Chimakum Language

The Chimakum, also spelled Chemakum and Chimacum are a near extinct Native American people (known to themselves as Aqokúlo and sometimes called the Port Townsend Indians), who lived in the northeastern portion of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, between Hood Canal and Discovery Bay until their virtual extinction in 1902. Their primary settlements were on Port Townsend Bay, on the Quimper Peninsula, and Port Ludlow Bay to the south.

Today Chimakum people are enrolled in three federally recognized tribes, the Skokomish, Jamestown, and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes, although lineage is not traceable at present.


The Chemakum language was one of two Chimakuan languages and very similar to the Quileute language. It is now extinct. It was spoken until the 1940s on the east side of the Olympic Peninsula between Port Townsend and Hood Canal. The name Chimakum (or Chemakum) is an Anglicized version of a Salishan word for the Chimakum people, such as the Twana word čə́bqəb [t͡ʃə́bqəb] (earlier [t͡ʃə́mqəm]).

In 1890 anthropologist Franz Boas found only three speakers of the Chemakum language, and they spoke it imperfectly. The Census of 1910 reflects only 3 speakers of broken Chemakum dialect.

A Chimakum woman, photographed by Edward S. Curtis

Language was considered to be a primary communication barrier between the tribes of the Peninsula. Each tribe was known to have their own dialect, including the Chimakum, making communication for trading and other purposes difficult between the Chimakum and other tribes. The Chimakum language is a tribal language thought to be similar in lexicographic and phonetic aspect with very little diversion to the Quileute language, implying that the Chimakum, Salishan and Wakashan tribes may be proved to be genetically related.

The Chimakum language was described as “unintelligible to their neighbors” and other tribal members described the language as “speak like birds”, citing this language barrier along with a predisposition for violence and disagreement with neighboring tribes for their untimely demise. It is thought that marriage and interbreeding amongst tribes may account for some linguistic similarity.

Franz Boaz, considered one of the main authorities on local Indian linguistics, cites a tribal member named Louise as his source for over 1200 original Chimakum words and dialects. Louise, a dual speaker of both Clallam and Chimakum, was able to verbally recite words for Boaz to document into his extensive logging of local Native American Languages in the Pacific Northwest Region.

Source From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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