December 28th, 2023. Snass Session Salmon Arm Letter 1903

 Snass Sessions 12.28.2023: William Celestin(?), Salmon Arm letter, 1903(?)1

David Douglas Robertson, PhD

Consulting linguist, Spokane, WA, USA 


Visit Juli Baumler’s webpage of “Chinuk Pipa” (BC alphabet) resources.

Background information on this writer:

There’s a high probability that it was William Celestin of Salmon Arm, and in fact this letter is probably the first half of last week’s reading! Many clues suggest that writer here: his spellings such as min for man ‘man’, his strategy of writing 2 letters t.s or instead of the single Chinuk Pipa letters ts, ch; his use of the infrequent variant spus instead of pus ‘if/when’; his handwriting and his preferences for writing certain words in certain “shapes”; and so on. 

Salmon Arm is a historically Secwepemc (“Shuswap”) Salish village in south-central British Columbia. 

There’s usually little or no punctuation in the Indigenous-written letters, so what you see here is pretty much my additions of commas, periods, and so on. 

If you see [SIC] in square brackets it shows possible mistakes in the writing; other material [in square brackets] is inferred and added by me. 

*Asterisked* material shows an uncertain reading of the Chinuk Pipa writing. 

Underlined material is in other languages than Chinook Jargon. 

Anything < in angled brackets > is non-Chinuk Pipa, i.e. written as standard English in the original document. 

The notation (Ø) shows that you can understand a clause to contain either “silent IT”or a “silent preposition”. 

I have put line breaks between every clause-containing sentence, and added punctuation, to help the reader. (But I’ve preserved each writer’s own idiosyncratic punctuation marks.) I’m sometimes experimenting with extra indentation to show the existence of subordinate clauses. (And to reflect the flow of the speaker’s thoughts.) 

Many thanks to all of you who participated in this Snass Session! 


The letter:

The letter, transcribed & with a suggested translation:

Samin Arm March < 12 193 >2 Salmon Arm March 12 1903*

‘Salmon Arm, March 12, 1903’ 

Naika tlus papa Pir Lshyun 

my good father Père Le Jeune‘My dear father Père Le Jeune,’

Naika tiki wawa kopa maika 

I want talk to you‘I want to talk with you.’ 

Nawitka aias-lili naika lisi kopa3 mamuk-pipa 

indeed very-longtime I lazy about make-letter‘For a really long time I’ve been (too) lazy about writing’ 

kopa maika:Nawitka naika kwash4 maika:Maika 

to you: indeed I fear you: you ‘to you. In fact I’m feeling shy of you.You’ve’ 

wawa kopa klaska5 pus klaska ilo piii iaka6 pipaWik-kata

say to them if they not pay(for) his/their paperno-how ‘said to the people, if they don’t pay for their newspaper, “There’s no way’

naika patlach8 iaka pipaUkuk naika kwash pi ilo naika ma[-]

I give/send his/their paperthis I fear and not I make- ‘I can send their paper.”This is what I’m afraid of, so I haven’t’ 


Thanks to Tiyaha in our Zoom session for the suggestion that this year should be read as 1903, i.e. reflecting locally spoken English “nineteen-three”. This seems more likely to me than my previous guess that it was a miswriting of 1893.3

…lisi kopa mamuk-pipa…: Typically we expect a subordinate clause (that is, one that contains a verb) expressing a purpose, to be introduced by the “hypothetical marker” pus. The kopa here is what’s typical of noun purposes, such as when we say “lazy about/for dinner” or “for you”. Because of this, I translate our phrase as ‘…lazy about writing…’4

Kwash can be a transitive verb ‘to fear’ someone/something, or an intransitive verb ‘to be afraid’. It has a broader meaning than English ‘afraid/fear’, though, so it extends to ‘shy; apprehensive’. 5

Klaska ‘they, them’ is very often used as a vague, generic ‘people’, equivalent in meaning to casual modern English ‘they say it’s going to rain’. Iaka does not tend to be used this way; see the next footnote, though. 6

Iaka ‘she/he’ is very often used as ‘they’ by fluent speakers. 7

Wik-kata (literally ‘no-how’) is the normal expression for ‘can’t; unable; no way’.8

Patlach ‘give’ is also often used to express ‘send’ a letter, etc. 

muk-tsim9 kopa maika:Alta naika tlap wan10 tala 

writing to you: now I managetoget one dollar ‘written to you.Now that I’ve managed to get one dollar’ 

chikmin11 naika mamuk-pipa kopa maika:pus naika 

money I make-letter to you: sothat I ‘of money, I’m writing to you, so that I can’ 

piii naika pipa wan iirPi naika tlap 12 sitkom tala 

pay(for) my paper one yearand I managetoget half dollar ‘pay for my newspaper for a year.And I’ve managed to get a half dollar’ 

pi iht kwata13Maika wawaUkuk sitkom tala kakwa lakit 

and one quarteryou say this half dollar like 4‘and a quarter.You’ve said, this half dollar is like 4’ 

chikmin14 pi ukuk kwata lakit chikminKakwa < 8 > talas15 

money and this quarter 4 money so 8 dollar-s‘dollars and this quarter is 4 dollars.So it’s 8 dollars’ 

kanamokstPus maika mamuk kakwa drit yutl naika 

together if you do likethat really glad my ‘total.If you do it that way, I’ll be really glad’ 

tomtom kopa ukuk tanas chikmin pus chako 

heart about this little money if become ‘about this bit of money, if it turns into’ 


