Indians Of Pacific Coast Developed Chinook
Jargon To Communicate
Along the Pacific Coast from California to Alaska, Indian tribes traded with each other. Since each tribe, and sometimes each family within a tribe, had its own language, trade would have been difficult without a common tongue. The one that developed was the Chinook jargon.
The Chinooks lived around the lower Columbia River, and being centrally located, it was an area in which peoples from both north and south could meet and exchange their special products.
The Chinook jargon was also picked up by most settlers who came to the area, and was the means of communication between the two races in many instances. It was actually a trade jargon, not the genuine Chinook language, and contained a mixture of French, English and parts of the languages of several tribes. It continued to be used as slang quite commonly in the Northwest as late as World War II, even in the offices of city businessmen.
Tillikum was possibly one of the most used words, and still shows up today occasionally. It means friend, actually a very good friend.
A trade arrangement might be concluded with kloshe, which means good or fine.
Nika kumtux said “I understand.” To become chako Boston meant to become civilized.
Skookum chuck was a rapid stream or a coast eddy. Important for anyone on the water was chuck chako, the tide is rising.
Illahee was the land or country in which one lived and which provided comfort. (Seattle’s first house of ill fame was named the Illahee.)
Tyee referred to a chief. A man’s klootchman was his wife.
Some of the jargon is more obviously from the English side of the language. Melas, derived from molasses, was syrup. Moos-moos were cattle. To muck-a-muck was to eat beef.
By now the language has almost completely disappeared, although 100 years ago there were an estimated 100,000 persons - Indians, white and mixed bloods - who could speak it fluently. Merchants, loggers, traders, seamen, and housewives all needed to use it to communicate.
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