Trains (not planes or automobiles) in Upper Chehalis
I was trying to figure out a long, complicated and obscure Lower Chehalis word by comparisons with nearby languages when I came upon a Chinook Jargon loan into Upper Chehalis Salish.
M. Dale Kinkade’s 1991 Upper Chehalis dictionary has on page 131:
Pai-a-tsik’-tsĭk-cu-was “its door, ME its road”
(I’ve bolded the CJ part.)
“ME” indicates that the source for this form is Myron Eells’ 1885 manuscript vocabulary of Upper Chehalis. The “cu-was” part is pure Salish.
I’m inclined to think Dale’s gloss of this sequence of hyphenated syllables as “its door” is unlikely. Read on.
Paia-a-tsik’-tsik (literally ‘fire wagon’) can easily mean either “train” or “automobile” in Chinook Jargon varieties.
But in 1885, autos weren’t part of the landscape; the only fire wagons were steam locomotives.
Doors on cars are a very important feature, since you have to constantly open and close them in the operation of the vehicle. On trains, not so much.
Here is where I need to change your life (thanks, Paula Poundstone), with a very cool fact about Salish languages. They have one and the same word for “door” and “path/road”. Which makes a ton of sense, doesn’t it? This word is the “cu-was” bit in Upper Chehalis, where the “S” at the end makes it mean ‘its door; its road’.
So the phrase I quoted from Dale’s dictionary clearly means “railway”, “railroad tracks”–literally “train’s road”.
The value of today’s lesson is threefold:
- You will find unexpected Chinook Jargon data tucked away in the funniest places if you have eyes for it.
- You can always find an excuse for referencing one of your favorite movies (“Stand by Me”) 🙂
- Serendipity is a force to be reckoned with: my day so far has included a radio story on the 20th anniversary of River Phoenix’s death (he’s pictured above) as well as our surprise find of non-cross-referenced Chinook Jargon material in Dale’s dictionary — both items relating to railroads. Plus my friends’ excellent NYC band, Versus, sang a song about River Phoenix. Plus they’ve played shows in northwest Oregon, the setting of “Stand by Me”.
I could go on…