February 8th, 2024. Snass Sessions.  William Letter. (no date)

 Snass Sessions 02.08.2024: William letter, no date1

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:

None. We’re not really sure who this William was. A kid? Billy the Kid? 😁

We don’t have much clue where William lived. His writing suggests a possible Northern Interior Salish accent, since he sometimes writes “sh” where we’d expect a “s”. (The Secwepemctsín, Nsyílxcən, St̓át̓imcets, and Nłeʔkepmxcín languages of southern interior BC all have indeterminacy between these two sounds.) Also worth noting about William’s writing is its lack of skill, even though we’re comparing it with the output of other folks who all were quite new to literacy. For instance, in a number of words, he fails to connect the letters together, violating the “cursive” nature of Chinuk Pipa. Maybe he was one of the kids who, as we know from the Kamloops Wawa newspaper, learned this writing in the early years of the BC residential schools. 

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, page 1.

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

God2 iaka tiki pus kwansim God he want so.that always‘God wants always’ 

[nsaika]*3 mamuk-styuilKopa ukuk 

[we]* make-prayerwith this ‘for [us]* to pray.With this’ 

[iaka]* mamuk-chako-tlus4 nsaika 

[he]* make-become-good us

‘[he]* heals us.’ 

Pus ilo [nsaika]* mamuk[-styuil]* sahali-taii 

if not [we]* make-[prayer]* sky-chief 

‘If [we] don’t [pray]* to God’ 

wik-kata pus chako-tlus nsaika 

un-how so.that become-good we

‘we can’t be healed.’ 

Pus kwansim [nsaika]* tlus-nanich [sahali-]*taii [iaka]* wawa 

if always [we]* well-observe [sky-]*chief [his]* words

‘If [we]* always pay attention to God[’s]* words,’ 

alta chako-tlus kanawi tilikom 

now become-good all people

‘now everyone is healed.’ 

Naika WiliiamOkok naika mamuk-pipa 

I Williamthis me make-writing 

‘I’m William.This is me writing.’ 


God is effectively a new discovery for us in Northern Chinuk Wawa as a synonym for the universally known Sahali Taii, which you’ll also see in this letter. Potentially, William’s innovative use of this newly loaned English word could signal exposure to Father Le Jeune’s competitors, the Protestant missionaries in the Lytton or lower Fraser River area. 3

William seems to almost routinely leave out pronouns, which would logically seem to be nsaika ‘we’ or an indefinite analogous to English ‘one’ and French on. It seems possible to me that this feature is due to strong interference from his (almost certainly) Salish first language, where a “null” pronominal affix can indicate a third-person subject (or object?). This question deserves further research by a student or scholar of linguistics. William also seems as if he’s left out a few other words; see what you think of my suggested reconstructions, [in parentheses and asterisked]*. 4

The normal way of expressing a causative verb in Chinook Jargon is to use only the prefix mamuk- plus the core stem/root. Here, William’s mamuk-chako- (Causative-Inchoative-) prefix cluster is nonstandard, but is evocative of the earlier Southern Dialect formation that we know from Father L.N. St. Onge’s manuscripts and certain associated Catholic writings. 

Pus ilo tlus ukuk pipa maika mash 

if not good this writing you send 

‘If this writing isn’t good, send’

maika tlus pipaPatlach (Ø)5 kopa naika 

me good writinggive it to me 

‘your good writing.Give it to me.’

Naika tiki aias-tlus pipa kopa maika 

I want very-good writing from you

‘I want some very good writing from you.’ 


This (Ø) is the actual “silent IT” pronoun of Chinuk Wawa, demonstrably present here – it’s not [an inferred reconstruction of some left-out material]*. 

The Letter page 2.


Transcription of page 2…

Parishnt6 iaka nanich ukuk pipa 

“Parisant” he read this letter 

‘ “Parisant” is reading this letter.’

God iaka sahali-taii kopa kanawi 

God he sky-chief for all

‘God is the chief above for every-’ 

tilikomWiht iaka kopa nsaika iaka taii 

peoplealso him to us he chief 

‘one.He also, for us, he’s the chief.’7

Iaka tomtom8 pus kwansim [nsaika]* mamuk-styuil 

he plan so.that always [we]* make-prayer 

‘He plans for [us]* always to pray.’ 

Pus kwansim [nsaika]* mamuk-styuil iaka chako- 

if always [we]* make-prayer he become-

‘If we always pray, he gets’ 

tlus iaka tomtom kopa nsaika 

good his heart towards us

‘happy towards us.’ 

