Tilikum & learning Chinuk Wawa

Portland’s newest bridge was officially named Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People today by TriMet, and I thought you might be interested in a little background on the familiar word "tilikum,”* and Chinuk Wawa, the language of which it is part.

definition of "tilixam" from the book Chinuk Wawa [click for a larger version]First, tilikum!

Here's a definition of the word from Chinuk Wawa: kakwa nsayka ulman-tilixam laska munk-kemteks nsakya - As our elders teach us to speak it, a Chinuk Wawa dictionary, grammar, and text for learners produced by the Chinuk Wawa Dictionary Project of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon.  This definition is supported by an etymological note, which gives the historical roots of the word.

Chinuk Wawa

Chinuk Wawa is a trade language, used historically by people from many different language traditions.  In the nineteenth and very early twentieth centuries, it was the lingua franca of Native people and foreigners all around the lower Columbia river area.  But although this language is no longer heard throughout our region as a part of the sound of everyday business, it is by no means lost. 

In addition to spearheading the Chinuk Wawa dictionary project, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde hosts a regular series of Chinuk Wawa language classes, which are free to all -- though my sense is that it is expected that learners will become teachers also, nurturing the language and sharing their experiences with it.  Classes take place in Portland as well as at Grand Ronde and in Eugene.  The teacher for the Portland classes, Eric Michael Bernando, also teaches a Chinuk Wawa class at Portland Community College.

definition of "tilacum," from The Chinook Book [click for a larger version]Older definitions of tilikum. . .

As I said, the library has many English / Chinuk Wawa dictionaries and glossaries.  Most are quite old, and these older dictionaries are all (so far as I can tell) written by non-Native scholars who learned the language as adults.  Therefore, their definitions may have the benefit of research done among fluent speakers from 100 years ago or more, but they don't have the authority of modern scholarship rooted in Native communities.  However, I do want to share one of these definitions with you, from The Chinook Book, by El Comancho (W.S. Phillips), published waaay back in 1913.  It's a fairly rich definition, with lots of examples of idiomatic usage.

 


* I've used the spelling "tilikum" throughout this post, because it's the spelling TriMet chose for the name of the new bridge.  As you can see, many different transliterations and spellings of this, and other Chinuk Wawa words have been used over time -- tilacum, tillikum, tilixam, and no doubt many others. 


 

Comments

Thanks for this information. Very interesting!

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