Lightning from Lower Chehalis


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The heavy weather theme continues: I’m struck by ‘lightning’.

A word for it, that is, that’s new to me in Chinuk Wawa.

J.K. Gill’s 1909 dictionary has < shilthlo > (per S.V. Johnson’s 1978 dissertation), also used by Myrtle Johnson Woodcock in her “The Alliance of the Quinault and Chinook Tribe“.

This matches Tolmie’s 1884 vocabulary of Lower Chehalis: < sh-ylthlow > ‘lightning’. I don’t find any similar word in the other southwest Washington Salish languages.

I already had some familiarity with two other Chinook Jargon expressions for ‘lightning’:

  • sáx̣ali-pʰáya (literally ‘high/above-fire’) in St Onge’s dictionary manuscript. This is mentioned in the Grand Ronde tribal dictionary of 2012 as a regionalism. (Where there’s smoke, there’s fire: sáx̣ali-smúk is ‘cloud’, which is also expressed by the totally wonderful kʰə́ltəs-smúk, literally something like ‘for no reason smoke; just being smoke’.)
  • laitnin or laitning in Kamloops-area Chinuk Wawa. (Guess what, ‘cloud’ there is klawd and ‘thunder’ is thondir.)

Today’s discovery contributes to the endlessly mounting evidence that Lower Chehalis Salish, spoken in many of the same traditional villages alongside Lower Chinookan, played a very big role in forming the Jargon.

(But, like lightning, the Lower Chehalis element may have burned out pretty fast. You’ll hear more about that from me.)

I had a blast writing about it!