Discoveries: Salish ‘sealion’, pig evolution, & a French compound loan

cochon de mer

(Image credit: Sciences et Avenir)

A brand-new word, and a brand-new structure:

Emma Luscier told linguistic supercollector John Peabody Harrington a Chinuk Wawa word ləʔíls that we didn’t know before. Here’s my transcription of JPH’s April 14, 1942 note:

jarg. ləʼí·ls [ə] not α + prob. for ɪ, sealion. Cheh. call it ditto. None at B.C. but lots at Tahola, they live on the rocks and as soon as they see a canoe they jump in the water, but Tah. kill them + eat them.

Here Emma is telling him that this Jargon word for ‘sea lion’ (very large species of seal) is the same in Lower Chehalis Salish. Sister language Quinault has it as well, so I take it as yet another natively Salish word loaned into “homeland” Chinuk Wawa.

Speaking of sea versions of land creatures, one of the Jargon expressions for ‘seal’ is < siwash kosho >, taken to literally mean ‘Indian pig’! That metaphor reported by George Gibbs (1863) from the Fort Vancouver universe is easy to grasp, isn’t it? There are no native wild swine in the Pacific Northwest, so the next porkiest animal is the seal.

Would you scratch your head if I told you that this particular < kosho > is also a southwest Washington Salish word for a marine mammal? In Upper Chehalis for example, qʷsí=yuʔ is reported for ‘porpoise’, thought to have a Salish suffix =yuʔ that’s found on several animal names. Oddly, more recent (1940s) Lower Chehalis has the similar-sounding k̓ʷəšú / kʷəšú — but meaning ‘seal’! And several of the older Chinook Jargon sources from southwest Washington including Shoalwater Bay have a word spelled something like < quiceo > ‘porpoise’, which suggests 1800s Lower Chehalis had about the same word as Upper Chehalis.

Our earliest good data on Lower Chehalis report a different, definitely native word for this animal — it literally means ‘it blows water (from its face/head)’. All of these mooshy semantics and phonetics (albeit they’re perfectly Indigenous sounds) suggest to me that at least Lower Chehalis borrowed and then nativized the Chinuk Wawa word kúshu ‘pig’. (Originally French cochon, sometimes found in CW with the typical Definite Article attached: < lekosho > in Father St. Onge’s 1892 manuscript dictionary.)

So ‘Indian pig’ is indeed ‘Indian pig’, but I think that’s not the end of the story. I believe that Chinuk Wawa expression went on to be truncated and borrowed into at least one local Salish languages!

Now for a compound of interest. This will also relate to sea mammals, you’ll see.

You know already that Chinook Jargon contains a ton of words from French. The great majority are single words in the source language. Most are nouns, typically with a Definite Article still attached so that they begin with “L”. Some are adjectives. A few are conjunctions. You’ll also find some verbs, taken from a variety of French formations including the infinitive and the 2nd-person singular imperative; I take that nonuniformity to imply that French verb-borrowing was not much of a thing for the Jargon.

What’s exquisitely rare is for Chinuk Wawa to borrow multi-word constructions from French, and that only happened in the old cradle of CW, the lower Columbia River area. I can only think of two such loans that I knew before today: the Jargon has < tapahote > ‘shame’, from t(u n)’as pas honte ‘you have no shame’. And it has lapikʰwo ‘frock, short coat’, from l’habit court ‘the short coat’.

Now add this to the small set of French phrase loans in the Jargon: < lu-maran > (loup-marin) ‘seal’ (the animal), documented circa 1841 in the Fort Vancouver area by Horatio Hale (US Exploring Expedition, Ethnography and Philology, page 639). The literal meaning of the French original is ‘sea wolf’, so here’s another aquatic version of a land beast. You might notice that this is a second, surely independent, borrowing of loup into Chinuk Wawa, since we have the pretty common word lílu ‘wolf’ from le loup.

Just harking back to < siwash kosho > for a moment, I want to direct your attention to a couple of 19th-century French phrases. Cochon sauvage ‘wild pig’ is long-established in the language. There were, if not indigenous ones, feral pigs already by mid-century; P-C Fournier de Saint-Amant’s 1854 book (page 378) notes the hunting of nativized swine and cattle in the vicinity of what was then Lewis County, Washington, around Mount Olympus on the Olympic Peninsula. Could Native people have heard the common expression cochon sauvage from the many Canadians they encountered, and understood it as bad Chinuk Wawa for < siwash kosho >? 

For this to believably supply a source for the < siwash kosho > that we know, meaning ‘seal’, people who weren’t mother-tongue French speakers would have to have then creatively applied that phrase to the sea creature. I’m not sure we can “establish motivation” as they say in American law, but before you can reject the idea out of hand, I’m going to point out another 19-th c. French term: cochon de merThat’s literally ‘sea pig’. And it referred to…seals.

Hm, hm, and hm. Do we have a mixed French-Native metaphor in our saltwater ‘Indian pig’?

What do you think?

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