January 4th, 2023. Snass Session. Celestin Letter

 Snass Sessions 01.04.2023: Unsigned, undated letter, clearly from William Celestin1

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:

It’s virtually certain that the writer here was William Celestin of Salmon Arm, so compare last week’s reading. The handwriting, the spellings, the word choices, and so on are a very good match. 

William Celestin was from the eastern part of Secwépemc Salish (“Shuswap”) territory. 

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:

< o nanika – nanich – tlet >

naika nanich drit oh I see really

‘Oh, I can see;’ 

< iutl nanika – tomtom kopa >

yutl naika tomtom kopaglad my heart about ‘my heart is really glad about’ 

< Sahali Tai iak wawa > 

sahali-taii iaka wawa 

above-chief his word‘God’s words.’ 

< iht Leplet iak nem Pere > 

iht liplit iaka nim Pirone priest his name Père‘This one priest named Père’ 

< LeJeune iak wawa > 

Lshyun iaka wawa Le Jeune he talk ‘Le Jeune talks’ 

< kopa Nsaika pi Nsaika > 

kopa nsaika pi nsaika to us and we ‘to us and we’ 

< chaho tlush >:3

chako-tlus:Naika tiki wawa

become-goodI want talk ‘are cured.I want to talk’ 


< o nanika – nanich – tlet >, etc.: The writer shows many indications of just having learned to write in the English alphabet, clearly by copying from published books, since his letters have “serifs” on them. In a number of places, he misspells words in ways that suggest he had to slow down and think how to write them – for instance his < nanika >, < iak>, and < chaho >. But some of his English-lettered spellings, when they differ from the Chinuk Pipa way of writing something, also provide really valuable glimpses at how he actually pronounced the Chinook Jargon words – for example his < tlet > and < tlush >. His English-letter spellings, incidentally, are dependent on the already common Chinuk Pipa spellings, so for instance he writes < tlush > with an < u >, not with the < oo > that we might expect in an English-language-oriented spelling system. 3

At this point in the letter, the writer switches to Chinuk Pipa exclusively, perhaps due to its being easier for him. We know that Indigenous people of that time and area almost always learned Chinuk Pipa first, and only later English writing.

kopa naika tilikom kopa to my friends’‘to my friends, to’ 

klaska4 komtaks Chinuk-pipa kopa kah maika mit[-] they know Chinook-writing over where you ‘those who know Chinook writing over where you’ 

lait papa Pir Lshyun Ukuk pipa maika patlach live father Père Le Jeune that letter you send ‘live, father Père Le Jeune.That letter that you sent (said)’5 

Klaksta komtaks Chinuk-Pipa kopa iakwa iaka whoever know Chinook-writing over here they

‘ “Whoever knows Chinook writing over here is’ 

tlus tilikomIlo-klaksta sikKopit ayu 

good personno-whoever sickonly lotsa 

‘a good person.”Nobody’s sick.There’s just a lot of’ 

snoNaika kolan kopa Hid-Lik tlun 

snowI hear at Head-Lake 3 

‘snow.I heard that at Head of the Lake three’ 

iaka mimlusIaka nim Basil taii pi Shualsti* they dietheir name Basil chief and Shualsti* ‘have died.Their names were Basil the chief, and Shualsti*;’ 

iht naika ilo komtaks iaka nimKopa 

one I not know their namein 

‘one I don’t know the name of.In the’ 

Kutni iht tanas iaka mimlus Kootenay one child (s)he die‘Kootenays one kid has died.’ 


…kopa klaska komtaks… is normal phrasing for the meaning ‘…to those who understand…’ If the writer had meant ‘to anyone who understands’, he probably would have written that (kopa klaksta komtaks), as he does a couple of sentences later. 5

I insert “(said)” here because it seems to me the writer is doing what we often find Indigenous narrators doing, directly quoting someone’s words without first specifying “you said”. We might infer that here, the writer was imitating the voice of the person quoted (Father Le Jeune), just as people traditionally mimicked myth characters’ distinctive ways of talking.

Kopa Shushwap iht kluchmin iaka mimlus at Shuswap one woman she die 

‘At Shuswap one lady has died.’ 

Iaka nim Mali TahwalstaTlus msaika sku[-]her name Mary Tahwalsta please you.folks

‘Her name was Mary Tahwalsta.Please, folks,’ 

kum mamuk-styuil kopa Sahali-Taii powerfully make-prayer to above-chief 

‘pray hard to God.’ 

Page 2


Translation etc., page 2: 

Tlus maika patlach klaksta 

please you send* someone 

‘Please send someone’ 

komtaks Chinuk-Pipa kopa Sawash6 know Chinook-writing to Native.people

‘who knows Chinook writing to the Native people.’


This sentence has a number of difficult features. Our Zoom group discussed several ideas, such as that it might be asking the postman to give the letter to anyone