Chinuk Wawa

Chinuk Wawa

The Chinuk Wawa program at Lane was started in 2006 in collaboration with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community.

Together we have built a program that allows students to learn a universal intertribal language of the Pacific Northwest while also learning about the people of Grand Ronde and the history and culture of Native peoples in this area. For more information, you can view the recording of a spring 2022 panel discussion about Chinuk Wawa for LCC faculty, or continue reading below.

Chinuk Wawa courses meet World Language requirements for admission and graduation in the Oregon University System. With a qualified teacher, high school students can also receive college credits for studying Chinuk Wawa via the College Now program.

Fall is the time to begin Chinuk Wawa studies!

Here are our course offerings for Fall 2022:

Beginning Chinuk Wawa: Two sections, both offered concurrently Tuesday/Thursday, 4-6pm on Zoom. CRN 21386 & 20637

Intermediate Chinuk Wawa: One section, Monday/Wednesday, 4-6pm on Zoom. CRN 20638

All classes are live streamed via Zoom, so students can join us from any location. You can view the course listings.

You can now enroll for Fall 2022 Chinuk Wawa classes. All students are welcome!

A limited number of non-credit students may enroll in the course at low cost via LCC’s continuing education (CE) program. CE is an alternative way to enroll in the very same classes along with credit students and the course has the same attendance and homework requirements for credit and CE students. CE enrollment for fall classes will open in September.

History of Chinuk Wawa and the first language of Oregon

Let's look briefly at the history of Chinuk Wawa and the first language of Oregon.

The history of chinuk wawa, also called shawash-wawa, jargon, chinuk...

Chinuk Wawa arose at the mouth of the Columbia River to The Dalles and began as a Pidgin – a contact language used for communication that is not the first language of any of its speakers. Over years it developed into a Creole - a Pidgin language that has become the first language of a community, although it was never the only first language of a community as most communities and speakers were at least bilingual.

As the lingua franca of the Northwest, Chinuk Wawa served as the language of communication between speakers of different regional languages – tribal and non-tribal. It was prevalent in all areas west of the Rockies, from Northern California to Alaska, and was found as the language of exchange and trade at Celilo Falls and at other sites along the Columbia River.

Chinuk Wawa is composed primarily of 4 languages and words from many other languages such as Hawaiian for example:

  • 55% Old Chinook
  • 7% Nuu-chaa-nulth
  • 10% English
  • 10% French
  • 18% Other

Diversity of Languages and Dialects in the Pacific Northwest

In present-day Oregon at the time European Americans first arrived, 18-25 languages of roughly 13 different families were spoken.

(Gross 2007; D. Hymes 2007)

The following map shows where the different languages of Oregon were spoken before contact with white settlers.

map of Oregon that shows where different languages of Oregon were spoken

From Native American Tribes of Oregon website

Chinuk Wawa book cover

Many speakers of other Oregon languages, for example, Alsea, Yaquina, Tualatin, Yonkala, Tillamook, Chinook, Kathlamet, Clatskanie, Rogue River, Molalla, Cayuse, Hanis and Miluk Coos, Klamath, Walla Walla, Kiksht, Ichishkiin and Deeni' languages also spoke Chinuk Wawa. And Chinuk Wawa words are found in many of these languages.

The Tribe worked with Dr. Henry Zenk to create both the Chinuk Wawa Lexicon and the Chinuk Wawa Dictionary.

What does Chinuk Wawa sound like?

Conversation Sound file

Chinuk Wawa has many consonants and few vowels.

Many consonants are different than other languages. For example Chinuk Wawa has 6 different ways to pronounce variations on [k]. 

CWk series Sound file

Artwork by Jaeci Hall

Artwork by Jaeci Hall, native americans in boat on river

Artwork by Jaeci Hall

Artwork by Jaeci Hall - tree in forest

And Chinuk Wawa has sounds you may not have heard before.

CE Lush Sound file

The Sound System of Chinuk Wawa

The origin of Chinuk Wawa is in Old Chinookan, which like Chinuk Wawa was spoken from the mouth of the Columbia River up to the Dalles. Old Chinookan preceded Chinuk Wawa by thousands of years.

