‘Lion’ in Quinault

Random stuff comes up while I’m working on ɬəw̓ál̓məš (Lower Chehalis Salish, one of the main ancestors of Chinuk Wawa). Sometimes I share that stuff, because it might wind up being useful. And it’s usually kind of interesting.

MIshMish02(Image from Anke Weckmann Illustration.)

Like ‘lion’ in ɬəw̓ál̓məš’s neighbor, Quinault Salish… Why would they even have a word for a foreign animal like ‘lion’? There’s a separate word for ‘cougar’ which is the usual Salish one, gʷaʔa.

So I wondered a little, when I saw their Quinault mish for ‘lion’.

What I do know is, there was an effort to translate Christian material into Quinault some time back, which you can tell from lots of the example sentences in their dictionary. And there are lots of lions in the Bible.

So we’ve established a motive.

What about a modus operandi?

I checked a couple of sources, and if this is a version of Chinook Jargon pish / p’us, the best bet is that it’s from a Lower Chinookan “augmentative” form. (It’s a process in that language where a can turn to a b to mean a “bigger” version of the original word.) That would be a hypothetical *bish meaning ‘big cat’. (Sahaptin has similar sound changes, but nothing quite comparable in this case.)

We know that those Lower Chinookans were pretty loose about pronouncing “b” and “m” 🙂 Foreign listeners often couldn’t tell which of the 2 sounds they were saying. (Which is why some folks wrote “Multnobah”, and it’s why George GIbbs wrote both “e-batl” and “e-matl” for ‘river’.)

Thinking this way, I’m guessing Quinault speakers heard their Chinook relatives (plenty of Chinookan people wound up at the Quinault Reservation) saying *bish ~ *mish for ‘big cat’, I would imagine for ‘cougar’.

I enjoyed spotting this probable Jargon word hiding in the weeds of Salish…