I was wandering down a language chain, minding my own business, learning about the ethnic and linguistic subgroups of Iran, and somehow ended up (via an excursion through Turkic languages – spoken in part of Iran – to Korean and Japanese that may be distantly related in an Altaic language group) at a Word List used to show language affinity.
The word list was cooked up by a linguist studying American Indian Languages (especially one with a tendency to string more consonants together in one lump than even an Arab could speak – more on that below…) and found myself face to face with the fact that my day to day speech includes a couple of words right out of a Lingua Franca spoken from British Columbia down through Washington and Oregon and with bits into California.
Little did I realize…
I learned the words early and never thought they might not be universal English. For one of them, it likely IS (nearly) universal now. But, it would seem, it was not always so…
For me, when someone is talking on and on, I’d sometimes way they were “wawawawa” Often done in two stages. Wawa Wawa. Turns out wawa is the word for “talk” in Chinook Jargon or Chinuk Wawa. ( It can also mean tongue and language). Talk Talk.
As a small kid, we sometimes had a “Potlatch” at the Church. Some folks called it a “Pot Luck”. I slowly tended to always say potluck and shied away from “Potlatch”, yet remember it. In Chinuk wawa it is a potlatch…
While I never used it much, I remember folks saying something was skookum meaning an affirmation or strength. A skookum potlatch was a good one… and folks would wawa about it.
The local bigwigs were called muckamucks or sometimes MuckityMucks (that I changed into Lord High MuckityMuck for emphasis). In Chinuk wawa a muckamuck is big boss (though also a big feed, so a muckamuck potlach was expected to be skookum too… )
The wiki even suggests that moolah might be from Chinuk wawa moolah meaning a mill. I’m pretty sure we all know what moolah is nowdays, but I now have my doubts… Is it really used in England, Australia, New Zealand? Or only known from some old American movies? Or am I wawa non-cognito?
On the list I also recognized Big Tayee or big boss, but thought it was an honorific applied to a particular couple of locals in my home town as a ‘pet name’. Now I see it’s a part of something bigger.
Then there is Quiggly Hole or just Quiggly that means a basement or home built underground and is thought to come from kekuli or kickwilli that means down, underneath or beneath. Brings a whole new dimension to “Quiggly Downunder” doesn’t it? I remember someone using kickwilli, but never made the leap to Quiggly…
So now I’m wondering if any OTHER words I’ve used, perhaps not in a long while, or perhaps frequently, might not be English either? There’s several I’ve run into over the years. I’ve ‘always used them’ and just have no idea if they are English, American, my own invention, or now I must add Chinuk wawa… “Scrody” (pronounced like Sk-row-dy) meaning very messy or unkempt. The car was all scrody after we went camping. “Cruft” and “Crufty” I think are computer geek specific, but now I wonder, maybe not? Code that is full of left over bits and ‘dead code’ and generally messy is “crufty code” and cleaning it up is to ‘get the cruft out’.
So here I am, wondering. What DO I speak, anyway? As a child, we had a ‘moggy’. A term my Mum explained was a house cat that mostly lived outdoors and came to visit. Basically, an alley cat that adopted you. That bit comes from cockney, I think. I was as likely to say ‘tadpole’ as ‘pollywog’ and now wonder if I need to grab the OED and find out what languages THEY come from. We went fishing for “mudcats” and “Yellow bellied mudcats” a kind of catfish with a very sturdy character that would live in shallow muddy creeks and could survive a 20 minute walk out / drive home out of water… Are THOSE proper names of any sort? We caught crawdads, crawdaddys, and ‘mudbugs’… and I later learned these were called crayfish or crawfish by some folks.
At the start of the evening I knew what language I grew up speaking… Now I’m not so sure.
OK, the links and backing out to the background from this end point.
There is a wiki on Chinuk wawa:
(Could you, up until recently, have ever expected that that would make sense?
“There is a wiki on Chinuk wawa”?)
It has a list of wawa that made it into English (at least in some areas) along with a discussion of the history of, well, of “my area and north” and the usage of the language therein.
Chinook Jargon (also known as chinuk wawa) originated as a pidgin trade language of the Pacific Northwest, and spread during the 19th century from the lower Columbia River, first to other areas in modern Oregon and Washington, then British Columbia and as far as Alaska, sometimes taking on characteristics of a creole language. It is related to, but not the same as, the aboriginal language of the Chinook people, upon which much of its vocabulary is based.
