NW CA Jargon loans, meaning drift, and violence

money snake

money snake (image credit: Pinterest)

Chinook Jargon was never a very big deal in northwestern California, but it has made an impact.

My sense of the evidence is that CJ was more current in the earliest days of contact, when the main non-Native presence was the sporadic fur-trade brigades working through southern Oregon and down to the Sacramento area.

That relative antiquity could explain why so many Jargon loans into northwest California’s indigenous languages have such different senses from what we see in CJ. I mean that it must have taken quite a while for a word to change its meaning so fundamentally.

Here I’ll show you some items from Yurok and Wiyot (distant relatives of the Algonquian languages such as Cree and Ojibwe), and from Karuk (a language isolate).

I wonder what you’ll think as you compare the following words with the Chinuk Wawa counterparts that I suggest for them?

YUROK (from Yurok Language Project):

mue-lah ‘horse’; dictionary calls it a loan from English ‘mule’ — compare Chinuk Wawa mula ‘mule’ and múlak ‘elk’

ke-lok ‘goose’ [domesticated?]; definitely indicated as a loan in the dictionary — compare Chinuk Wawa qʰiluq ‘swan’

cheeek he-goh; cheeek mehl ‘ee-‘ee-kew ‘money snake'(itself a fascinating localism in Native people’s English) — compare Chinuk Wawa chikʰəmin ‘metal; money’ and Karuk <waugie chick> ‘silver white man’s money’

KARUK (from Ararahih’urípih):

kîihar / kihara- • N • ‘key’ literally: ‘locking-instrument’ Derivation: kîih-ar-a lock.a.door[verb]-INST-DEVERB — compare Chinuk Wawa ki ‘key’ [noun] (Le Jeune 1924)

kêeks ‘cake’ (compare the same plural loaned into Russian as a singular: кекс /keks/ ‘cake’, which you can then pluralize: кексы /keksy/ ‘cupcakes’)

WIYOT (from Wiyot Language Database):

meluqu’l ‘cow’ — compare again Chinuk Wawa mulak ‘elk’ as with Yurok ‘horse’

There’s a wonderful little 1960 book by William Bright on “Animals of Acculturation in the California Indian Languages” that, as Edward Dozier notes, surmises that the low number of loanwords in northern California languages reflects the hostility and violence that whites directed toward the Native people.

Maybe that same negative social dynamic also explains why we seem to have a pattern of semantic distortion in the few loans that do turn up?

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