Alta iaka wawa wiht pus nsaika 

now he say also so.that we 

‘Now he says also for us’ 

tlus-nanich kopa shantiPus ilo nsaika 

well-observe to song if not we 

‘to pay attention to hymns.If we don’t’ 

tlus-nanich ukuk shanti sahali-taii 

well-observe this song sky-chief 

‘pay attention to these hymns, God’ 


Local people, particularly in the Kamloops-to-eastern Secwépemc communities, are known to have affectionately nicknamed Father J.M.R. Le Jeune as “Père Saint” / “Parisa” / “Pressant” / “Persén”, etc., as reported contemporaneously in newspapers. The presence of a “t” in some of those spellings, and especially in the Chinuk Pipa spellings of his name that we find, suggests possible local Canadian/Métis French influence on the name. What hasn’t been previously reported is the very obvious further interpretation of this nickname by Indigenous people, evident in spellings like William’s Parishnt, into (1) “Père Hyacinthe” (a common male baptismal name among these tribes at the time) and (2) “Père Le Jeune”. 7

Some of the more repetitive-sounding (to English-language ears!) phrasings in this letter are absolutely normal ways of talking Chinuk Wawa, especially in the Northern Dialect. Keep your eyes out for them, and practice talking that way.8

Tomtom can often be used as ‘a plan’ or ‘to plan’, besides its more well-known uses as ‘heart’, ‘think’, et al.

iaka ilo tomtom pus ilo [nsaika]* tlus-nanich kopa 

he not plan so.that not [we]* well-observe to 

‘doesn’t intend for [us]* to not pay attention to’ 

iakaPus ayu kwansim [nsaika]* mamuk tlus maika [SIC] 

himif much always [we]* do good you [SIC]

‘him.If we always do lots of good things, you [SIC]…’

Naika Wiliiam ayu mamuk kopa mashin*

I William much make with machine

‘I’m William doing a lot with a machine,’ 

mamuk God | dposho*10 kopa naika ilihi 

make God devotions* at my home.place 

‘making God’s* | devotions* at my home village.’ 

Kopit ukuk naika tlap wawaPi kopit naika wawa kopa maika 

only this I find sayand finished my words to you

‘This is all I find to say.And my words to you are done.’ 


The word I’m reading as mashin is not completely clear in William’s writing of it. Mashin almost always referred to Father Le Jeune’s Edison mimeograph or hektograph device, used for duplicating many copies of Kamloops Wawa.10

My guess that the unclearly written dposho* might represent Catholic ‘devotions’ is not very firm. I’m interested to know if you have other ideas for reading this recurring word.

The Letter page 3

Transcription, page 3: 

Maika ParishntWiliiam naika[Naika]* tiki 

you “Parisant”William I [I]* want 

‘You’re “Parisant”.I’m William.[I]* want’ 

wawa pus drit naika mamuk altaNaika tiki 

ask whether right my work nowI want 

‘to ask whether my work now is right.I want’ 

komtaks [kata]* naika mamuk kakwa naika wawa 

know [how]* my work so I say 

‘to know [how]* my work is, so I ask’ 

kopa maikaPus ilo drit naika mamuk tlus 

to youif not right my work good.that

‘you.If my work isn’t right, please’ 

maika wawa kopa naika pi* naika kopit ukuk mamuk 

you talk to me and* I stop this work 

‘tell me and* I’ll stop this work.’ 

Pus maika wawa ilo drit ukuk mamuk 

if you say not right this work 

‘If you say this work isn’t right,’ 

alta11 naika kopit mamuk-pipa 

now I stop make-writing 

‘now I’ll stop writing.’ 

Pus maika wawa drit ukuk mamuk 

if you say right this work 

‘If you say this work is right,’ 

alta naika mamuk ayuPus chako- 

now I make lotsif become-

‘now I’ll do lots of it.If’ 

tlus naika tomtom naika tlus-tomtom 

good my heart I good-heart 

‘I get happy I’ll be happy.’ 

Pi kakwa naika wawa kopa maika naika papa 

and that’s.how I say to you my father

‘And that’s what I’m saying to you, my father.’ 


William’s use of alta ‘now’ to seemingly express ‘(and) then’ is in line with common older/Southern Dialect usage, but somewhat uncommon in the Northern Dialect because here we have the synonym iawa ‘there; then’.

The Letter page 4

Transcription, page 4: 

Naika tiki ukuk aksh*12 

I want those eggs*

‘I want those eggs*.’ 

Naika tiki ukuk shu* 

I want those shoes* 

‘I want those shoes*.’ 

Naika tiki birid* | lipa13

I want bread* | bread

‘I want bread* | bread.’

Naika tiki mamuk mashin* kopa 

I want work machine* for 

‘I want to use a machine for’ 

naika dposho* ponsh*14 

my devotions* ????

‘my devotions* ????.’ 

Ukuk naika tiki komtaks papa 

this I want know father 

‘This is what I want to know, father.’ 

Naika [SIC] pus drit mamuk pus iloUkuk naika tlap [SIC]

I if right work if not this I find 

‘I [SIC] whether it’s right work or not.This is what I find to…’


A reading of this unclear word as aksh ‘eggs’ is consistent with the normal Northern Dialect word igs.13

Birid* | lipa appear to be synonymous. Neither is a usual word for ‘bread’, but it’s common for speakers to incorporate frequently heard words of local English, and lipa is known in the local Salish languages for ‘yeast bread’ (from local Canadian/Métis French le pain).14

I’m very interested in your ideas on how to read this unclear word ponsh