Many words from Chinook Jargon remain in common use in the Western United States and British Columbia and the Yukon, in indigenous languages as well as regional English usage, to the point where most people are unaware the word was originally from the Jargon. The total number of Jargon words in published lexicons numbered only in the hundreds, and so it was easy to learn. It has its own grammatical system, but a very simple one that, like its word list, was easy to learn
My home town was just a couple of hundred miles south of Oregon and my Uncle had a farm near Medford Oregon (where we went each summer and sometimes in other seasons too). Don’t know if the wawa made it to me, or I went to it, or some of each.
After European contact, the Jargon also acquired English and French loans, as well as words brought by other European, Asian, and Polynesian groups. Some individuals from all these groups soon adopted The Jargon as a highly efficient and accessible form of communication. This use continued in some business sectors well into the 20th century and some of its words continue to feature in company and organization names as well as in the regional toponymy.
In the Diocese of Kamloops, British Columbia, hundreds of speakers also learned to read and write the Jargon using Duployé shorthand via the publication Kamloops Wawa. As a result, the Jargon also had the beginnings of its own literature, mostly translated scripture and classical works, and some local and episcopal news, community gossip and events, and diaries. Novelist and early Native American activist Marah Ellis Ryan (1860?-1934) used Chinook words and phrases in her writing.
According to Nard Jones, Chinook Jargon was still in use in Seattle until roughly the eve of World War II, especially among the members of the Arctic Club, making Seattle the last city where the language was widely used. Writing in 1972, he remarked that at that later date “Only a few can speak it fully, men of ninety or a hundred years old, like Henry Broderick, the realtor, and Joshua Green, the banker.”
Jones estimates that in pioneer times there were about 100,000 speakers of Chinook Jargon.
As I was on the edge of it, at best, I have to wonder if folks in Seattle or British Columbia have even more surviving words of it, cut adrift in a sea of Modern English. The Peanuts cartoon used “wah wah wah” as a ‘fill in’ for folks talking when you had no idea what they were saying. Turns out that, though born in Minnesota, Charles Shultz moved to northern California (from the wiki):
They then moved to Sebastopol, California, where Schulz built his first studio. It was here that Schulz was interviewed for the unaired television documentary A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Some of the footage was eventually used in a later documentary, Charlie Brown and Charles Schulz. The original documentary is available on DVD from the Charles M. Schulz Museum.
Schulz’s father died while visiting him in 1966, the same year his Sebastopol studio burned down. By 1969, Schulz had moved to Santa Rosa, California, where he lived and worked until his death.
So perhaps even his use was facilitated by some indirect exposure to the Chinuk wawa…
Santa Rosa is about 150 miles from where I was born.
Speculative? Yes. But not by much. Chinuk wawa was surviving in places with lumbermills long after fading in common use, and in the early years there was lots of timber being cut in Northern California.
The Native American language that has the load of consonants is Salish or the Salishan languages of the British Columbia / Washington State areas.
The Salishan (also Salish) languages are a group of languages of the Pacific Northwest (the Canadian province of British Columbia and the American states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana). They are characterised by agglutinativity and astonishing consonant clusters — for instance the Nuxálk word xłp̓x̣ʷłtłpłłskʷc̓ (IPA: [xɬpʼχʷɬtʰɬpʰɬːskʷʰt͡sʼ]) meaning ‘he had had [in his possession] a bunchberry plant’ has thirteen obstruent consonants in a row with no vowels.
The Salishan language family consists of twenty-three languages. Below is a list of Salishan languages, dialects, and sub-dialects. This list is a linguistic classification that may not correspond to political divisions. Many Salishan groups consider their variety of speech to be a separate language rather than a dialect.
Most of those languages with only a few speakers left alive. Then again, I can’t see a lot of folks signing up to learn a language with a dozen consonants in a row without vowels or a breathing space…
And that linguist who made the list of words to compare? (Or, rather, several lists…)? Swadesh
So now you can ask the question:
Does the Swadesh list of Chinuk wawa have a wiki?
And will anyone understand that sentence outside of this posting?…
Finally, what started me down this chain was an ethno-linguistic map of Iran:
It shows an Arab band just about where folks attacking / defending the Strait of Hormuz would be. It also shows a large Sunni area south. From the map, the center of Iran looks to be sparsely populated. All interesting bits. Iran is more of a melting pot than one might imagine from outside…
And that is how my wanderings tend to go.
I set out to learn Something That Matters, related to some important News Of The Day, and end up saying “Oooh! That looks interesting!” and then “What, it’s connected to what?” until I end up at “No!? You mean I’ve had wawa words my whole life, even if not skookum Chinuk wawa, and no muckitymuck told me at the potlatch? I had to learn it in a wiki? I feel so in the quiggly about that… ”
Oh, what my 9th grade English Teacher would say about that …