Chinook Jargon ‘dog’ < Chinookan 'nipples' < Lower Chehalis Salish

dog nipples

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The received wisdom tells us that our Chinuk Wawa for ‘dog’ — kʰámuksh — is an old Lower Chinookan word.

There’s more to the story, I think.

Synonyms for ‘dog’ exist in Lower Chinookan, so…what did “our” dog word mean originally?

Cue the Linguistic Archaeology Theme Song™. Time to investigate!

Franz Boas’s “Chinook: An Illustrative Sketch” brings us these other canine terms.

First, we have the neuter-gender, and I guess therefore indefinite (‘a dog; some dog’; perhaps ‘dogs as a traditional item of wealth‘), ł-kíwəsx (1910:599). To my eye and ear, that’s potentially comparable with Lower Chinookan i-kiutan and general Coast Salish s-tiqíw, both’horse’. If so, the –əsx would seem a suffix whose meaning remains to be figured out. As many of you will already know, Indigenous languages in North America often created words for the new animal (horse) from their words for the oldtime animal (dog). For example, Interior Salish tends to call horses in effect ‘big dogs’.

There’s also Kathlamet Lower Chinookan i-k̓útk̓ut (Boas 1910:599; it’s also the Clackamas Chinookan word, while Kiksht even farther upriver has yet a different one meaning ‘eater of small bones’, page 640). I’ve been personally told that this means something I remember as ‘the biter’ or ‘the gnawer’. I’m just not finding a published reference for that at this moment!

Having fetched those juicy bones, we circle back to the source of our Jargon word: u-kámuks (for example Boas 1910:586). This word has been described as being of interestingly obscure etymology, per the Grand Ronde tribal dictionary of Chinuk Wawa, 2012, which compares it with Lower Chinookan –liq̓ám-ukš ‘wolves’. What we can discover additionally is:

  • u-kámuks appears to always have Feminine grammatical gender, and Boas translates it sometimes as ‘bitch’, a female dog.
  • And u-kámuks seems to have the Noun Plural suffix, mainly employed on animate things, -uks.
    • The Grand Ronde dictionary puzzles over why a word for a singular dog would have a plural suffix.
    • And it notes that we don’t find a Chinookan root *-kam in any other words.
    • Read on.
  • Only Shoalwater-Clatsop, the farthest downstream of the Columbia River’s Chinookan languages, has u-kám-uks.

These facts (some of which have not been pointed out in previous Jargon scholarship) perhaps are very big clues to us.

Because, of the Chinookan languages, only Shoalwater-Clatsop has the Salish ɬəw̓ál̓məs / Lower Chehalis for its neighbor.

  • In that language, which many Chinookans spoke in their home villages, kám̓-tn means ‘female breast(s)’.
  • Presumably it also means ‘nipple(s)’; compare the sister language Cowlitz’s related c̓ám̓-tn̓ ‘breast, udder’.
  • The -tn part is the Salish ‘instrument; tool; thing’ suffix, which we’ve also seen borrowed into Lower Chinookan, where it was sometimes subtracted from Salish words, sometimes added.
  • That leaves a root kám̓: pretty much exactly what we’re looking for!

From Lower Chehalis’s sister languages, we know that this root is also used in verbs for ‘to suckle, to nurse’. So kám̓-tn = ‘thing(s) for suckling’.

As a result, Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinookan u-kám-uks ‘female dog’ appears to be one of the many metaphorical animal names in the region’s languages, not just for domesticated dogs and horses as noted above but also e.g. xʷatáq ‘jumper’ for ‘deer’ in Lower Chehalis. Here, we have a word literally meaning ‘nipples’, after a visually prominent feature of Canis familiaris.

I’ve made the case that it’s built on a root borrowed from the unrelated Lower Chehalis Salish, which time and again keeps turning up as a previously unrecognized major player in the history of Chinuk Wawa.

What do you think?