Shilalam, another Salish loan in Chinook Jargon


I’ve written about several recent (circa 1891-1904) loans from the Salish languages into Kamloops (BC)-area Chinook Jargon.  They come from two main regions …

…Those from the local Secwepemctsín (Shuswap) include iilhit “to examine (one’s conscience)”, lahac “otter”, and huhulitiin “musical instrument”…and other words mentioned in those posts.

There are also some from Coast Salish, I think primarily Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) of the modern Vancouver, BC area, including siisim “to tell (news), to report”, stlaashin “potlatch” (sic!), styuil “to pray; prayer”, and pyusim “make the sign of the cross”.

Today we discover another one, shilalam.  Like yesterday’s subject material, it occurs in a probably newly composed hymn that served as a mnemonic aid for learning the Precepts (or “Commandments”) of the Catholic Church.  I’ll quote the start of the song, translating partly with the crutch of English-language Church Commandment lists:

< The Precepts. >

< 1 – 2. >

     Wik mamuk kopa aias son
Don’t work on a feast day [holiday],

tlus nanich [NULL] kakwa pus Sondi;
pay attention to it like it’s a Sunday;

     klatwa [NULL] lamis kopa Sondi
go to mass on Sundays

pi wiht kanawi aias son.
and also every feast day.

< 3 – 4. >

     Kopa kanawi shilalam
In every year

tlus maika haha milalam…
be sure to make confession…

— Kamloops Wawa #207 (December 1903), page 116

One reason I spotted this shilalam instantly as Salish is the s- at the beginning.  Another clue is the -am ending, in fact even more of a signal is the -alam.  (I won’t go into deep explanations.  Maybe another time.  I’ve done that in several posts on this site before.)

It’s interesting that shilalam rhymes with milalam.  As I noted the other day, that’s really rare in the Jargon.  It’s usually so for some reason.  Hmmm…

Well now, I happen to have the impression that -alam is not a suffix that’s to be found in the local “Shushwap” language.  More to the point, the word for “year” there is nkwlltiyánacu, approximately [nkʷłtyénexʷu], per the Splatsin Nation’s First Voices portal.  Not a match.

Therefore my mind goes right to Skwxwú7mesh, where in fact the word for “year” is syel̓ánem or yel̓ánem, per the Squamish Nation’s “Skexwts / Dictionary”.  Quite the close resemblance, eh?

Those among you that are blessed with the eyes of eagles have spotted something, though.  The Skwxwú7mesh word has an “N” where the Kamloops Wawa one sports an “L”.  In the linguistics game, that could ruin the whole shooting match right there…

…Which is why my own attention wandered next door, just a bit upstream on the Fraser River.  In that territory, the Stó:lõ (Upriver Halkomelem) language routinely shows “L” where other Salish has “N”.  So let me look in my dictionary of that language…and the late, inimitable Brent Galloway reports syilòlèm for “year” — precisely what we’d expect.

So this word might very well come from Stó:lõ.  This would be news.  I don’t know of other Stó:lõ loans into the Jargon.

The reason for such an occurrence could be Kamloops Wawa editor Father Le Jeune’s personal history as a young missionary circa 1880 — he started out in BC on the Coast and gradually made his way up the Fraser into Thompson and then Shuswap country.  He was relying on Chinook Jargon for the first time in his life, and he may easily have been assimilating locally used words as he traveled.  We do know that once he got to Thompson lands, he became pretty conversant in that Salish language.  But I’ve never found evidence that Le Jeune could speak Stó:lõ, and in fact he used other priests as well as native speakers in order to translate his “Manual” of prayers, hymns, and catechism into it.

An alternative understanding, but one that’s just as unverifiable, is this: across all Salish languages and in fact the entire Pacific Northwest, we find some degree of free variation between “N” and “L”.  I can think of Chinook Jargon lapilitas for an example; this is a word that’s obviously from French la pénitence.  So in one way, we might simplify the picture by guessing that shilalam is another Skwxwú7mesh loan, just with a slightly unexpected pronunciation.

And all of this implies — but I can’t establish beyond doubt — that this Precepts of the Church hymn either was old by the time Le Jeune published it (we should search archives for evidence), or else it had recently been sent to him by a colleague stationed at Squamish.

A minor mystery.  Chinook Jargon studies wouldn’t be half so interesting without them!