Quinault “son”, the Indian Shaker Church, Chinook Jargon and Lushootseed

Sometimes a whole story springs from a single word.


In Ruth Modrow’s typewritten 1971 dictionary of Quinault, a Salish language of southwestern Washington’s coast, an entry caught my eye as I was looking for something else…

son – mə́ʔn; […] son (jesus) títanas

That main entry is actually gender-neutral, so it means ‘child’. It’s widely found in Coast Salish languages.

The subentry is clearly a form of Chinook Jargon tanas ‘child’, so it’s a loan. What makes this loan different from the numerous other Chinuk Wawa items in Quinault is that we can tell where the loan came from.


The tí- at the beginning of it is the giveaway.  For one thing, it’s got a very Salish look to it.

One idea: this could be a definite article ti, as in Lower Chehalis’s nonfeminine article ‘this, the’.  However, that ti is never stressed as this one is.  And I’ve never found nouns borrowed with Salish articles attached, which is the reverse of the virtual rule that French words do come into the region’s languages with definite articles attached.

Back, then, to the drawing board.  I’m not out of ideas yet!  Because this stressed tí- also looks like a reduplication.  That’s linguist talk for repeating part (or even all) of a word.  Reduplication happens to be a characteristically Salish thing to do with words.  (And it’s not found in pidgins like Chinuk Wawa.)  

Now, reduplication is somewhat uncommon in Quinault and its neighbor Lower Chehalis.  And this specific kind of reduplication —  copying the first consonant of a word, throwing in the stressed vowel — is unknown in these ‘Tsamosan’ Salish languages.

However, precisely this type of reduplication exists, and is frequent, two doors down.  In the next-nearest neighbor languages in this family, the southern Coast Salish speech known as Twana (Skokomish) or Lushootseed, you’ll find it in spades.

The best possible example is one that’s based on that same shared native Salish word that we saw for ‘child’, mə́ʔn.  The Twana/Lushootseed pronunciation of it happens to have changed into something like bə́dəʔ.  And I can open my Lushootseed dictionary to find this southern Lushootseed word derived into bíʔ-bədaʔ / bí-bədaʔ ‘young child’.  (Which is the basis of the place name Spee-bi-dah Beach at Tulalip Reservation.)

Do you see then how tí-tanas parallels bí-bədaʔ in its form?

And could you agree with me that this suggests Quinault got its word for ‘son (Jesus)’ from a southern Lushootseed wrinkle on Chinuk Wawa?

If, as I hope, you can follow those arguments of mine, the next question is obvious.


Why would Quinault wind up with a special word for the ‘son of God’ that’s a nearby Salish language’s way of saying a Jargon loanword?  Three words, my child:

Indian Shaker Church.

The Indian Shaker Church originated in southern Lushootseed communities, inspired by a Squaxin Island man called John Slocum and with its first church building at Mud Bay near Olympia, Thurston County, WA.  (You drive through Mud Bay and a “Shaker Church” road sign on the main highway west out of Oly.)

The Indian Shakers have been known for their incorporation of Chinook Jargon into their rituals — not, interestingly, that that has been documented in any detail.  At least in early years, they sang Chinook hymns.  And a likely additional trace right in Quinault country is this dictionary entry, also reflecting a Jargon religious loan:

mási – thank you (to God only)

In Chinook Jargon itself, masi is used to thank anyone you want to thank.  And of course there’s a totally unrelated Native Quinault word for general thanking.

The volley of what I’m saying today is that, with sensitive enough attention, you can find that a single word will tell you rich stories of Pacific Northwest history.

Quite often, that word is going to come from Chinuk Wawa, the language that most characteristically weaves together the many very different groups of people who wound up building this region’s present-day society.