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Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Nuts and Bolts: Chinook Jargon.

Chinook Jargon must be the only language in the world that started off as a joke at a dinner party.

No, really. The party took place in Nootka Sound in the 1790s. Eating were Captains Vancouver and Bodega y Quadra, and the entertainment was provided by Chief Maquinna and his brother Callicum. (I do hope they were guests, too).

Chief Maquinna and Callicum were comedians, it seems, for they performed a sketch using mock European words and mimicking European dress and manners.

The mangled language they came up with turned out to be an extremely practical way of understanding each other.

There had probably been a Trade Language, Chinookan-Nuu-chah-nulth, used in the area by all the different Amerindian language-speakers for some years, but the new language - Chinook Jargon - proved wonderfully elastic at accommodating words from all over the place - France, China, Norway, and Hawaii.

Chinook Jargon was a pidgin - it had a limited vocabulary and a very simple grammar - but it developed into various creoles in different areas of Canada and the Northern United States, and one of these, Chinook Wawa, is still spoken today in the state of Oregon.

There are still a few Chinook Jargon words used in English. Chum was one we came across yesterday, but there's also the gorgeous high muckamuck, meaning big boss. Moolah means mill in Chinook Jargon and might be the origin of the English word meaning money; and iktus, which meant stuff, is now sometimes used in American English to mean junk.

Word To Use Today: muckamuck. In Chinook Jargon this word means big feed, ie guy at the High Table.

There are said to be only about a hundred speakers of Chinook Jargon left in the world, so let's give this precious word a boost.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Anon.
    All readers of The Word Den are high muckamucks as far as I'm concerned.

    ReplyDelete