LINGUISTIC ARCHAEOLOGY REVEALS FUR-TRADE PATTERNS!!!!

It’s a 4-banger!!!!  (Bang=exclamation point, in typesetter lingo.)

Kettle from the fur trade

I put it in capitals to make it seem like headline news.  You’ve got to compete with CNN and Fox News these days.

Really, what I want to show you is a dinky but real pattern in a Southwest Washington indigenous language that was close to the action when Chinook Jargon was born.  I think it tells us something interesting about very early Chinook Jargon.

Upper Chehalis is a Salish language.  In the language you call it q̓ʷay̓áy̓iłq̓.  Its traditional region of use is roughly from Olympia south a ways and west toward the coast a ways.  Its neighboring languages would be Lushootseed to the north, let’s say the unrelated Yakima (Sahaptin) to the east, Cowlitz to the south and the closely related Lower Chehalis to the west.

We have pretty good documentation of Upper Chehalis.  One of the great tools for investigating this language is M. Dale Kinkade’s dictionary from 1991.

Dale knew him some Salish languages.  He understood their structure well.  So in the Upper Chehalis dictionary, he made a point of adding an appendix of the “lexical suffixes“.  These are a typically Northwest indigenous feature, where–weirdly to an English-speaking mind–a suffix expresses a concept more like a noun in meaning.

An example is the concept of “dish, spoon”.  Yes, that’s a single concept for Upper Chehalis.  Just another difference in cultures!

This concept is expressed by the Upper Chehalis lexical suffix =luł.  (A mini-tradition in Salish studies is to introduce a lexical suffix with an equals sign.)  You might be interested to know a little background on this form: (pre)historically, it developed from an earlier lexical suffix =uwili  that meant “canoe, container”.  Uh-huh, one more quite different cultural metaphor.

How do you use these weird lexical suffixes, you ask?  Dale cataloged 4 examples where this “dish, spoon” one is found.  Those of you that know some Chinook Wawa, tell me if you see anything going on in this list:

  • činúkʷ=luł  “Chinook horn spoon”
  • kinčóč=luł  “King George plate”
  • kʷə́tas=luł “(iron) kettle”
  • tánas=luł “trough dish”

I’ve altered the spellings of these words slightly, to make them easier for my readers to make sense of.  Do you see what I see?

I really don’t know what that (root) word kʷə́tas means.  In Upper Chehalis, it only shows up in this word.  I haven’t detected it (yet) in nearby languages.  But if you twisted my arm I’d squeal that it looks mighty like a form that means “big” in Interior Salish languages, *kʷtún-t.  And “big dish” might be how Native people viewed kettles when they were introduced…by the fur trade.

Very nerdy side excursion: The problem being that we only know *kʷtún-t from Interior Salish (as Aert Kuipers shows in his 2003 etymological dictionary)–and Upper Chehalis is Coast Salish.  By finding the same root in two different branches of the family, we may have just stumbled on an addition to the Proto-Salish lexicon.  

Back to the list.  The other 3 words are obviously from Chinuk Wawa: “Chinook”, “King George” meaning either British or generic white folks (I hear Stephen Colbert saying “redundant!”), and “tanas” meaning small.

But why have Jargon words for all these?  I mean, horn spoons and trough dishes are unquestionably Native with a capital N.  They’ve been made for thousands of years before any known use of the Wawa.  Visit a good Northwest museum and see.

There are–or were–indigenous words for such items, of course.  In Lushootseed you have łápqs for “spooon, ladle”.  “Dish” in Cowlitz is cə́kʷluʔxʷ.  

However, these all are trade items.  Even before contact with Euro-Americans.  In my understanding, the materials (like mountain-goat horn) and the fine workmanship that typically went into Native spoons, ladles, and dishes made them valuable and desirable objects.  Along with other uniquely local products, like eulachon oil and obsidian blades, they would have circulated along “grease trails”, indigenous trade networks among tribes and regions.

After fur trade-induced “contact”, from the late 1700s onward, these Native products were often purchased in trade by whites.  Whites also supplied kettles and plates.  These exchanges were accomplished almost certainly with the help of Chinook Wawa.

And, as you might know already, the Wawa went on to supply more words for these concepts.  Spoon” emerged as a way of specifying the white folks version of that utensil.  We find it, as spun, in Cowlitz Salish.

And Jargon “kettle” (or kitlin, etc.) became an unambiguous way to refer to kettles, as opposed to the whole class of big dishes.  There were many kinds of Native dishes and cooking vessels, making this word quite handy to have.

I’ve mentioned one or more of these Upper Chehalis words before in this blog, but haven’t yet focused on the pattern they form, and what that implies historically.  I hope this little essay has been thought-provoking and of some value to you as a fellow student of Northwest history!

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