Lexical correspondences between Chinook and Kalapuya

Leo J. Frachtenberg published a study on three of the Grand Ronde reservation’s traditional tribal languages, investigating whether they might be related to each other way back in time. I’m talking about his “Comparative Studies in Takelman, Kalapuyan and Chinookan Lexicography: A preliminary paper” (International Journal of American Linguistics 1(2):175-182, May 1918).

Frachtenberg expresses sympathy with the Penutian hypothesis — the notion shared by many linguists that a large number of languages from California northward might be related to each other. He provides a fairly compelling set of 53 strong resemblances between words of Takelma and Kalapuya.

Then, on page 181, is a brief section on

“Lexical Corresponences between Chinook and Kalapuya”

that I want to reproduce in totality, with minor clarifying marks, and commenting on it below:

chinook kalapuya 1

Let us now turn to the correspondences that have been observed between Chinook and Kalapuya. As has been stated before, these are less numerous. In this list are not included words that have been undoubtedly borrowed through the medium of Chinook jargon. The most interesting feature of these correspondences is found in the fact that, while in Chinook most of these words are stems that must be used with some affix, in Kalapuya they are treated as independent words. The following correspondences have been observed:

CHINOOK [footnote 1]     KALAPUYA

1. -cāʹyim, GRIZZLY BEAR   ṣāʹyim

2. -cgan, CUP                          uʹṣkan

[footnote 1: All Chinook vocables are quoted from Boas, “The Vocabulary of the Chinook Language” (AANS, vol. vi, no. 1, pp. 118-147).]

chinook kalapuya 2

3. -ʹlxaiu, SEAL                                uʹlxayū

4. koaʹitst, NINE                               kwīʹṣta

5. -ma (redupl.), FATHER                mā, māʹma’

6. -mōʹlak, ELK                                  mūʹlukwa, COW

7. -naa, MOTHER                               nī

8. pāʹʟ, pāʹʟma, FULL                        pāʹłam, DRUNK

9. pō-, TO BLOW                                 pūł-

10. -pōʹtsᴇlal, KINGFISHER               tṣaʹlal

11. ptcix, GREEN                                 ptṣix, BLUE, GREEN

12. -qᴇlᴇma, FALL SALMON              qaʹl·am SILVERSIDE SALMON

13. -qᴇlōʹq, SWAN                                 qoʹl·oq


15. qoās (redupl.), CRANE                   kwaʹskwas

16. quiʹnᴇm, FIVE                                  wan’

17. siʹnamôkct, SEVEN                          p[-]sinmīʹwē’

18. tᴇʹxᴇm, SIX                                        taʹfo

19. ʟōn, THREE                                      p[-]sin’

My comments…

Frachtenberg was on the right track. There are many words that were used in Kalapuyan at the time which were obviously of Chinuk Wawa origin; we see this in various texts taken down by anthropologists. However, I’m going to claim that nearly all of the words being compared here are likely to be explained by contact between the two languages, instead of shared ancient inheritance.

There are no verbs except #9 BLOW proposed as shared vocabulary, which is really striking if you look at Frachtenberg’s list of fifty-plus corrspondences between Kalapuya and Takelma, where 14 of 53 pairs (26.4%) are verbal! By the way, BLOW (on something with air from your mouth) has a similar form in various unrelated languages, for example Chimakuan, Salish and Sahaptin. So it’s just as good an explanation to think of a shared onomatopoeia…a similar idea among the region’s cultures about how to represent the sound of blowing.

Instead, a big majority of the Chinook-Kalapuya matches are nouns (57.9%) and numerals (26.3%), which a linguist can tell you are the kinds of word that are generally the easiest for languages to borrow from each other.

A. The kinds of nouns here matter: all but one (#2 CUP) are words for animal species and kinship terms. Throughout the Pacific Northwest, you find uncannily similar zoological and kin terms shared among large numbers of unrelated languages.

B. These numerals, except for #19 THREE, are what I consider “higher” ones. Numbers from FIVE on up in most of the world’s languages tend to be new, and therefore have a fairly obvious origin. (Rather than being unanalyzable, basic words in a language.) Languages tend to take either of two approaches:

  1. Create complex words, like “hand plus two fingers” for SEVEN; the missing Kalapuya EIGHT here might be literally “two fours” as in many languages, therefore an expression you could form with native Kalapuya words.
  2. Just borrow some other language’s word. In fact a good example is how Chinookan and another family, Sahaptin, share words for NINE, and both share SIX with Salish. And what we’re seeing in Frachtenberg’s representation of Kalapuya is a language where FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, and NINE are borrowed from Chinookan and/or from Chinuk Wawa.

C. Some of the words Frachtenberg included above are from the Jargon. #2 CUP and #3 SEAL are probable loans since they keep their Chinookan gender prefix u- in Kalapuya, typical of Jargon words. The meaning COW [domesticated] on Kalapuya’s #6 is easiest to explain if the corresponding Chinookan form is actually the identical Chinuk Wawa word for ELK. #8 FULL in its Kalapuya entry is obviously Chinook Jargon páłam (páł-lám ‘full-rum’).

There’s virtually nothing left from Frachtenberg’s list to suggest any ancient genetic relationship between Chinookan and Kalapuya. Despite holding out hope on the same page that the enormous differences in grammar between the two language families might prove to be unimportant (he claims Kalapuyan languages differ enormously from each other too!), I think Frachtenberg has really scant grounds for connecting them.

What we do find, equally of interest, is a lot of strong evidence of contact between these languages, both ancient and recent, including contact mediated by Chinuk Wawa — highly typical of that “reservation period” in Native history.

What do you think?