iilhit: pidgin Secwepemctsin in Chinook Jargon?

A few years ago, I mentioned on the old CHINOOK group a Salish-looking word I found in Kamloops Wawa: iilhit.


Back then, I didn’t grasp the meaning of iilhit, but because it’s used in a catechism point about the Catholic “examination of conscience” before making confession, it’s clearly “evaluate; consider; examine” in Chinook Jargon.  (It was hard to find a suitable image for this post, so I’m using one from a documentary on Christian blackjack players.)

Understandable that this word came into Kamloops Chinuk Wawa, which was used a lot for discussing Christian ideas.  There’s no such word in any previous Jargon documentation; check your own well-thumbed dictionaries.

Because of the geography involved, the first likely source I’d look for is Secwepemctín, the Shuswap Salish language of Kamloops and a huge surrounding area.

By the way, Secwepemctín takes pride of place among potential donor languages for two historical reasons:  First, as far as I’ve seen, this is the indigenous language that had the longest-standing, most extensive tradition of religious translation.  Father Le Jeune mentions a couple of times in his Kamloops Wawa newspaper that he’s been reworking “Shushwap” prayers and hymns translated by a predecessor priest in the 1870s.

Second, other religious words in Kamloops Chinuk Wawa come from Secwepemctín: shmamaiam ‘catechism’, lahanshut ‘confess(ion)’, etc.  I’m still puzzling out pyusim ‘(make the) sign of the cross’.

(As I’ve written, all of these words tend to be new finds in both Chinook Jargon and Secwepemctsin.  But there are even older loans like styuil ‘pray(er)’ into KCW from Coast Salish languages, so you have to compare among numerous languages before you can decide on a source.)

So I cracked open Aert Kuipers’ dense yet concise “The Shuswap language: Grammar, texts, dictionary” from 1974.  There are a handful of roots there resembling iil.  (In Salish languages, the most frequent shape of root to look for when you’re figuring out the etymology of a word is CVC representing consonant-vowel-consonant.  Roots tend to be the first part of the word. QED.)

Sparing you some details, the best match is a root /yil/ “to search”.

Better still, Kuipers heard this root used by Secwepemc speakers with a suffix that matches our hit in iilhit.    This is the Salish “applicative” suffix, fancy talk for turning this verb root from “search” to “search for someone; search someone’s stuff”.

The actual conjugated form of the word is /yil-xt-s/, where the /-s/ shows a 3rd-person subject, “she or he”.  It also implies a 3rd-person object, like “it”, because the /-xt/ applicative only forms transitives: verbs that have objects.

This is as far as Kuipers is going to guide us.

We’re left asking “Where is the /-s/ in the Kamloops Chinuk Wawa borrowed version of this word?”  Now, I don’t claim to speak Secwepemctín, but I know how to use a professional linguist’s grammar description, and Aert Kuipers wrote excellent ones.  So I infer that there’s a story behind the missing /-s/, and here is what I think.

iilhit /yil-xt/ has “zero” ending on it, which is the Secwepemctín way of forming an intransitive.  It’s as if a person was trying to express “he searches”, not expressing any object.  But that /-xt/ prevents you from trying this.

So with this word we’re looking at somebody’s non-native, I’ll say pidgin-looking, Secwepemctín.

I would be extremely interested to read that previous priest’s Secwepemctín translations of prayers and hymns, to see if there are more indications of imperfect or pidginized language.  I have seen indications in many Pacific NW languages that priests tended to use certain simplifying strategies when they translated.

An example is that they used the separate words for “I, you, he” etc. waaaaaay more often than Salish speakers ever would.  (Those words are normally reserved for the infrequent occasions when you need to EMPHASIZE or CONTRAST.)

Priests being non-Indigenous, they also were known to use perfectly good words in your language in strange new senses.  What do you think about “little fire” for ‘purgatory’ and “fire below” for ‘hell’?

I’ll conclude by showing you this word as used in Jargon several times in a few sentences (in Kamloops Wawa #132, September 1895, page 144):

Pus naika tiki iskom sakraminta lapilitas, kwinam naika
When I want to receive the sacrament of penance, there are five things I 

mamuk: “1o naika iilhit naika masachi, pi naika cim
do: “#1 I examine my sins, and I tally up 

kansih ayu taim naika mamuk iht pi iht masachi…
how many times I have done this and that sin…

Kata msaika iilhit msaika masachi
How do you folks examine your sins 

pi msaika cim kansih ayu taim msaika mamuk iht pi
when you are tallying up how many times you have done this and 

iht msaika masachi?
that sin of yours?

Pus naika tiki iilhit naika masachi, naika
When I want to examine my sins, I 

klatwa kopa styuil haws, saia kopa tilikom, naika
go to the church, away from (other) people, I 

ashnu, naika pyusim, naika styuil kopa ST,
kneel, I cross myself, I pray to God, 

pus iaka mamuk lait naika tomtom, pi naika iilhit naika
for him to light up my heart, and I examine my 


<107.> Kata msaika mamuk pus msaika iilhit
107.  How do you folks take action to examine 

msaika masachi?
your sins?  

Pus naika tiki iilhit naika masachi, ilip naika
When I want to examine my sins, first I 

mamuk kuli naika tomtom kopa kanawi kah ilihi naika
make my mind run through everywhere I 

klatwa pus naika kopit haha milalam
have gone since I last made confession.  


Happy Sunday.