Lexical Acculturation in Siletz Dee-ni (& Chinuk Wawa)

lexical acculturation 01

Linguist Jen Johnson wrote an interesting paper looking at “Lexical Acculturation in Siletz Dee-ni” (Swarthmore College, 2012).

Siletz Dee-ni, as some of you may have already guessed from its name, is the southwest Oregon Athabaskan (Dene) language that’s being revitalized by members of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians or CTSI.

I’d like to feature a few sections of Johnson’s paper that bring Chinuk Wawa into view. Because Siletz is sort of the next reservation southward from Grand Ronde, and was another oldtime hotbed of Jargon use, there’s much reason to be interested in what we find.

For example, we find Jargon words sufficiently nativized into Dee-ni to become the base of further noun compounding:

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page 25

These strategies [of forming new words in Dee-ni] need not be employed discretely [i.e. separately from each other]: for example, Siletz Dee-ni combines mvsh-mvsh ‘cow’, a Chinook Wawa loanword (mus-mus), with its own word svn’ ‘meat/flesh’ to formmvsh-mvsh svn’,’beef’.

Here’s a bit of discussion trying to tease out how to distinguish among Siletz Dee-ni’s various potential donor languages:

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pages 26-27

I like how Johnson calls the Jargon “Salishan-based” in the following, since I’ve been working to get folks to recognize the big Salish component in it — but few scholars so far will agree with her:

French fur traders made occasional forays into Oregon Ath[a]baskan country late in the era of fur trapping; by the time they reached coastal southern Oregon, Chinook Wawa (also known as “Chinook Jargon”) was well established as a trade language and widely used by trappers. It is likely that most Siletz Dee-ni words of French origin came into the language through this creole. Salishan-based [sic] Chinook Wawa was spoken by many of the Indians from northern Oregon and southwestern Washington who also became members of to [sic] the Coast Reservation, and continues to be spoken by some members of the CTSI community in and around Siletz today (Lane 2011). Chinook Wawa has had a significant impact on the lexicons of languages throughout the Pacific Northwest; Brown’s (1996) study of lexical acculturation and bilingualism in American Indian languages includes a survey of native terms also found in lingua francas, where he found that 7% of lexical items in the six Salishan languages surveyed were also present in the relevant lingua franca (almost exclusively Chinook Wawa). The contributions of French and Chinook Wawa are modest in comparison to the contributions of English, however. Far and away, English has been the language of colonization most relevant to Siletz Dee-ni speakers and the greatest source of acculturated lexical items in their language. 

I like the following discussion by Johnson of the daily realities of language contact situations:

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page 28

Typically, loanwords are created in face-to-face interactions between speakers of different languages. How the source language word sounds to the individual(s) who create it as a loan in the target language is critical, and how it sounds is subject to a variety of factors: the dialect of personal speech eccentricities of the source language speaker, the hearing of the target language speaker, the presence or absence of a given phoneme from the target language, and even the surrounding environment can all impact how the sounds are interpreted and translated from on[e] language to the other Because of this, there is a certain degree of variability in how loanwords are articulated in the target language. The English word hogs may have come into Oregon Athabaskan languages early and diverged, or been adopted as the loanword haa-k’vs in one village and hay-k’vs in another. Yet others borrowed the Chinook Wawa word gosho ‘pig’ as guu-shu to indicate the same referent. All three terms have been preserved in Siletz Dee-ni, the result of the implementation of the reservation system and of the sharp decline in the usage of Athabaskan.

Here’s a look at how some alien English sounds got adapted to Native phonology:

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page 30

The consonants that exist in English but not in Siletz Dee-ni include [f v ð θ z ʒ ɫ ŋ ɲ ɹ ɾ]. The labiodental fricative [v] typically also converts to [b], as seen in (18) and (37).

(18)     tii-bi [ti:.bi] < TV [ti:.vi:]

(19)     gaa-be [gɑ:be] < Chinook Wawa kaupi [kɑpi] < French [kafe] ‘coffee’ or < English coffee [kɑ:fi]

There are no unambiguous examples of [f ð θ], the other dental/labiodental fricatives, being loaned into Siletz Dee-ni; however, as (19) shows, gaa-be ‘coffee’ could have entered the language from Chinook Wawa, directly from French, or from English. Historical conditions suggest that all three possibilities are valid.

The following example set is nice because it thinks about the back rounded vowel inventory in the area’s Chinuk Wawa (which others have argued was a single vowel /u/), and because of a surprising California Spanish loanword (which surely came via California Indigenous languages):

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page 33

Siletz Dee-ni has only one back vowel, [u]. [o], found in source words from both English and Chinook Wawa, consistently shifts upward to the Siletz back vowel (29, 30).

o → u

(29) guu-shu’ [gu:ʃuʔ] < cosho [goʃo] (Chinook Wawa) < cochon [koʃɔ̃] ‘pig’ (French)

(30) ch’aa-muu-de [tʃʰɑ:mu:de] < camote [tʃɑmote] (Spanish) ‘sweet potato’

Now this next snip, Table 1, is too much for me to retype in HTML for the search engines — but nobody searches in IPA phonetic characters anyway 🙂 I’ll just show you it, with the added information that many of these words are known to have come into Dee-ni via Chinuk Wawa (like ‘Spanish speaker’, ‘stockings’) or, due to their unexpectedly great phonetic mutations, can be inferred to have followed that path (like ‘bottle’, ‘sheep’).

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page 55

Here and elsewhere in Johnson’s data, I’m fascinated to find out why there seem to be so many cases where an original word having a “plain” consonant like /p t k/ got taken into Siletz Dee-ni with an “ejective” consonant like /p’ t’ k’/! That, and the related insertion of glottal stop /ʔ/ into some words, is a fairly unusual process.

At least one of Table 2’s entries could be a ‘stealth’ Chinuk Wawa loan, calquing on the semantics of a known Jargon metaphor paya-wata ‘fire-water’:

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And Table 3’s long list of phrases whose meanings got extended to new concepts in the course of acculturation has some parallels in Chinuk Wawa. Note that gus ‘potato’, originally ‘camas’, may be an extremely old (“precontact”) loan from other Indigenous languages, which have similar-sounding words for staple root crops as far north as southeast Alaska.

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page 56

I’ll end by showing you the full citations for both of Johnson’s published Chinuk Wawa sources (Bud Lane 2011 is his personal communications to her):

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Lang G. 1995. The Vocabulary of French Fur Traders in Pre-1846 Chinook Jargon. Revue quebecoise de linguistique theorique et appliquee 12;247-264.

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Powell JV. 1990. Chinook Jargon Vocabulary and the Lexicographers. International Journal of American Linguistics 56:134-151.

I think Johnson did a great job with a notoriously unwieldy subject. When you’re trying to trace histories of loaned words, you’re typically faced with a task of sorting out historical layers and multiple varieties of multiple languages. I’m confident that the author would have spotted even more Chinuk Wawa items if she’d had access to the (then unpublished) Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary or the useful but hard-to-use dissertation of Samuel V. Johnson!

What do you think?