Nicholas Klassen reflects on Chinook Jargon in TheTyee.ca today. Chinook Jargon is a trade language used along the Pacific Coast and well into the interior of western North America to facilitate communication and trade between groups of people who otherwise spoke different languages.
Klassen’s discussion emphasizes how Chinook Jargon was used by speakers to create unity within British Columbia. With the shared code, such unity existed both between First Nations groups and between native and non-native peoples. Klassen writes:
… as a language, or jargon, that all BCers can take ownership of, Chinook holds important lessons in seeing past our divisions and moving forward … Chinook served as a tangible bridge between all groups -whether aboriginal, European, Chinese, Japanese, even Hawaiian – and as a foundation for a syncretic culture where no one identity had to be dominant.
For many aboriginal people, Chinook Jargon was one of a number of linguistic codes they held in their linguistic repertoires. Klassen discusses some of this history, often citing Charles Lillard and Terry Glavin’s A Voice Great Within Us. He discusses the processes that led to the decline in use of Chinook Jargon and uses it as a reminder of the past and current cultural and linguistic diversity of the province.
One warning though … Chinook Jargon (the focus of the article) and the Chinook language (spoken in the Lower Columbia River area of Oregon and Washington States) are different. Chinook Jargon is a pidgin which uses, in part, vocabulary of the Chinook language and has a limited grammatical structure. The article, at times, makes it sound like the Chinook language was used throughout British Columbia.