I’m afraid this won’t be a very tame post…

tame happy afraid

Tame/happy/afraid (image credit: Frank Loves Beans)

…because it’s happily snarled up.This turns out to be a beast of a Jargon etymology to research.

In an article I recently published here (see “The Coming of the Chinook“), I proposed an etymology for the oldish and obscurish Chinuk Wawa word < kwann > ‘happy, glad; tame; etc..’

There, I pointed out the Southwest Washington Salish root q’wól, which has the same meaning in the three languages where it’s so far been found. (Quinault, Upper Chehalis, and Cowlitz.)

I claimed that this form is “close enough for jazz” — a very good match in fact — if you take into account the frequent sound alternations between L’s and N’s in the region…they’re particularly prominent, I feel, near the mouth of the Columbia River.

Now I want to elaborate on that.

I hypothesize that < kwann >, unusually, comes from both of two Salish sources, with a little skooch of interference from a third Chinookan word:

  • ‘HAPPY’ in the fourth SW WA Salish language, Lower Chehalis, as are nearly all Salish words in the Jargon. Lower Chehalis is spoken closest to the Columbia’s estuary, you see — Chinuk Wawa’s original homeland.
  • ‘TAME’ in a less-closely related Salish language, Lushootseed of Puget Sound — probably the Southern Lushootseed dialect of Nisqually, in which dialect area the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Nisqually was situated.
  • ‘SCARED’ from Chinookan sounds vaguely similar, and may have played a bit part in this drama.

Perhaps the melding of these coincidentally (?) similar-sounding words in the Jargon led to a new Indigenous metaphor for a “tame” domestic animal as one that’s either “happy” or “scared”!

Let’s try to look at all this in a little more detail.

HAPPY, from SW WA Salish/Chinookan:

George Gibbs (1863) has < kwann > ‘glad’, with a note about ‘TAME’ (see that section). He gives the reduplication < kwann-kwann > only as an old Lower Chinookan source of Jargon < kwann >.

A 1906 letter by an old pioneer (probably cribbing from JK Gill’s many-editioned dictionary) uses the reduplicated form < kwan-kwan > for ‘happy’, which is genuine Grand Ronde style but not known directly from that Reservation community. The presence of this form at GR, which is where we typically find our best evidence of Lower Chehalis influence, would be a real helpful clue.

Franz Boas’s 1910 “Sketch” of the Lower Chinookan language shows two potential source forms for a Jargon word: < k!wan > ‘hopeful’ and < k!wank!wan > ‘glad’ (page 629). The uses of < k!wan > in the “Four Cousins” story, pages 216ff of his 1894 “Chinook Texts”, actually look to me in context as if they mean ‘overconfident’, ‘cocky’. That same book translates the reduplicated form as ‘happy’.

J.K. Gill’s dictionary of Chinook Jargon (at least the 1919 edition) turns out to have a complex entry that reads: “Kwan. Glad; content; tame. Kwal is sometimes used for tame, also. So there’s an L~N alternation!

TAME, from Lushootseed:

Father Lionnet (1853) (1830s data) has < kwan, mamuk kwan> for ‘[French] apprivoiser / [English] to tame’.

Demers / Blanchet / St. Onge (1871, late 1830s-1840s data) have <Ƙwan > for ‘tame, quite [quiet], gentle, meek’.

Blanchet’s 1873 dictionary (again, late 1830s-1840s data) has < quan > ‘subdue’, that is, ‘tame’.

Gibbs (1863) says that “KWAL is Nisqually [Southern Lushootseed Salish] for tame”. My Bates-Hess-Hilbert dictionary of Lushootseed gives this in modern orthography as q’ʷál(a); it’s definitely not a word for ‘happy’ in that language. (Lushootseed ‘happy’ is cognate with Chinuk Wawa yútłił ‘glad, proud’.) I see the same contrast in other sister languages of the Puget Sound area, as in Klallam, where the related root again only means ‘tame’. Here we can note that SW WA Salish, by contrast, uses totally different-looking roots for ‘tame’: Upper Chehalis has tal[-]íl and the suspiciously French-looking liqá·s (do my readers have any insights about that?)Cowlitz has k’áp-ł.

(Repeating this from above:) J.K. Gill’s dictionary of Chinook Jargon (at least the 1919 edition) turns out to have an entry that reads: “Kwan. Glad; content; tame. Kwal is sometimes used for tame, also.

SCARED, from Chinookan/SW WA Salish:

George Gibbs’ 1863 Jargon dictionary (1850s data) has what may be a typographical mistake, giving for “tame” the spelling < kwass > — which corresponds with k’wás(h) ‘afraid’ (which comes from old Chinookan)! It’s possible we’ve here detected yet another of the countless typesetting mistakes that happened in older times between the handwritten author’s manuscript and the final publication. And/or, some speakers of Jargon understandably sometimes alternated between < kwass > and < kwann >. Read on for further signs of mild confusion in the speech community!

Modern Upper Chehalis Salish has qʷán[-]uʔ ‘fear, afraid, scared’. Cowlitz Salish has ʔac-qʷán-uʔ ‘afraid; a coward’. The [-]uʔ suffix on both of these makes them look like Diminutives: “a little scared”. I expect Lower Chehalis may have a similar word, but I haven’t found it in the data yet. Could these SW Washington Salish words be anciently related to Lushootseed ‘tame’ AND influenced by ‘afraid’ in the closer neighbor, Chinookan?

What do you think?