Mamuk-tsim (literally ‘make-marked’) is in effect a synonym of mamuk-pipa (literally ‘make-writing’) in Northern Dialect. A nice bit of proof for the conceptual sameness of tsim & pipa in this dialect is one Indigenous writer’s expression pipa samin for what’s normally known as tsim samin ‘chum salmon’ (literally ‘marked/striped salmon’).10

Wan for ‘one’, instead of iht: it’s common for Northern Dialect speakers to use the locally spoken English numbers in expressions that were common in conversation with Settlers. This includes prices and money quantities, clock times, dates, and names of years. See the phrase wan iir for ‘one year’ a couple of lines later.11

Chikmin can mean ‘money’ or ‘metal’. By the rules of Chinuk Wawa grammar, it’s reasonable to understand that the writer is saying here ‘one dollar of coins’. See the third footnote below. 12

Tlap always has the feeling of ‘managing to’ or ‘happening to’ do something, without much control by you. Because its basic meaning is ‘find, catch, get’, I translate it here as ‘manage to get’. 13

Sitkom tala pi iht kwata ‘a half dollar and a quarter’ can be taken as a further indication that the writer means specifically coins, not generically money. If he meant the quantity, 75¢, he would likely have used the extremely common northern Chinook Jargon expression tlun kwata, literally ‘three quarters’. (Compare the southern synonym łun-tʰubits, literally ‘three two-bits-es’!)14

Chikmin: see the third footnote above. This word can mean generically ‘money’, which is also true of the word tala ‘dollar’. It appears that some speakers, including this writer, therefore took chikmin & tala as synonyms that both mean ‘dollar’. 15

8 talas: an indication that this phrase is indeed from locally spoken English, as discussed in our footnote about wan, is the presence of the English noun plural suffix -s

ayu chikmin ukuk:Wiht naika wawa kopa maika 

lotsof money that:Also I say to you ‘lots of money, this does.Also I’ll say to you:’ 

Ukuk so-mil16-min iaka wawa kopa naikaSpus 

that saw-mill-man he say to me if ‘That sawmill fella said to me, if’ 

naika mamuk som* mor* logs*17 kopa iaka pi18 iaka mamuk 

I make(cut) some* more* logs* for him and/then he make ‘I cut some more logs for him (to process), then he’d make’ 

lam* patlach19 kopa naikaPi naika mamuk ayu 

booze present to meand I make(cut) lotsof ‘a present of booze* to me.And (then) I did cut lots of’ 

logs* kopa iakaIlip iaka mamuk20 lam* patlach naika 

logs* for himbefore he make booze present I ‘logs for him. Before he could make a presents of booze, I’ 

piii ukuk kanawiIlo klaksta hilp kopa naika 

pay that allno someone help to me ‘paid for that, all of it. Nobody helped me out’ 

kopa ikta spus naika piii ukuk Hwait min21 mamuk kopa with thing for me pay that White man working for ‘with anything for me to pay that White man working for’ 


So-mil is a newer loan from locally spoken English ‘sawmill’. Compare older/southern-dialect (le)mula (from Métis French le moulin). 17

Som* mor* logs*: these 3 words are not totally clear, being written in what seems William Celestin’s typical handwriting as sim mori lokis. But the reading as ‘some more logs’, from locally spoken English, seems to me the most reasonable interpretation. We know from several sources, including Indigenous people’s letters, that som is a Northern-Dialect word (as in som taim(s) ‘some time(s)’). The same is true of mor for ‘more’. Logs* amounts to a new discovery in Chinook Jargon; it fits into the pattern of borrowing words from local English in commericial and work settings.18

Pi (literally ‘and; but’) is often used for ‘(and) then’, which in the Northern Dialect makes it sometimes a synonym of iawa (literally ‘there’). 19

Lam* patlach is another somewhat hard to read phrase, but it occurs more than once, increasing our confidence that it really is saying literally a ‘booze gift’. The writer is apparently reporting to his priest, as would be expected, an encounter with temptation.20

Any verb X in Chinuk Wawa can also mean ‘able to X; can X’. In this sentence it seems clear that the meaning is in fact ‘before he could gift me some booze’. 21

Hwait man is the most common term for ‘White person’ in the Northern Dialect; it’s a newer borrowing from local English.

nsaikaPi* pus naika piii kopit ol man Makhtawt*22 

us and for me pay only old man Makhtawt* ‘us.And, for me to pay, it was only old man Makhtawt*,’ 

iht tala pi sitkom chikmin iaka patlach kopa naika spus naika 

one dollar and half money he give to me for me ‘a dollar and a half of money he gave to me for me’ 

piii ukuk Sama23 pi kopit: 

pay that Whiteguy and that’sall‘to pay that White guy, and that’s it.’ 


There’s some chance that his name is actually meant as ‘McLeod’ or ‘McDowd’. But the way it’s written looks more like a local Salish name. 23

Sama is the Interior Salish word for ‘white person’, sémeʔ