To read more of this article from the Oregon Historical Society, click on