January 25th, 2024. Snass Session.  Chief Narcisse letter, no date.

 Snass Sessions 01.25.2024: Chief Narcisse 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:

Chief Narcisse wrote several letters that we have found. From Kamloops Wawa, we know Narcisse of Shhkaltkmah was a proselyte (#112, January 1894), and he shows up as chief in a photo of Shuswap Indians (#124, January 1895), where he is seen together with ‘Mrs. Narcisse’.

We suspect this letter is from Chief Narcisse of Shhkaltkmah/Sahhaltkum/Salmon Arm/Shuswap, in eastern Secwépemc country. 

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: 

Halo Pir LshyunNaika stop2 (Ø) Samin-Arm altaNaika komtaks3 maika tiki chako 

hello Pere Le Jeune I be.there at Salmon-Arm nowI understand you want come 

‘Hello Pere Le Jeune. I’m at Salmon Arm now.I understand you want to come here’ 

kopa kwinam-son4Klunas wik-kata

on fifth – day maybe not-how 

‘on Friday.It’s probably not possible for’ 

naika klatwa pus maika chako kopa ShushwapWik-saia kanawi mimlus naika iktas6 kopa 

I go.there when you come.here to Shuswapnot-far all dead my possessions at 

‘me to go there when you come to Shuswap.My cattle are just about dead over’ 

iakwaKakwa naika wik-kata naika

hereso I not-how I ‘here.So, (for) me, I won’t be able’ 

klatwa pus maika chako aiak8Maika komtaksAyu sno alta Maika komtaks pus

go.there if you come.here soonyou understandmuch snow now you know whether‘to go there if you come soon.You understand?There’s lots of snow now. You know’ 

mimlus naika iktas10Drit naika 

die my possessions really I‘whether my cattle are dying. I’m really’ 


Stop is a Northern Dialect synonym of mitlait, ‘to be there; to stay’, etc. In the italicized lines here, notice how the Chinook Jargon verbs of location & direction include the idea of ‘there/here’ in themselves.3

Komtaks is used here in a sense of ‘understand, be aware’, which is effectively synonymous with an older meaning, ‘hear’. See the next footnote!4

Possibly Narcisse was an older speaker of Chinook Jargon; kwinam-son (literally ‘fifth-day’) is an older synonym for the word Fraidi that virtually all other Chinuk Pipa writers use. 5

Wik-kata (‘not-how’) is the only way to express ‘unable; can’t’ in Northern Dialect.6

Iktas means ‘clothing’ and ‘belongings’ for all speakers of Jargon, but here we learn that this fluent speaker uses it to show that it’s his living possessions – his cows – that are in trouble.7

In a couple of places in this letter, Narcisse repeats a personal pronoun. Typically, the first one (here naika) comes in a position that we can see as “topicalized”, giving a sense of “as for me…” The second occurrence of naika here comes where we’d always expect it, with the verb. 8

In the Northern Dialect, we often use aiak (‘fast’) as our only way to express ‘soon’. (We don’t find the Southern expression wik-lili.)9

Many Northern Dialect speakers use this expression: …komtaks pus… ‘…know whether…’ It has an overtone of ‘…know very well whether…’, presuming that you really do know the facts.10

…mimlus naika iktas is an excellent example of how the subject tends to come after a “stative verb”. (Literally, ‘…die my cattle’.)

klahawiamKakwa naika ilo tiki mash11 naika iktasIlo naika mash maika tomtom12 alta 

pitifulso I not want leave my possessions not I discard your thought now ‘badly off.So I don’t want to leave my cattle.I’m not forgetting you now.’

tlus maika ilo sik maika13 tomtom 

good.that you not sick your heart

‘Please don’t be upset’ 

kopa ukuk14 naika wawa kopa maika naika papa Pir LshyunNaika Narsis taii15 

about this I say to you my father Pere Le JeuneI Narcisse chief ‘about what I’m saying to you, my father Pere Le Jeune.I’m Narcisse the chief.’ 

Potaha16 Pir Lshyun 

goodbye Pere Le Jeune

‘Goodbye Pere Le Jeune.’ 

Tatilam man mitlait kopa iawa kopa Samin-Arm 

ten man be.there at there at Salmon-Arm

‘There are ten men over there at Salmon Arm.’17 

Pus-ikta18 maika tomtomTlus aiak maika mamuk-pipa kopa iakwaKopit 

hypothetical-what you thinkgood soon you make-letter to here finished‘What do you think?Please send a letter over here.That’s all.’


Mash very often means ‘leave’ someone, or ‘leave’ a place. This is an evolution from the earlier meanings, ‘throw’, ‘throw away’, ‘reject’.12

Another mash expression is mash tomtom (literally, ‘leave the thought of’), expressing ‘to forget’ or ‘ignore’. So here, …mash maika tomtom is ‘leave the thought of you’13

Maika gets repeated here, as noted in a footnote above.14

The Northern Dialect likes to express ‘what I say’ either literally as ikta naika wawa (which we think is older and more Southern-sounding), or with the phrase here, ukuk naika wawa (literally, ‘this that I say’). 15

In the Northern Dialect, we find chiefs called either taii {name} (‘Chief {name}’) or {name} taii (‘{name} the chief’.)16

Potaha is Secwepemctsín a.k.a. Shuswap Salish for ‘goodbye’. Quite a few Northern Dialect speakers of various ethnicities used this word.17

Thanks to Kevin Pittle in our Zoom session for observing that this sentence may have been intended to help Father Le Jeune plan how many Communion wafers to bring with him: enough for 10 families.18

Pus-ikta? (‘hypothetical-what’) is a synonym for ikta? (‘what’). Many Indigenous speakers of the Northern Dialect add pus- at the beginning of question words