Because Chinuk Wawa has the sounds of Old Chinookan, we believe that Chinuk Wawa was spoken in this area before the time of contact with non-Native people.

Chinuk Wawa Sounds

CW Alphabet Sound file

What will you learn?

What kind of language ability will you have if you study Chinuk Wawa? What kinds of things will you be able to say and talk about?

After the first term of Chinuk Wawa you will be able to:

  • Greet your classmates, friends and other speakers of Chinuk Wawa
  • Introduce your self to others in a culturally appropriate way •Ask someone how they are, how they are feeling
  • Ask questions about others
  • Express numbers 1-100
  • Express days of the week
  • Inquire about the time of day
  • Tell time – general and specific
  • Identify things: body parts, classroom objects, animals, pets, foods, beverages, family members and use se th
  • Tell someone you need something or want something
  • Know more about the culture of the Grand Ronde

At the end of 1 year of studying Chinuk Wawa you will be able to:

  • What their favorite foods are and why? Talked about what they ate for dinner last night and what foods they like to cook.
  • Read stories about Grand Ronde in the 1930s; ikanum – stories of winter, letters and biographies of Grand Ronde tribal members.
  • Talk about activities they do on weekends, and things things want to do this summer.
  • Play games – Go Fish, Uno and talked about designing a Clue game in Chinuk Wawa.
  • Made breakfast for dinner in Chinuk Wawa with the 203 class.
  • Write biographies of Chinuk Wawa elders; and wrote and illustrated a story book for the preschool at Grand Ronde.

At the end of 2 years of studying Chinuk Wawa you will be able to:

  • Talk about things you do everyday
  • Talk about your location, how to get somewhere and give directions to someone
  • Talk about what you like and dislike
  • Express the amount of something
  • Perform social interactions such as thanking, apologizing, greeting and interacting with elders, exchanging pleasantries about weather, or an event, or something about a family member
  • Talk on the phone, answer the phone, and take simple messages •Ask for clarifications/repetitions
  • Make food with friends, write and share recipes
  • Go shopping for food, clothing with friends
  • Play games in Chinuk Wawa
  • Joke in Chinuk Wawa
  • Ask for a person's cooperation or help
  • Talk about plant life, gathering and harvesting food, making baskets
  • Talk about the lifeways of the people of Grand Ronde
  • Describe actions that are taking place now, yesterday or in the past, tomorrow or at a later date.
  • Ask friends for information about things
  • Ask and answer questions
  • Compare and contrast things and events
  • Make appointments and reservations
  • Have conversations about things you know about
  • Know and can talk about stories and ikanum
  • Better understand the culture and can talk about cultural things

Jaeci Hall artwork - drawing of book with illustrations

Chinuk Wawa Skills you will learn

You will learn how to:

  • Listen and understand Chinuk Wawa
  • Speak Chinuk Wawa
  • Understand the Culture of Chinuk Wawa speaking people
  • Read in Chinuk Wawa
  • Write assignments, stories, books, songs

Chinuk Wawa Course Objectives 100 Level

100 Level Student Objectives: Students will (1) learn the sound system of Chinuk Wawa to be able to (2) converse in a variety of common everyday settings using vocabulary and structures presented in class. Emphasis is placed on daily speaking, writing, reading and listening of Chinuk Wawa and learning about the cultures of the people who spoke and still speak the language.

Chinuk Wawa Course Objectives 200 Level

200 Level Student Objectives: Students will (1) learn the culture and history of the Grand Ronde people; (2) converse in a variety of common everyday settings; (3) learn to use more advanced verb structures; (4) learn to work (a linguistic emphasis) with texts. Emphasis is placed on daily speaking, writing, reading and listening of Chinuk Wawa and learning about the cultures of the people who spoke and still speak the language.

Why study Chinuk Wawa?

Hopefully you have your own reasons to study Chinuk Wawa now. Students say it opens them to seeing the world differently. They learn about the land they live on. The course gives them an appreciation of the people of this area and their lifeways. They have fun learning new sounds. They feel good about supporting Chinuk Wawa language revitalization.

'Hopefully we see you in Chinuk Wawa school!'