(Image credit: IMDB)

Very low probability of this reflecting “shipboard English”, but the chance of a connection between Chinuk Wawa and other pidgin languages will entice some creolists…

palaver, meaning ‘talk’ and extended senses, is a widely distributed pidgin-English word, thought to trace back to early Portuguese contacts with West Africa circa 1500 AD. (The etymology of it would be Portuguese palavra ‘word’.)

Palaver spread throughout much of  West Africa as pidgin Englishes took root and expanded. It’s conceivable that ships’ crews brought a knowledge of those contact languages from the Atlantic to Pacific regions. There are numerous similarities between pidgin-creole Englishes in both zones  — I certainly find echoes of them in British Columbia Chinuk Wawa’s stop ‘to exist; to be located’ and tumach ‘too much/a lot’  — although I’m unaware of palaver showing up in the Pacific.

Well, then, why am I going on about this obscurity?

My comments are prompted by noticing in Shoalwater Lower Chinookan a verb -palau ‘to talk’ (on page 660 of Franz Boas’s 1910 grammar “Sketch“). That made me think of palaver straight off.

Making this a tiny degree more exciting, I haven’t been able to find a corresponding form in the Chinookan varieties traditionally spoken upstream from this Columbia River estuary dialect.

You see, in a most-interesting-case scenario, you could argue that Shoalwater would be the dialect most expected to pick up sailors’ English lingo. Keen observers have noted that a detectable slice of early Chinuk Wawa vocabulary is just that: sil ‘cloth’ is English ‘sail’, for example.

Now let’s just keep in mind that Chinuk Wawa itself isn’t known to include any word shaped like palaver. Its unique occurrence in coastal Lower Chinookan is suggestive, but just weakly so at most.

Still, it makes you wonder…