Saying “potlatch” in Chinook Jargon isn’t so easy!

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Established readers o’mine will remember how I slapped you in the face with this claim: “potlatch” isn’t Chinook Jargon 🙂

I want to pursue that.

Let’s keep in mind, I was saying that the noun, “a potlatch”, meaning a big giveaway ceremony, is a creation of English speakers using a borrowed Chinook Jargon word.

I had never found it in Jargon.

Now I have more evidence of how to talk about potlatching in the Jargon:

patlach pasisi

     4o. Lakit lo. = Tilikom kopa ukuk kompani klaska
4. Fourth law. = The people of this society

alki klatwa ashnu kopa taii pus klaska tlap laplitas
shall go kneel for the chief so they can receive punishment

pus klaska tsipi kopa mamuk kopa Sondi, tamanwas
when they err in working on Sundays, medicine-man

mamuk, shim mamuk, Sawash tans, patlach pasisi[,] 
activities, immoral activities, Indian dancing, giving away blankets,

slaal, ankati mimlus mamuk, pi kopa kanawi ikta lisivik 
playing slahal/stickgame, having anything to do with ancestors, and in anything the bishop

wawa pus ilo tilikom klatwa.
tells the people not to go into.

Kamloops Wawa #65 (12 February 1893), pages 27-28

That patlach pasisi in the preceding is a verb phrase, not a noun. Eh? Now:

aias patlach

     Klaska tiki kopit makmak wiski, kopit [ta]manwas: kopit
     They intend to stop drinking alcohol, stop medicine-man beliefs, stop 

tans: kopit mamuk lahal, kopit pli karc,
[Indian] dancing, stop playing lahal/stickgame, stop playing cards, 

kopit aias patlach: kluchmin kopit kuli kopa hwait
stop potlatching, for the women to stop going off to white 

man iaka haws; man kopit mamuk piltin kopa kluchmin,
men’s houses, for the men to stop sinning against women, 

kluchmin kopit mamuk piltin kanamokst man
for the women to stop sinning with men.

– Kamloops Wawa #127 (April 1895), page 52

All those wannabe prohibitions are verbal expressions too…

If you’re seeing all of this the way that I am, it sure looks like the good news is, we’ve discovered several ways to express “a potlatch” in Chinook Jargon.

  • Patlach pasisi is literally “giving away blankets” (an accurate description).
  • Aias patlach is an extremely near miss. I’d have to give it a literal translation in English as “big giving”, which may look like an adjective plus a noun. But in the above context, it’s explicitly one in a string of “stop doing this, stop doing that” verb phrases.

The bad news is that “potlatch” still isn’t a noun in the Jargon. Only in English. (Come on, is anyone really upset about this?)

The worst news, such as it is, is that it takes more than one word to say “a potlatch” in Jargon. You have to work a little…just like you have to work to host a potlatch.

It’s worth knowing the details. They tell you a lot about our history!