Shmamaiam, a newfound word of Chinuk Wawa (and Secwepemctsín)

Shmamaiam means “catechism”.

Shuswap catechism

There’s already more than one word for that in Chinook Jargon. Around Kamloops they typically used either katikism from local English or likatishism from the Oblate missionary priests’ French.

Now, you wouldn’t know it, but “catechism” is an uber-important concept in the 1890s world of Kamloops Wawa‘s readers. Why? Turns out, the “catechism house” in each of these Indigenous communities was also the classroom for teaching and practicing Chinook shorthand!

Beyond that background fact, check out something else interesting. The following kind-of-extended snippet is taken from one of the several community “pledges” of good behaviour reported in KW.

Here this word shmamaiam (previously unknown in the Chinook or Secwepemctsín literature) is used repeatedly — and then, thank gosh, defined.  (My final comment is below.)

Kopa Skishistin klaska mamuk tomtom kakwa: […]
At Skeetchestn it was decided as follows: […]

pus klaska lisi kopa shmamaiam pus klaska
if they’re [too] lazy for the catechism[,] if they

kaltash mitlait kopa shmamaiam, pus klaska slip
loaf around at the catechism, if they sleep [through it,]

pus klaska iskom hloima mamuk kopa shmamaiam[,]
if they take up any other activity during catechism[,]

klaksta tulit kopa styuil, kopa shmamaiam, sitkom
anyone who is late [in coming] to prayers, [or] to catechism, half

awr iaka lapilitas kopa styuil haws[.]
an hour [of kneeling, the typical penance here] will be their punishment at the church[.]

Klunas kansih tilikom nanich ukuk nim shmamaiam
Some people may be reading this word shmamaiam

pi klaska wawa: Ikta ukuk wawa shmamaiam? Ilo
and saying: [“]What is this word shmamaiam?

nsaika komtaks ukuk shmamaiam. Shmamaiam iaka
We don’t understand this shmamaiam.[“] Shmamaiam is

Shushwap wawa kakwa pus wawa katikism, likatishism
a Secwepemctsín word meaning catechism, le catechisme.  

(from KW #127 [April 1895], page 52)

So why a third, dialectal word for this in the region’s Chinuk Wawa?  My educated guess is that this shmamaiam is actually the oldest of the 3 synonyms, in which case it’s not an addition but the cornerstone of this section of the local lexicon.

Missionary priests operated among the Secwepemc (Shuswap) people decades before Chinook Jargon was made a literary vehicle. Those priests are known to have translated a good deal of prayers, hymns and so on, into this northern Interior Salish circa the 1870s.

HOWEVER, if priests are the source of this word, the story isn’t as direct as you might be thinking. Shmamaiam gives me the impression of being a loanword from southern Interior Salish (see below), because the root it’s built from has the sense of “telling information” only there. And missionaries had been active in those southerly regions for at least 3 decades before coming to Secwepemc territory. It’s reasonable to infer that shmamaiam came from e.g. the Okanagans who neighbour the Secwepemc.

For an examination of some data behind this line of reasoning, here’s the entry for this word in my not-yet-published dictionary of Kamloops Chinuk Wawa as written in Indigenous people’s letters:


noun. catechism.

kwanism klaska skukam mamuk kopa smamaim [085.009] They keep working hard on the catechism.

A uniquely KCW loan from some southern interior Salish language (that is, Okanagan, Moses / Columbian, Spokane / Kalispel / Montana Salish, or Coeur d’Alene); the written vowel a here suggests /e/ as in Spokane or Montana Salish below. Used by a Secwepemc person. Compare Proto-Interior Salish *may ‘be nearby, clear, known’ (Kuipers 2002:175. (Exemplified by [Colville] Okanagan sem’im’iyam ‘to report (bring news)’ [Somday 1980:757]; Lower Similkameen Okanagan shmee-MA-ee [post-mythical stories from the age of the human people] Robinson and Wickwire 2004:24; Moses-Columbian m’iy’m’iy’əm’ ‘tell a story (I – him)’ [Kinkade 1981:90]; Spokane meyeʔ ‘to tell’ / ’to show’ / ’to teach’ as in m’em’ey’ʔe-n ‘I taught him’ [Carlson and Flett 1989:51-52]; Montana Salish mi ~ m’ey’ ‘know, tell’ as in sm’im’iʔ ‘news’ and mim’eyy’eʔ ‘teach’ [Thomason 1994:72].)

(Alternative, less compelling etymology: in northern interior Salish, there is a Thompson root miʔ [historically *mil’] glossed ‘distribute-pl.’ e.g. in the diminutive n-mi[•m]y’-m’ ‘give s.o. a little s.t., give a few things away [hypcr.]’ Thompson and Thompson 1996:201; the closest Shuswap cognate to this is the root mil Kuipers 1974:148.)

More common synonym from standard Chinook Jargon: katikism.

(I need to add a short note above, specifying that in Secwepemctsín, shmamaiam is not known in the documentary literature, where Proto-Interior Salish *may apparently has only the sense “near”, judging by the entry for the root mey in Aert Kuipers’ 1974 description of ‘Shuswap’.)

(I don’t need to add, except for the benefit of Salish historical linguists, that at least the “tell” sense of PIS *may arguably represents a typically metathesized inheritance of Proto-Salish [or of the already strongly probable close connection between IS and Tsamosan Salish], in that this view presents us with a hypothetical cognate with a Proto-Tsamosan [which Kuipers sadly didn’t publish a study of, so I’m venturing this:] *yam “tell”. For the latter, look no farther than the łəw̓ál̓məš/Lower Chehalis loanword into Chinuk Wawa, yáʔim “to tell [a story]”. The Tsamosan root here is synchronically analyzed as yay , cf. Dale Kinkade’s dictionaries of Cowlitz and Upper Chehalis, because it can appear with various suffixes other than ‘middle voice’ -m, but it’s entirely believable that what we’re seeing was anciently a reduplication *ya-yam, subsequently reanalyzed into *yay-am. See?)

There’s your discovery, or discoveries, of the day.  Good luck finding opportunities to drop this word shmamaiam into your Chinuk Wawa conversations 🙂