Lush life: a Chinookan idea

lush life

(Image credit: Lush Cosmetics)

Lest you conclude that I think everything in Chinuk Wawa is “secretly Salish”…

Did you ever notice how the Grand Ronde Tribes’ 2012 dictionary (you need to own a copy) has numerous expressions that start with ɬush- ‘good, well’?

I’m not talking about the phrases that you do find in older dictionaries, also built on this root word. In the old school — and this actually includes Grand Ronde — everyone agreed to say stuff like the following (given, without comment, in the spellings I see in SV Johnson’s 1978 dissertation):

  • wake close ‘bad’
  • chahko kloshe ‘get well’
  • elip kloshe ‘best’
  • hy-ass close ‘handsome’
  • mammook kloosh ‘mend’
  • tanaz tloos ‘pretty good’
  • sitkom tloos ‘half good’
  • dleit tloos ‘very good’

In these expressions, ɬúsh is the “head”, the core meaning — so these all are shades of ‘good’.

Obviously I’m trying to drag the conversation over to phrases with ɬush- as the “dependent”, the modifier, of some other head word. I specifically mean these verbs, taken from the GR dictionary with their definitions:

  • ɬush-k’áw ‘well tied; nicely tied’ (lit. ‘well-tie’) X
  • ɬush-k’áw-k’aw ‘[same]’ X
  • ɬush-k’wás ‘gravely concerned’ (‘well-fear’) X
  • ɬush-mámuk ‘do well; good work’ (‘well-do’) (X) [given as a noun only by Le Jeune 1924]
  • ɬush-míɬayt ‘live well; be well suited for staying or living’ (‘well-be’) X
  • ɬush-músum ‘sleep well, soundly’ (‘well-sleep’) X
  • ɬush(-)nánich ‘be careful; watch out!, look out!’ (‘well-look’) 
  • ɬush-q’wəɬ ‘hit squarely, get a good blow in’ (‘well-hit’) X
  • ɬush-tə́mtəm ‘be glad, in good humor, happy’ (‘well-feel’) (√) [unclear whether this is a verb outside Grand Ronde]
  • ɬush-wáwa ‘speak well, correctly; able to speak well; can talk’ (‘well-speak’) X [not in Johnson 1978, but note, we see < close wawa > often as a noun in English in old publications]

In these forms, ɬush- is pretty adverbial, isn’t it? But adverbs don’t become part of compound words, typically, in Chinuk Wawa. (They do in plenty of the Earth’s languages. Separate story!) So what’s going on?

And by the way, why are these expressions limited to Grand Ronde? I checked SV Johnson 1978 with some care, and those “X” marks next to each entry above indicate that it’s not found elsewhere. There are only 2 “√” marks indicating words shared with other dialects; one is parenthesized because the evidence is not clear.

Except — get this — this construction is also found elsewhere within the lower Columbia River regionʹs earlyish Chinuk Wawa. I find some of the above, and more, verbs in Father St. Onge’s manuscript dictionary of his circa-1870 Jargon experience (his spellings, his translations):

  • tlush-chako ‘flourish’ (‘well-grow/happen’)
  • tlush-iskom ĥoloima-elehi-telikom ‘hospitable’ (‘well-accept-strange-land-people’)
  • tlush-iskom-kopa-lema ʹcuddleʹ (‘well-take-in-arms’)
  • tlush-mitlait ʹtranquilʹ (‘well-be’)
  • tlush-nanich ʹkeep; guard; hunt’ etc. (‘well-look’)
  • tlush-tanas-wawa ʹcooʹ (‘well-little-speak’)
  • tlush-tik̂eĥ ʹcherishʹ (‘well-want’)
  • tlush-wawa ʹeulogize; complimentʹ (‘well-speak’)

What could have been the stimulus from Chinuk Wawa’s source languages for this structure to occur just in this one region?

I’m going to discount the possibility of English having influenced this matter; my native language isn’t known for frequent expressions of the form “I well-like you/I like you well” or “well-look/look well before you cross the street!”

Neither has a corresponding structure in the local Southwest Washington Salish languages come to my attention. There are a few complex expressions formed with the root for ‘good/well’ plus a “lexical suffix” with nounlike meaning — thus, the whole thing is a description (‘good smell’ ‘good-looking’), not an action.

We need to slow down a little, though, before we count French out of the game. There was a good percentage of francophones in the region’s demographics back in the day, and at least a few decades into Chinuk Wawa’s known history, they were really leaving their mark on the language in the form of loanwords. Almost all of those were nouns, but we also have a smattering of French-origin adjectives, verbs, interjections, conjunctions, you name it. So then, did French speakers have a habit of informally saying “well-like”, “well-look”, and such? I stress “informal”, because pidgin-creoles aren’t much influenced by literary usage. The answer seems to be no, to my understanding; while literary French of the time, such as the missionary priests’ letters to each other, is full of bien-aimé ‘well-loved’ and the analogous votre tout-dévoué frère ‘your all-devoted brother’, I haven’t encountered much evidence that average folks actually talked like that. (Plus, those are adjective phrases, so there.) And, French bien- compounding is analyzed as no longer productive by Florence Villoing on page 42 of a paper I referred to for this little study. (x+Noun & Adjective+Adjective are said to be the only productive patterns in modern French, page 41).

Well, that leaves Chinookan as the last of the likely suspects. And look what I found:

Franz Boas’s “Sketch” of Shoalwater Lower Chinookan speaks of a “prefix” t!o- ‘well’, which forms “compounds” exemplified by

  • ē-t!ōʹ-cg-am ‘hold him well!’ (1910:593)
  • t!ō-wil ‘experience’ (Boas overtly connects this with t!o-, 1910:600)
  • t!ō-x̣akamit ‘cleverness’ (Boas gives literal gloss “=good mind”, 1910:600)
  • tukʟtx ‘good luck’

I think we can connect that “well+Verb” formation with tg-t!ōʹk-ti ‘good!'(1910:635) and t!ayāʹ ‘well, healthy’ (1910:668). The native status of this structure throughout Chinookan is implied since we find it also in Kiksht/Wishram, e.g. a-t!u’-ġagilak ‘good, strong woman’. Granted that Chinookan doesn’t limit this “well+Root” structure to verbs as I think Chinuk Wawa does (and I could be wrong about that detail), we still find that it’s only in Chinookan that such formations seem to get freely and productively formed.

Therefore I nominate Lower Chinookan as the source of this creole-ish, kind of grammaticalized feature of Chinuk Wawa.

What do you think?