About Chinook

Chinook (also known as “Chinook Jargon” or “Chinook Trade Jargon”) was a pidgin language that arose spontaneously in the nineteenth century to faciltate trade between the First Nations peoples and Europeans along the Pacific Northwest coast. It contains words from the original Chinook language (now extinct), Nuuchanuulth, French and English.

Musqueam Band

At one time as many as 100,000 people spoke Chinook in coastal areas from present day Oregon to Alaska. It was widespread enough that most people who grew up on the coast before World War II picked up some words, and a few remain in common usage, such as “saltchuck” (ocean), “skookum” (sturdy or strong), and “klahanie” (outdoors—hence the long-running CBC TV series of that name).

The popular Mohawk writer, Pauline Johnson-Tekahionwake, used Chinook words in her stories about the Squamish people, published as Legends of Vancouver in 1911. (I named the KlonDyke’s cat Pauline Johnson, as she is also a very independent female.)

I find Chinook fascinating because it demonstrates one of the primary characteristics of Cascadia–that we live in a collision of cultures that spawns new and fascinating fusions of custom, art, cuisine, and even people. The Pacific Coast was home to about twenty Native Nations, all with their own languages and cultures, and into that setting came European explorers and traders—Spanish, French, English, Scottish and Russian—followed by settlers.

By now, of course, everyone is here. Vancouver is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in the world.

Photo: Members of the Musqueam band in Vancouver, BC, with their chief and Coast Salish style house post in background. Public domain photo from Wikipedia Commons. There’s no date given. Anybody know?


Tyee Article about Chinook: Can We Still Speak Chinook? – A language thrown together to make a new country.