Chinuk Wawa (Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde)

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde

People and Historical Overview

 The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde is an American-Indian nation and is composed of the following tribes:

  • Umpqua
  • Molalla
  • Rogue River
  • Kalapuya
  • Chasta
  • Clackamas
  • Cow Creek (Nahankhuotana)
  • Lakmiut
  • Mary's River (Chepenafa)
  • Nestucca
  • Santiam
  • Shasta (Chastacosta )
  • Tumwater
  • Wapato
  • Yamhill (Yamel) tribes

These tribes were brought together by force in 1857 by the United States Government executive order that the tribes were to move from their ancestral lands to a 60,000 acre reservation in the Oregon coast range. The reservation was gradually reduced over a period of 93 years until only 7.5 acres of land containing a cemetery and storage shed remained. The United States government terminated the tribe in 1954—the people of the Grand Ronde Reservation were no longer recognized as an Amerian-Indian nation and were to assimilate into U.S. dominant culture. In 1983, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde was once again officially recognized and a constitution was ratified in 1984. The Grand Ronde Reservation was reformed when 9,811 acres of land were reinstated to the confederation in 1988. Since then, the confederation has acquired additional land. Facilities and programs on the reservation include a community center, health center and health programs, Tribal governance center, housing, education, and other programs. A major contributor to the tribe’s economic development and self-sufficiency is Spirit Mountain Casino. 

The Language of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde

When the tribes were brought together in 1857, the people spoke eight different languages and more than twenty-five different dialects. The only way to communicate with another person of another tribe was to use an established trade language. Chinuk-wawa developed in the late 1700s as a trade language of the Chinook tribe, which contained words from Chinook, other native languages, English and French; the form spoken on the Grand Ronde Reservation incorporated a combination of those eight native languages as well. Chinuk-wawa, also known as Chinook Jargon or Tenas Jargon, was adopted as the common language of the Grand Ronde. In an effort to preserve their language and cultural heritage, the tribe developed written alphabet and started a preschool and kindergarten Chinuk-Wawa immersion program in 1997. Children are taught in the traditional master-and-apprentice method; first they learn from the elders, then they become teachers themselves.


Chinuk-Wawa Phonology 


Words can be in any order that makes sense to the listener or speaker; this is because the languages that contributed to Chinuk-Wawa all have differing syntax patterns.7) Words can be moved to the front of the sentence for emphasis. For instance, “I am tired.” could be said as ”til nayka” or ”nayka til” . Usually, the word order is similar to English’s subject-verb order, except when a noun is used as the subject, it will be followed by a pronoun and the word order is subject-pronoun-verb. For example, the sentence, “That man talks.” is said ”Ukuk man yaka wawa.”, which literally translates to “That man he talks,”. Modifiers will be found in front of the noun or verb, similar to the English language.


Pronouns: Subjective, objective, and possessive personal pronouns are expressed with only a single word. For instance, the words “I, me, mine” equal only one word, ”nayka” in Chinuk-Wawa, as does “you, your, yours,” ”mayka”. For example, “You talk” would be ”Mayka wawa.” “Your people” would translate to ”Mayka tillixam.” “Those people are yours” would be said as ”Yaka tillixum mi+ayt mayka yaka,” literally ”Those people are yours that.” Other pronouns include “you” (”mayka”) and “they/that” (”yaka”). The plural pronoun “they” does not change form when the speaker is referring to multiple people, but “you” does, becoming ”m'tsayka.” This can be used to indicate the speaker is talking about the listener and everyone else present minus the speaker himself. “You (all) came” would be said as ”M'tsayka chaku, in contrast with singular “you came” ”mayka chaku.” If the speaker wished to include himself to say, “We (all) came,” he would use a plural form of “me” to indicate “us,” ”n'tsayka.”

Articles: If a speaker wishes to indicate a particular item, s/he uses the word for “this” or “that”, which is ”ukuk” in Chinuk-Wawa, since there is not a word for “the” in Chinuk-Wawa. There are words for “a” or “one”(“ikt”), and “that” (“ikta”).

Verb Conjugation: Verbs are not conjugated; rather context words are included at the beginning of the utterance to indicate the tense, time, probability, or place. Once context is established, the speaker does not have to include context markers in the following utterances. For instance, if we were to say, “She is going” in English, we know that it is happening now by the present progressive morpheme ”-ing” and the verb “is”. In Chinuk-Wawa, the utterance would look like this: Alta yaka +atwa. The word ”alta” would translate to the time, which is “now”; ”yaka” translates to “she/he/it/him/her/his/hers”; and the word ”+atwa” translates to “go.”

Modifiers: “Chinook Jargon words never change for gender or quantity;” thus modifiers are used to indicate gender, quantity, and other characteristics of the noun or verb.16) Notice in the previous example, “She is going”, the pronoun for “she” could refer to “she/he/it/him/her/his/hers”.

Negation: Words for negation are placed at the beginning of the phrase. Chinuk-Wawa has three different words for negation—one meaning “no” or “not” (“wik”), another meaning “nothing” (“hilu”), and another meaning “unable” (xawqa+).

Question words: Instead of inverting word order to ask a question as one would do in English (e.g. the question “Is it time to go?” versus the statement “It is time to go.” where the order of “it” and “is” is reversed in the question), speakers of Chinuk-Wawa use a rising intonation and subject-verb word order (e.g. the rising intonation is the listener's only auditory cue that the speaker is asking a question in Chinuk-Wawa; in English, the listener is cued by both rising intonation and reversal of word order). If a question word is used, then it is placed at the beginning of the sentence, following the same pattern that English uses.


Speakers of Chinuk-Wawa communicate their thoughts by combining several simple words into one compound word within an utterance, since there are only 500-800 simple words in the language.19) For example, there is a word for road (“uyxat”) but not for the concept of “sidewalk.” A speaker might refer to the sidewalk portion of a road as a “people-road” (“tilixam-uyxat”). Idioms are frequently used to convey meaning and are a sign of a proficient speaker of the language. 


Original Contributors: Melissa Bosserman, Winter term 2007; Sarah Ross, Winter term 2009

Resources and Reference