Lower Chinook and Clatsop
Traditional Culture
  Since Time Immemorial
Who's Who
Village Life
Inter-Village Relations
Seasonal Round
"Celiast" and "Ilchee"
Intertribal Trade Network
Canoe People
References Cited

  Contemporary Culture
Environmental History
Cultural History
Recommended Websites

  Relationship with U.S.
  Early Coastal Exploration
Strangers Arrive
Maritime Fur Trade
Fort Clatsop Winter
Overland Fur Trade
Disease and Burial Customs
Fisheries, Missions, and Settlements
Shrinking Land Base
Making Treaties
Recognition and U.S. Relations
References Cited

Notes on Words

Chinook Winds

"Everyone says Chinook winds are the warm winds that blow along the mountain front and melt the winter snow.

But what would amount to our Chinook wind, is called a Walla Walla ween. That's what we say, Walla Walla ween, meaning that it's the Walla Walla wind, and that's just cause that happens to be the people living in the direction of the way that comes from" (Tony Johnson interview: 2002).



"And Sa-wash, or Si-wash, some people say Sy-wash, some Indians say Sy-wash, but you know if you say Sy-wash in the wrong place they end up as kind of fighting words. The way we make a distinction between that is that we say Sa-wash or Sha-wash, and that means an Indian, that's all it means in the language, but from linguistics or from our sort of study there that really is from Savage in French. And people actually are mad about that and they think well you know "How is it they name us Savage?" But 'savage' in French, from my understanding, I don't really speak French, but from friends that do that had to borrow the context, they're just wild. The example I was told was that you could call a wildflower savage. it's not the same as calling English savage, which Indians are accustomed to, I think, being called savage. But that's, that word savage (in French) is not that.

In fact one of the words for the language we're talking about or that I am speaking is Sashawa-swawa or Shawa-swawa, and that just means Indian wawa, Indian talk. Chinook wa is its other name, right, but it's got wawa there. Chinook wawa, Shawashwawa, or Chinook Jargon" (Tony Johnson interview: 2002).

Fort Clatsop > Culture > Language

"When I was younger, one person that I spent quite a lot of time with would say "Now I'm going to speak in Chinook," and then he'd talk. But what it took me awhile to figure out is that, in fact, he was speaking our Chinook Wawa, that Chinook jargon language, and truthfully, I didn't really have an interest in that at first, because there are so many misperceptions about it. And so it took awhile and then that language really grew on me.

"And you know, I’m just really proud of it now, and in fact I spend a lot of time trying to end some of those misperceptions about the language, because, well, it’s my interest" (Tony Johnson interview: 2002).

Tony Johnson

Old Chinook and Chinook Jargon


"The Chinookan languages, are languages that originated on the Columbia River from the Dalles on down to the mouth and up and down the coast a little ways. Those are the original languages.

"Chinook Wawa developed out of a need for people to communicate that didn't have a common language. Around the world there are languages like this, called Pigeon and Creole languages. But this is a Pigeon that was based on the Chinookan language, and that's how it started. Of course this area was important for trading and a lot of different people passed through here. Chinook Wawa was created by adults who needed to communicate across their language barriers. The way we've learned the language-- the way that it was used at my home here or with the tribes that I work for — its use is purely an Indian language. It's used Indian to Indian, and so that sound system and the grammar stay intact" (Tony Johnson interview: 2002).




"We know is that it's a native Pigeon, that is, most of it's words and most of it's grammar surely come from the native languages around here. Then later the European languages were added. Approximately ten percent of Chinook Wawa is French. If you speak French, you would immediately recognize the influence of French on the language. We screw up parts of it, like, the gender system that French and Spanish and other languages have.

Tony Johnson describing old Chinook
language and its influence on Chinook Wawa.

"Roughly another ten percent of it is English. The English portion of Chinook Wawa probably came in right at the beginning of fur trade, around the 1790's, or 1800.

"You might argue the most important part of the Chinookan language, although it's a very small part, is from the west coast of Vancouver Island. A couple of these words are words that really make the language go. Without those words from the west coast of Vancouver Island, the <unintelligible> words, there wouldn't be, you couldn't use the language. So clearly that was a very important part of it getting formed" (Tony Johnson interview: 2002).

Tony Johnson talking about
how Chinook language evolved.
Website Referrals

Tenas Wawa
" Tenas Wawa" was a semimonthly newsletter about the Chinook Jargon published in Poulsbo, Washington, over four recent years. Back issues and selected articles currently appear here.

The Chinook Jargon
Wow! This site is a great resource for Chinook Jargon information, it gives bibliographies (also listed on our bibliography page) and lots of history and other informative sections on the 'pidgin' language of the Northwest Coast.

Background: K. Lugthart photo.