A Salish etymology of Chinuk Wawa t’łáp (klap)?

t lap

How a t-lap is made (image source: GoPracticals)

t’łáp, or in older spelling klap, meaning ‘to get, to receive, to catch, to find’ etc. in Chinook Jargon, has consistently been reported as coming from the tribal Chinookan languages.Well-documented in Lower Chinookan is an “attribute complement” — or in more up-to-date linguistic terms, an “ideophone” — t’łáp meaning ‘to find’. Ideophones are special in that they don’t take prefixes or suffixes like other inflected words do. So any time a speaker of Chinuk Wawa heard a Chinookan speaker use this word, they heard it clearly and unmistakably as t’łáp. And that provides us a totally solid etymology for the Jargon word.

But is that the end of the story?

Proto-Salish (that is, the ancestor of all 23 modern Salish languages, presumably spoken several centuries to thousands of years ago) used a verbal root that’s reconstructed as *ƛ̓əʔ (if you’re used to Grand Ronde-style spellings, that’s *t’łəʔ). The asterisk symbolizes ‘hypothetical form because nobody’s still alive for us to hear them say it’. The root is presumed to have meant things like ‘to go after, look for something’. Forms of it are preserved in Salish languages from the Pacific Coast to the Rocky Mountains.

In the Southwest Washington languages that also (i.e. along with Chinookan languages) provided the main Indigenous input to forming Chinook Jargon, there are plenty of inheritances of  plain old *ƛ̓əʔ, in words referring to ‘go get some firewood’, ‘look for the horses’, ‘hunt food’ and so on. Cowlitz and Upper Chehalis even have what’s been analyzed as an optional future-tense marker ƛ̓a before main verbs, and I bet you it was grammaticalized from *ƛ̓əʔ — or else the words having it are just plain compound verbs.

Of greater interest to us, there are also SW WA Salish forms like Cowlitz’s ƛ̓áp- (not defined in that language’s dictionary, but used in words relating to discovery) and Upper Chehalis’s ƛ̓ápa- / ƛ̓áp̓a- ‘go and see if something is somewhere, make a guess at’. Upper Chehalis’s second form perhaps got its ejective /p̓/ from the combination of *ƛ̓əʔ‘s final glottal stop with an ancient Salish verbal suffix I’d reconstruct as *-p ‘Inchoative’.

Now, when I read M. Dale Kinkade’s fine 1996 paper “Reconstructing Aspect in Salishan Languages“, I see that he finds evidence of this Inchoative *-p only in Interior Salish (where it’s practically everywhere; page 14). But I want to suggest that there are also indications in Coast Salish, at least in the SW WA Salish group, of a formerly-used suffix having just that form.

How can we tell this? Well, as a rule, native Salish word-roots are CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) in shape; so when we find a longer root listed in a Salish dictionary and having “P” as its last sound, that’s what we want to pay attention to.  (Just as someone else has pointed out, there’s an absurdly large number of longer Salish roots that end in -q, -x̣, qʷ, -x̣ʷ, etc., which implies that that was some kind of suffix long ago.) Cowlitz has k̓anə́p̓- ‘to squeeze’. Upper Chehalis has c̓ələ́p- ‘to spin’. And so on.

Put it all together, and I think there’s a case to be made for suggesting that t’łáp is originally SW Washington Salish.

It could easily have been loaned into the neighboring Chinookan tribal languages as an ideophone; I’ve found other cases of Salish-to-Chinookan loans.

And as an already culture-bridging word, t’łáp might have been a prime candidate for local Native people to try using when a new pidgin, Chinuk Wawa, began taking shape.

A side note: There’s interestingly also a word in Lower Chehalis, ƛ̓áp̓-əł, ‘cow’, that obviously has to be a newer word because it refers to an animal brought in by settlers. Carrying the Intransitive Perfective-Aspect suffix, possibly its literal meaning is ‘it forages’. I feel that dating it via linguistic archaeology gives only approximate results, since it could’ve been formed from existing SW WA Salish stem ƛ̓á(-)p(‘)-, or from Chinuk Wawa t’łáp

What do you think?

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