Chinook Jargon Phrasebook

Kahta Mamook Kopa Chinook Wawa - How to speak Chinook

Grammar & Pronunciation

Grammar | Pronunciation

Under Construction

Grammar & Usage

Please visit the Sentence Structure section of Tenas Wawa for further information on Chinook sentence structure and usage.
Preliminary items towards a Chinook grammar:
Adjectives & Adverbs | The Genitive | Verbal Compounds
Adjectives and Adverbs:
Hyas in its sense of "big" or "very" or "very well" is usually placed at the beginning of a phrase, and can be widely separate from the word it would appear to modify in English:
Hyas maika mamook Chinook wawa - you speak the Chinook Jargon very well
Hyas yaka mamook kloshe okoke latab - he fixed that table "real good", i.e. he did a really good job of fixing the table.
Hyas kiuatan/cayoosh hyak cooley - a fast horse, "[that] horse runs very fast"
Hyas yaka mamook nanitch - he's really showing off, he's all show.

Hiyu is often used in the same way, giving credence to Gibbs' claims that hyas is a corruption or variant of it, although separate meanings became established by the middle of the 19th Century.  Both hyas and hiyu, however, can be placed immediately before a modified noun, as in hyas tyee ("great chief") or hiyu tillikum(s) ("many people", a gathering).

Other adjectives/adverbs - kloshe, skookum, mesachie, etc. are generally placed before a modified noun but after a modified verb.
Kloshe tumtum - good feelings
Tumtum kloshe - to feel good, to have good feelings
Skookum house - prison ("big house")
Chako skookum - to grow big, to become big
Mesachie Boston - a bad American
Tumtum mesachie - to mean ill


The Genitive:
The use of the enclictic "-s", as in English (although without the apostrophe), often suffices for the genitive in the Jargon, including in use with the pronouns, e.g. whitemans chikchik - the white man's wagon, nesikas house - our house (although in such a case the "-s" form would probably not be used).  The more "purely Jargon" usage, however, is to use the construction whiteman yaka chikchik ("whiteman his wagon"), or klootchman yaka man ("woman her man", i.e. husband).
Verbal Compounds:
Chako, which directly means "to come" is used where English would use "become" or German would use "werden".
Chako kull - to harden (to become hard)
Chako oleman - to wear out (to become worn out)

Mamook, which directly means "to do" or "to make", is used to form the passive, although such compounds are not necessarily the passive, and the passive may be implied only by concept.  Mamook therefore would be used for emphasis or clarification.  The conventional sense of "to be [something/somwhere]" would be conveyed by the use of the verb mitlite.
Mamook klatawa - "to be made to go", i.e. to send, to send out
Mamook solleks - to fight or to be caused to fight, i.e. to incite a quarrel.
Mamook haul - to be carried, or to carry.  Haul by itself means "to carry".


