Chinuk Wawa

Chinuk Wawa is an Indigenous language of the Pacific Northwest

The Chinuk Wawa program at Lane was started in 2006 in collaboration with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community.

Together we have built a program that allows students to learn a universal intertribal language of the Pacific Northwest while also learning about the people of Grand Ronde and the history and culture of Native peoples in this area. For more information, you can view the recording of a spring 2022 panel discussion about Chinuk Wawa for LCC faculty, or continue reading below.

Chinuk Wawa courses meet World Language requirements for admission and graduation in the Oregon University System. With a qualified teacher, high school students can also receive college credits for studying Chinuk Wawa via the College Now program.

Fall is the time to begin Chinuk Wawa studies!

Here are our course offerings for Fall 2022:

Beginning Chinuk Wawa: Two sections, both offered concurrently Tuesday/Thursday, 4-6pm on Zoom. CRN 21386 & 20637

Intermediate Chinuk Wawa: One section, Monday/Wednesday, 4-6pm on Zoom. CRN 20638

All classes are live streamed via Zoom, so students can join us from any location. You can view the course listings.

You can now enroll for Fall 2022 Chinuk Wawa classes. All students are welcome!

A limited number of non-credit students may enroll in the course at low cost via LCC’s continuing education (CE) program. CE is an alternative way to enroll in the very same classes along with credit students and the course has the same attendance and homework requirements for credit and CE students. CE enrollment for fall classes will open in September.

History of Chinuk Wawa and the first language of Oregon

Let's look briefly at the history of Chinuk Wawa and the first language of Oregon.

The history of chinuk wawa, also called shawash-wawa, jargon, chinuk...

Chinuk Wawa arose at the mouth of the Columbia River to The Dalles and began as a Pidgin – a contact language used for communication that is not the first language of any of its speakers. Over years it developed into a Creole - a Pidgin language that has become the first language of a community, although it was never the only first language of a community as most communities and speakers were at least bilingual.

As the lingua franca of the Northwest, Chinuk Wawa served as the language of communication between speakers of different regional languages – tribal and non-tribal. It was prevalent in all areas west of the Rockies, from Northern California to Alaska, and was found as the language of exchange and trade at Celilo Falls and at other sites along the Columbia River.

Chinuk Wawa is composed primarily of 4 languages and words from many other languages such as Hawaiian for example:

  • 55% Old Chinook
  • 7% Nuu-chaa-nulth
  • 10% English
  • 10% French
  • 18% Other

Diversity of Languages and Dialects in the Pacific Northwest

In present-day Oregon at the time European Americans first arrived, 18-25 languages of roughly 13 different families were spoken. (Gross 2007; D. Hymes 2007)

The following map shows where the different languages of Oregon were spoken before contact with white settlers.


oregon native languages map

Chinuk Wawa Skills you will learn

You will learn how to:

  • Listen and understand Chinuk Wawa
  • Speak Chinuk Wawa
  • Understand the Culture of Chinuk Wawa speaking people
  • Read in Chinuk Wawa
  • Write assignments, stories, books, songs

Chinuk Wawa Course Objectives 100 Level

Upon successful completion of this year-long course, students will be able to:

  • Recognize and produce the sounds of Chinuk Wawa.
  • Speak using memorized phrases and everyday expressions, identify familiar objects, hold basic conversations using simple sentences, and give short presentations in Chinuk Wawa.
  • Respond appropriately when listening to words, phrases, sentences, and questions.
  • With help, read both brief and extended texts in Chinuk Wawa.
  • Write Chinuk Wawa words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs with emerging accuracy in spelling and word order conventions.
  • Describe elements of the history and culture of Chinuk Wawa speaking peoples.

Chinuk Wawa Course Objectives 200 Level

Upon successful completion of this year-long course, students will be able to:

  • Accurately recognize and produce the sounds of Chinuk Wawa for clear communication
  • Describe the basic grammatical structure of Chinuk Wawa.
  • Use a broad vocabulary in Chinuk Wawa.
  • Converse in Chinuk Wawa with emerging fluency.
  • Read and demonstrate comprehension of extended texts in Chinuk Wawa.
  • Write narrative, descriptive, and opinion texts in Chinuk Wawa.
  • Describe elements of the history and culture of Chinuk Wawa speaking peoples.

Why study Chinuk Wawa?

Hopefully you have your own reasons to study Chinuk Wawa now. Students say it opens them to seeing the world differently. They learn about the land they live on. The course gives them an appreciation of the people of this area and their lifeways. They have fun learning new sounds. They feel good about supporting Chinuk Wawa language revitalization.

'Hopefully we see you in Chinuk Wawa school!'