Nootka Jargon verb+verb compounds => Chinuk Wawa?

Quite a number of basic, very old Chinuk Wawa words that we know came from “Nootka Jargon” nonetheless have remained hard to find exact etymologies for.

(NJ was the late 1700s to early 1800s pidginized version of nuučaan̓uɬ/Nuuchahnulth [“NCN”] used in trading with Whites.)

Typically, we have tried to explain the NJ-to-CW words in terms of nuučaan̓uɬ grammar. But that has led to some blind alleys, where the known pronunciations are terrible matches for anything NCN would actually produce.

What if NCN grammar is irrelevant? What if we looked instead to a language with (more or less) NCN words but a different grammar?

Duh! We know rather little about the grammar of NJ (that’s the pidgin, remember), but maybe we should be making a few inferences.

Like, maybe that pidgin built compounds of shorter words? Because we’ve already made note of that a few months ago in this space (“New Light on Rainy Weather“), when we noticed NJ < peshackness > ‘foul weather’, recognizable from CW as pʰishak+(s)nas ‘nasty rain’.

So let’s do some comparing.

NANICH (nánich) ‘to see, to look’:

BEST PREVIOUS ETYMOLOGY: comparisons with Nuuchahnulth n̓an̓aač and n̓an̓aan̓ič ‘looking (at something)’ — forms which imply an original pronunciation like [nənáč] or [nənánič], both noticeably at variance with any documented CW pronunciation.

NEW IDEA: Nuuchahnulth nee ‘say! [singular]’ + either

  • n̓ač ‘see; look at’ — thus implying that the original NJ pronunciation of this word was [nǽnič], which, for what it’s worth, matches the most common ‘northern’ CW pronunciation (from roughly the Straits of Juan de Fuca north) — or
  • neeč ‘say! (plural)’, which is evidently nee ‘say! (singular)’ plus –č (Imperative?) Plural (compare e.g. čuu ‘very well!; hello; goodbye’ versus čuu-č ‘bye’, also perhaps čaa-č ‘excuse me; make way!’)

So I’m suggesting that NANICH was once literally ‘hey, (let’s) look’ [at what’s being offered in trade], or ‘hey, hey you guys!’ [in a trading setting].

Because 3-syllable forms of this verb are common in the early Nuuchahnulth and NJ documentation, let’s address them: I notice in the first word list that I randomly turn to, from 1791, that < nananich > is recorded with a more nuanced meaning, “let me look”. That exhortation “let me” fits well with our nee, doesn’t it, since I pointed out the other day that nee is the probable source of CW’s attention-getting interjection ná. This is to claim that CW nánich and NJ < nananich > were respectively 2- and 3-member meaningful compounds in NJ: [nee+n̓ač]/[nee+neeč] and [nee+[nee+n̓ač]]/[nee+nee+neeč].

POTLATCH (pálach) ‘to give’:

BEST PREVIOUS ETYMOLOGY: a comparison with Nuuchahnulth p̓ačiƛ ‘give away [momentaneous]’, that is, with a verbal aspect suffix –čiƛ indicating a single occurrence — a form that suggests an original NJ pronunciation by Whites something like [pəčɩ́tl], that is with stress at the end.

NEW IDEA: p̓a ‘potlatch; give a potlatch gift’ + some attempt at ƛ̓ii ‘partake of a feast’, with expressive [ee], + -č ‘(Imperative) Plural’ thus also implying an original pronunciation by Whites using [æ], such as [pətlǽč].

So, what I’m suggesting NANICH was once literally ‘gift-giveaway-you-guys!’

kata msaika tomtom? What do you think? Does recognizing compound words in Nootka Jargon throw new light on Chinuk Wawa’s history?

Advertisements