Please see the Mamook Compounds, Cultus Compounds, Kumtux Compounds, Tumtum Compounds, Chako Compounds, and other compounds sections of the Verbs & Concepts page for more examples and explanations.
From the start, it has to be emphasized that there is no "correct" pronunciation for the Jargon, which by its very nature was meant to be usable to people from many different linguistic backgrounds.  An individual's pronunciation of a Jargon word was necessarily going to be dependent on that person's own language and dialect, whether that was a dialect of English or Nuu-chah-nulth or Hawaiian.  There are also sounds used in one language that are not familiar to those raised in another language, so someone using the Jargon would always have to be aware of the possible variations that might be heard.  The complex gutturals of the native languages would have figured in a native's pronunciation of the Jargon - just as the English sounds represented by "r" or the subtle diphthongs of Métis French were not easy for natives to pronounce.  Thus, what follows is a rough guide meant to take into account the origins of words as well as the vagaries of the various attempts to transcribe them.  There was no phonetic system to the transcription of Chinook - an innovation that only Father LeJeune's script attempted - and all published lexicons were created by English speakers influenced by standard English spelling methods.  And, as everyone knows, there is no consistency at all in English spelling.........
Guideline No. 1:
Words of French origin should usually be pronounced similar to the rhythm they would have in French.  This is especially the case with words containing the French definite article - laboat, lacope, lapote, latab, etc. - where the opening "la/le" is unaccented.  The one exception to this general rule concerning French loan-words I can immediately think of is moolah, which originally would have been spoken the French way - with the accent on the second syllable - but later on would most likely have become influenced by English, with the accent on the first syllable.  The same may be true of words such as poolie, cosho, melas, burdash and kalapeen, which do not contain the borrowed definite article.  People whose background is French, however, would do well to remember that the dialect of French from which these words were borrowed was not parisien or even canadien, but Métis, which is quite a bit different despite its relative similarity to other Canadian dialects of French.
Guideline No. 2:
This is actually more of a caution to regard the letter "i" and the compound "ie" with some respect in reading the published lexicons.  While the latter should always be as in the English "pie", there are many words where spellings vary and the same sound might be represented by "i", whether at the end of the word or in the middle, as in kalapi, alki, winapi, nika, and nesika.  19th Century English-speakers would not always use "ie" or "ai" when the "pie" sound was intended, and this can cause some confusion; nika and nesika should be pronounced naika and nesaika, although the immediate reaction one has upon seeing the other spelling is neeka and nesihka.  Nonetheless, a word like sikhs is to be pronounced like its alternate spelling seeks, and tillikum is always tih-lih-kumKalapi is to be pronounced kalapai, and alki as alkai, but I'm really not sure about winapi, which I recall having heard as winapie (wih-napai) and certainly has been commonly spelled that way.  The word klahanie I have always heard pronounced "klahanee", When pronunciations of words containing these vowels/combinations are known, I have made comment on that in the course of the definition.  Other than that, you're on your own.
Guideline No. 3:
When a spelling has an obvious guttural in it - tikegh and weght are the first examples that comes to mind - these were often omitted by non-native speakers, as is sometimes represented in spelling variations (tikke or ticky, although weght is always spelled that way).  Native gutturals were often very subtle anyway so even a soft "h" sound will suffice.  The use of "gh" here must also be considered in its many English contexts, such that its presence in weght would cause that word to be pronounced more like wait than wet - with or without an "h" of any intensity being included.
Guideline No. 4:
The wide variation in spellings for many words can give a clue to their potential variation in pronunciation, or for a pronunciation that falls "in between" the sounds represented.  Hiyu/hyiu/hyo is one example, and tikegh/tikke/ticky is another.
Guideline No. 5:
The combination "oo" seems to vary from a pure "u" (as in skookum and cayoosh) to a dipthong as in book and crook (jargon book and clook).  I have heard skookum using the latter sound, but I'm pretty sure this is a later evolution; certainly in the modern pronunciation of the place name Skookumchuck it is more like book, but this is not necessarily so and may vary.  Conversely cayoosh as it is used in the Lillooet country today is a pure "u", while it may have been pronounced in earlier times more like the vowel in book.  Similarly the letter "u" seems to vary somewhat, from a short "u" (-uh) like the first one in tukamonuk (the second being more like book) to a long one in cayuse.

Greetings & Salutations | Common Phrases | Money, Trade, & Travel | Time & the Elements
Food & Domestic Life | Fun & Games | Critters & Livestock | People

The Body | Numbers | Interrogatives, Prepositions, & Interjections

Verbs & Concepts | Adjectives & Adverbs | Grammar & Pronunciation
French loan-words | English & other loan-words
Chinook-English reference (by category)
Kamloops Wawa Word List - NEW
Jim Holton's Chinook Jargon Book (draft)
George Lang's Chinook Jargon Website
Dakelh (Carrier) Chinook Jargon Website
Jeff Kopp's Chinook Wawa Website
Duane Pasco's Tenas Wawa On-Line
Chinook Night Before Christmas
Chinook Lord's Prayer & Hymns

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