When it rains…


(Image credit: IndigoFragrance.com)

…there are more thoughts about rain. So today…

I’ve written about Chinuk Wawa and ‘rain’ for the last couple of days, coming up with a proposed etymology for the word for it, snas, a solution that has confounded Jargon scholars forever.

How about I throw in one of my signature, artisanal, organic Native Etymology Spottings?

Yesterday I suggested that snas traces back to a Salish prefix s- surprisingly tacked onto a Nootka Jargon word ~nas for, of all things, ‘daylight’ and extended to mean ‘weather’. Behind that I felt I spied the known Nootka Jargon phrase pishak nas for ‘bad weather’. I invoked the comparison between that and the apparently typical (modern) tribal Nuuchahnulth wiiq-sii also meaning ‘bad weather, literally something like ‘bad/ferocious wind’.

In light (so to speak) of those semantics, I find it noteworthy that another Pacific Northwest language, the unrelated Tillamook Salish of Oregon, expresses ‘rain’ with a parallel Native metaphor, as /ha(n)-nə́š/č̓is, literally ‘it’s making (weathering) bad’.

And we can expand the known occurrences of the same broad Indigenous metaphor for ‘rain’, in two Salish languages of southwest Washington state. There, Cowlitz has (s)x̣asíl(i)ʔ and Upper Chehalis the similar sx̣asíl̓. In both, s- is again the noun-forming prefix. In the dictionaries of both, that shape x̣asíl(‘) is listed as a root, that is, not relatable to other basic forms in these languages. But it occurs to me that it can be broken down into the root x̣as (a variant pronunciation of x̣ə́s ‘bad’) plus -íl, which the Upper Chehalis dictionary calls ‘Autonomous’ and the Cowlitz one ‘Developmental’ — meaning essential ‘to become’. Thus these words for rain look like verbs, albeit maybe fossilized old ones, conveying the metaphor ‘it’s getting bad’.

As widespread as this metaphor is starting to look to me, a further wrinkle in the origin of snas comes to mind. What if the Nootka Jargon pidgin’s speakers had strained to convey their thoughts clearly in that new language, and went fully redundant by speaking of the rain as *wiiqsii nas? Literally ‘bad weather weather’. Full disclosure: we know exceedingly little about Nootka Jargon’s syntax. But from the example of pishak nas we know that modifier + noun sequences such as this proposed one existed.

The reason I propose this asterisked, i.e. hypothetical, expression is that it too could have resulted in our otherwise unexplained form snas. My thought is that the English speakers who composed the majority of non-Indigenous Nootka Jargon users might have heard *wiiqsii nas as a sequence of the very familiar ~wi(i)k ‘no, not’ (which gives us Chinuk Wawa wik, <wake> ‘no, not’) plus what they would then perceive as a word snas.

Yes, I’m saying the European/Americans would’ve understood such a Native-originated expression kind of differently — as ‘not rain’! Considering the storm of intricacies around the Nuuchahnulth and Nootka Jargon expressions for ‘bad weather’ (remember, ‘ferocious daylight’!), this suddenly just doesn’t seem outlandish to me.  This explanation for the s- at the beginning of snas doesn’t require the involvement of Salish people that I proposed yesterday, which I still find somewhat more plausible than any other hypothesis. But in favor of this White-people’s-fault idea today, very good research on phonology (pronunciations) indicates that the Nootka Jargon parts got into Chinuk Wawa specifically via the mouths of Anglophones.

I’m going to be interested to keep an eye out for further Native metaphors for ‘rain’ and ‘bad weather’ in the region closer to Nuuchahnulth territory.

What do you think?