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Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon, or, Trade Language of Oregon   By: (1815-1873)

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Some years ago the Smithsonian Institution printed a small vocabulary of the Chinook Jargon, furnished by Dr. B.R. Mitchell, of the U.S. Navy, and prepared, as we afterwards learned, by Mr. Lionnet, a Catholic priest, for his own use while studying the language at Chinook Point. It was submitted by the Institution, for revision and preparation for the press, to the late Professor W.W. Turner. Although it received the critical examination of that distinguished philologist, and was of use in directing attention to the language, it was deficient in the number of words in use, contained many which did not properly belong to the Jargon, and did not give the sources from which the words were derived.

Mr. Hale had previously given a vocabulary and account of this Jargon in his "Ethnography of the United States Exploring Expedition," which was noticed by Mr. Gallatin in the Transactions of the American Ethnological Society, vol. ii. He, however, fell into some errors in his derivation of the words, chiefly from ignoring the Chihalis element of the Jargon, and the number of words given by him amounted only to about two hundred and fifty.

A copy of Mr. Lionnet's vocabulary having been sent to me, with a request to make such corrections as it might require, I concluded not merely to collate the words contained in this and other printed and manuscript vocabularies, but to ascertain, so far as possible, the languages which had contributed to it, with the original Indian words. This had become the more important, as its extended use by different tribes had led to ethnological errors in the classing together of essentially distinct families. Dr. Scouler, whose vocabularies were among the earliest bases of comparison of the languages of the northwest coast, assumed a number of words, which he found indiscriminately employed by the Nootkans of Vancouver Island, the Chinooks of the Columbia, and the intermediate tribes, to belong alike to their several languages, and exhibit analogies between them accordingly.[A] On this idea, among other points of fancied resemblance, he founded his family of Nootka Columbians, one which has been adopted by Drs. Pritchard and Latham, and has caused very great misconception. Not only are those languages entirely distinct, but the Nootkans differ greatly in physical and mental characteristics from the latter. The analogies between the Chinook and the other native contributors to the Jargon are given hereafter.

[Footnote A: Journal Royal Geographical Society of London, vol. xi., 1841.]

The origin of this Jargon, a conventional language similar to the Lingua Franca of the Mediterranean, the Negro English Dutch of Surinam, the Pigeon English of China, and several other mixed tongues, dates back to the fur droguers of the last century. Those mariners whose enterprise in the fifteen years preceding 1800, explored the intricacies of the northwest coast of America, picked up at their general rendezvous, Nootka Sound, various native words useful in barter, and thence transplanted them, with additions from the English, to the shores of Oregon. Even before their day, the coasting trade and warlike expeditions of the northern tribes, themselves a sea faring race, had opened up a partial understanding of each other's speech; for when, in 1792, Vancouver's officers visited Gray's Harbor, they found that the natives, though speaking a different language, understood many words of the Nootka... Continue reading book >>

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