February 1st, 2024. Snass Session.  Elizabeth Wai letter. ( no date)

 Snass Sessions 02.01.2024: Elizabeth Wai letter, no date1

David Douglas Robertson, PhD

Consulting linguist, Spokane, WA, USA 

First, an extra item for your consideration — This is what an 1836 letter from the mostly illiterate French Canadians of the Willamette Valley, Oregon looked like. I think it has things in common with patterns we find in the Chinuk Pipa letters:

This letter apparently comes from eastern Secwépemc territory (“Shuswap” Salish people). 

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! 



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

Background information on this writer:

Elizabeth Wai was perhaps the wife of Joseph Wai of Salmon Arm, who himself was wrote several letters that we have. 

Note: Known nicknames for people called “Elizabeth” in the Chinuk Pipa letters include Lisit (“Lizette/Lisette”) and Laisi (“Lizy”).

Note: “Wai” (“Wayi” / “Y-ee” / “Wyee” in some modern community spellings) is a name that perhaps comes from Chinuk Wawa wáyhi ‘Hawai‘ian’, suggesting some fur-trade era Kanaka ‘Pacific Islander’ heritage in Joseph’s family. 

The Letter page 1.


The letter, transcribed, with a suggested translation (page 1): 

Oxli*2 papa Pir LshyunNaika tiki wawa kopa maikaPus maika tiki naika wawa 

hello father Pere Le JeuneI want talk to you if you want I talk

‘Hello, father Pere Le Jeune.I want to talk to you.If you like I’ll speak’ 

tlus3Kata naika tiki iskom la[likalisti]4O5 ankati aias-klahawiam naika tomtomPi 

well how! I want receive communionoh previously very-pitiful my heart but

‘well.How I want to receive communion!Oh, my heart used to be so miserable.But’

tlus ilip naika aias-tiki pus naika iskom (Ø) kopa naika mamukO pi kata6 naika tiki 

good first I very-want that I receive it for my actionoh and how! I want

‘first I needed to desire to receive it (communion) for what I’d (actually) done. Oh, and how I want’

chako-tlus Pir LshyunPi naika tlus-tomtom pus naika iskom (Ø)Ankati naika

become-good Pere Le Jeuneand I good-hearted if I receive itpreviously I

‘to get right, Pere Le Jeune!And I’ll be happy if I receive it.I’ve already’ 

mamuk pi

work until

‘worked until’ 

naika iskom manPi naika tiki chako-tlus pus naika iskom (Ø)Kopa ankati naika

I take husbandand I want become-good so.that I receive itin past I

‘I could take a husband. And I want to get right so I can receive it (communion). I used to’ 

mamuk pi 

work until 

‘work until’ 


Oxli: a number of eastern Secwépemc people use this greeting, apparenly meant as what we find written as halo ‘hello’ from other writers.3

Wawa tlus ‘speak well/nicely’ also has an older, but still used, meaning of ‘pray’. 4

Elizabeth Wai is the only writer we’ve found so far who writes ‘communion’ as la , that is, with a French-style definite article plus the usual symbol for likalisti.5

A useful tip for reading Chinuk Pipa letters – the interjection o typically signals the start of a new sentence.6

It’s very common for Northern-Dialect speakers to start a clause with kata for emotional emphasis, very much like English when we say ‘How I love you!’ or ‘How I’d like to have that job!’ There’s even a sentence later in this letter that’s just O kata!7

Pi ‘and’, when it joins two clauses together like it does here, often serves the purpose of expressing ‘until’. There’s another, clearer but more laborious way to express ‘until’, which is pi ko kopa… (literally, ‘and arriving at…’). In actual usage, the Indigenous letter writers seem to never use that phrase, and they prefer just pi

drit pus-kwanisim8 naika sik-tomtom9Kata naika tiki mamuk kopa S[ahali-]T[aii] pi 

really for-always I sick-heartedhow! I want work for sky – chief and 

‘I was really always full of regret.How I want to work for God! and’ 

wiht haha mama pi wiht kanawi naika tilikomPi kata kanawi10 naika mash11 masachi12 

also holy mother and also all my peopleand how! entirely I abandon evil 

‘also (for) the Holy Mother! and also (for) all my people! And how completely I reject bad ways’

pus kakwa naika nanich maika wawa pi kata kwanisim maikaNawitka naika komtaks maika 

when like.this I see your words and how always youtruly I know you

‘when this is how I see your words and how you always are (i.e. act)! Truly I know, you’re’ 

kwanisim kuli kopa kah-ilihi pus maika kakwa Sh[isyu-]K[ri]O kataKopit naika 

always travel to where-place so.that you be.like Jesus Christ oh how!ended my 

‘always traveling to all sorts of places so you can be like Jesus Christ.Oh, how (true)! This is all I’

wawaPi naika 

wordsand I

‘will say. And I’m’ 

Ilisabit WaiiNaika man iaka tlus-tomtomPi ukuk man iaka tlus kopa naikaPus 

Elizabeth Waimy husband he good-heartedand this man he be.good to mewhen

‘Elizabeth Wai. My husband is good-hearted.And this man is good to me.When’

chi naika malii iaka ilo tlap-sik-tomtom13 kopa naikaPi kakwa naika 

newly I be.married he not catch-sick-heart to meand like.that I

‘I was a new bride he was patient with me.And that’s how I am (i.e. act) (too).’


Elizabeth Wai seems to be using the older, Southern Dialect phrase pus-kwanisim to express ‘forever; always’. This is the one and only occurrence of that phrase in all of the Indigenous-written letters. Perhaps she picked it up from communicating with Father Le Jeune, whose own Chinook Jargon, like that of other Catholic priests, was noticeably influenced by the work of Fathers Demers and Blanchet around Fort Vancouver a half century earlier. 9

Sik-tomtom (literally, ‘sick-heart’) means not only ‘sad’ but ‘sorry’.10

I owe the translation ‘entirely’ to Santiyaha in our Zoom session; it really captures the sense here. Kanawi is placed early in the sentence for emphasis here, not to mention that it’s more or less a quantity expression, which Chinook Jargon likes to “front”. 11

Mash was literally ‘throw (away)’ in earlier and Southern Dialect CJ, but it’s almost always ‘to leave (behind)’ in the Northern Dialect.12

Masachi ‘bad/evil/mean’, like tlus ‘good’, is very often a noun: ‘bad things’. 13

Remember that tlap ‘catch, manage to get’ is how the Northern Dialect expresses ‘get, become’ + an emotion. This is because tlap fundamentally indicates the subject’s lack of control over the resulting situation.

The Letter page 2.

Transcription of page 2:

Oxli14 papa Pir LshyunNaika 

hello* father Pere Le JeuneI 

‘Goodbye*, father Pere Le Jeune. I’m’ 





Elizabeth Wai seems to be using this oxli the same way we use klahawiam in Jargon – as both ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye