BACK.2 the Salish past?

spit roasted salmon

(image credit: New Scandinavian Cooking)

Or a comedy of eras?

There’s a little-known, fairly early, Chinuk Wawa word that’s seen by Samuel V. Johnson in his 1978 dissertation as meaning “back”.

— Whatever that means, since English has more than one word spelled that way. He individuates this particular documented by Joel Palmer 1847, < tum-pe-lo >, by calling it “BACK.2”. The other source that has it is Theodore Winthrop 1863, without the hyphens.

(SVJ accidentally lists another word from Palmer, < mal-hu-el >, as “BACK.3” when it really means ‘(back) on shore’ (máɬx̣wəli).)

(SVJ also mistakenly — I suppose following his sources, Ross 1849 and Gill 1909 — has a “BACK[.1]” which is actually identical to his “BREAST.2”.)

The < tum- > makes it look like a Lower Chehalis Salish body part. Compare some of James G. Swan’s obscure 1857 words from Shoalwater Bay, Washington, like < tentome > ‘navel’ and < tensart > ‘belly’, where the < ten- > means ‘my’ in LCS. Which makes me consider whether today’s wod might be, in effect, < tun-pelo >. 

The crazy thing is, we already know a good, rather different-looking, Chinuk Wawa word for a person’s back which (by contrast) is definitely from Lower Chehalis: see pʰík’w in the Grand Ronde Tribes’ excellent 2012 dictionary.

I haven’t managed to locate a plausible source for < tum-pe-lo > southwest Washington Salish. What I can imagine is that we may have here our frequent nemesis, error down the line by a typesetter trying to read a handwritten manuscript in a language like Chinuk Wawa that he didn’t understand. Could today’s word represent an intended spelling like  < tum-pe-ko >, which is form that we know as tnpík̓ʷ ‘my back’ in LCS?

I find that a sensible view.

But according to SVJ 1978, this word for ‘back’ evidently shows up in an alternate form: < lupulla > in the Columbian newspaper 1853 and JG Swan 1857, and < lapulla > in Guillod 1909.

And that makes no sense from a Lower Chehalis Salish standpoint; the < lu- > or < la- > means nothing in that language. It brings to mind…oh wait…French!

And we know a matching French-inspired Jargon word, from some of the same old sources already mentioned (minus Palmer, plus George Gibbs 1863)< la-pel-la> ‘roast, roasted’ (lapʰala at Grand Ronde). SVJ 1978 has a separate entry for this word, glossed by him as ROAST.

It gets more interesting yet. SVJ 1978’s ROAST has a variant form (from the Columbian 1853, Swan 1857, Gill 1909) without the “L-“, < appola >, which is also the shape you can find it taking as a “Missouri French” loanword in certain American English dialects.

At this point, you have to consider even more explanations.

In plain language:

Did some later person confuse the English translation ‘back’ (of our hypothetical *tum-pe-ko) with ‘rack’? To roast a salmon, for example, lapʰala-style by the fire, you essentially construct a rack of perpendicular skewers through the flesh, to hold it evenly open to the flame.

Besides, in English a “rack” of meat, lamb for instance, is essentially a hunk of the “back” (a series of ribs, severed from the spine)…

My Chinuk Wawa lexicographer instincts are telling me that SVJ 1978’s BACK.2 and ROAST are interconnected in some way, due to at least one mistake by earlier dictionary makers. The best hypothesis I can give just now is two-part; I think:

  • The (l)apʰala-shaped words said to mean ‘back’ really are ‘rack’, and should be moved to the ROAST entry.
  • The < tum-pe-lo > words are a typo for Lower Chehalis Salish ‘my back’, an otherwise unknown word of Jargon that was not again documented until a century later, in Lower Chehalis.

What makes this picture even more complicated and crazy is that certain (Salish) languages of the general Puget Sound region have a root píʔkʷ- that’s very much like Lower Chehalis ‘back’ that means ‘spit for roasting salmon‘!!

🙂 When I get to this stage of headache, I have to take a break and ask:

What do you think?