Why do we say kʰúl-íliʔi “cold land” for “winter” in Chinook Jargon?


One of my correspondents who consistently asks great questions brought this up: Why do we say kʰúl-íliʔi, literally “cold land”, for “winter” in Chinook Jargon?  Is it an Indigenous thing?


It’s odd to European ears, that’s for sure.  In Indo-European languages like the French and English that performed such prominent roles in the history of CJ, there are single words that have just one fundamental meaning, “winter”.

So it’s smart to imagine we should look into the Indigenous languages for a source.

Well, it turns out that some Indigenous languages of the Pacific Northwest express “winter” in ways analogous to the European ones.  For example, the Interior Salish languages of the Kamloops region, as well as Coast Salish languages such as Sechelt, use their local versions of the ancient proto-Salish word *sutik that meant simply “winter”.  (Aert Kuipers, “Salish Etymological Dictionary”, page 100.)

However, certain PNW languages are documented as expressing this concept in ways like CJ’s.  Another Coast Salish language, Lushootseed / dxʷləšucid of Puget Sound, says pəd-t̓ə́s.  (Reported in Bates, Hess & Hilbert’s dictionary.)

That’s formed on the root t̓ə́s “cold weather” — which doesn’t sound like I’m building my case, but hold with me. Because as the dictionary notes about this language, pəd can be either another root, meaning “earth, soil, buried”, or a prefix, meaning “time of, season”.

There’s a new observation here.  I knew the prefixal pəd- already from its cognates in Lower Chehalis Salish, etc.  Based on that comparison, I would have straighforwardly parsed Lushootseed pəd-t̓ə́s as “time of cold weather”, paralleled in the Upper Chehalis, Cowlitz, etc. Salish languages of CJ’s birthplace.  (These also have “time of summer” etc., interestingly, evidently instead of *”time of warm weather”.)

That would not be so comparable with CJ kʰúl-íliʔi, which leaves a person wondering.

For comparison, “Old” Lower Chinookan has (in George Gibbs’ 1863 published “Alphabetical Vocabulary”), for “winter”, tsa-ha-luk-le, surely built on the similar-looking root “cold” + -luk-le perhaps meaning “time of”.  (I developed the comparison between this and CJ pulakli “night” in my previous post here.)

But now to my surprise I’m finding that Lushootseed pəd-t̓ə́s can alternatively be interpreted as “earth is cold”!  One can hypothesize from this that Chinook Jargon’s kʰúl-íliʔi is due to specifically Lushootseed influence.

This might be guessed to have come via the Hudson Bay Company’s fur-trading Fort Nisqually, which was the earliest sustained contact point between the Euro-American newcomers and the Puget Sound Natives.

Certainly kʰúl-íliʔi and the parallel expression wám-íliʔi (“summer”), etc. are of old if not the oldest CJ vintage.  They’re found in Horatio Hale 1846, The [Olympia, Washington Territory] Columbian 1853, Pere Lionnet 1853, and James G. Swan 1857.  (For full citations of these, see Samuel Johnson’s 1978 dissertation on CJ.)

I haven’t located older references for these CJ season-names. The date range that I have found is certainly a better match for the Nisqually era than for the earliest, Fort Vancouver- and Lower Chinook-associated, era of the pidgin.

And the other languages of the Jargon’s early homeland in southwest Washington express “winter” in a different way yet.  (Which I’ll write about here soon, looking at how it too left an imprint on CJ.)

So I’m becoming pretty convinced we may’ve discovered a Lushootseed Salish calque in CJ.  That is, an occurrence where an Indigenous language’s way of expression received a literal translation into the Jargon.