Stlaashin is a small mystery

Does stlaashin mean “food” or “a giveaway”–“potlatch” even?


I came upon this new word in Bishop Durieu’s Bible History; it’s in the story of Daniel and Balthazar (Belshazzar), which incidentally is the source of our expression “to see the writing on the wall”.  The context gives you a decent idea of its meaning:

Yutl man iaka kopa kanawi ikta, pi il[o]
He was a proud man about everything, but  

yutl man iaka kopa stlaashin, iaka mamuk chako ayu tilikom
he was not a proud man about stlaashin; he gathered a lot of people 

kopa iaka haws pus patlach aias makmak kopa klaska.
at his home to give them a big feed.

(KW #134, November 1895, page 167)

I can tell you a couple of things about stlaashin with varying levels of certainty.

  • It’s from a Salish language.  Clues are the s- at the beginning, followed by a few letters, and the ending in -shin.
  • It reminds me of the word for “food”, słaʔx̣án, in Thompson Salish, an Interior language near Kamloops.  But it’s unlikely to be connected with that word, which would have to have plain /x/ (with no dot under it) (in several closely related languages plain /x/ evolved into /š/ (“sh” like in stlaashin).
  • The tl in this word could signify either the slurpy barred /ł/ or the horse-calling click /ƛ̓/ (tł’).  The latter is the more usual value in shorthand writing of Salish.
  • The double aa suggests the presence of a glottal stop /ʔ/ or, if stlaashin came from an Interior language, a pharyngeal approximant /ʕ/.
  • Stlaashin could potentially come from either of those big branches of the Salish family; significant parts of the Kamloops Chinuk Wawa vocabulary for Christian concepts come from both Coast Salish and the local Secwepemctsín.

Updating a couple of hours after posting: I’ve found a number of words relating to “potlatch” and similar to stlaashin, in Coast but not interior Salish languages.   The closest matches so far are from

  1. Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), where the community dictionary has stl’a7áshen “invited guest” (noun) and tl’áshn ~ tl’a7áshn ~ tl’a7áshen “feast; party; dance” (noun) and “give a potlatch; invite to a feast” (verb).
  2. (“Upriver” as opposed to Musqueam) Halq’eméylem, where Brent Galloway’s amazing dictionary shows tl’etl’áxel “to give a potlatch, (give a feast or gathering), to invite to a feast, invite to a potlatch”.  Brent specifies that this is built from a root tl’e’á ~ tl’á’, so obviously it’s one of those typically Salish reduplications of the root; the -xel at the end seems to be the lexical suffix “on foot”.

Leaving you with a thought-provoker, how interesting that Kamloops Chinuk Wawa had to borrow a word for “potlatch”!  Because, you know, “potlatch” is the most famously Chinook Jargon word ever.  I often claim that there is no proof that in the Jargon there was ever a noun “potlatch” to mean a “giveaway”/feast event.  (Even though it’s frequently used to mean “a gift”.)  Today’s find may be just the proof I was wanting!