Words that fell off the turnip tsiktsik

turnip truck

(Image source: Flickr)

…but they didn’t *just* fall off!

There’s every indication that words in Pacific Northwest languages for the European-introduced ‘turnip’, sometimes also translated as ‘rutabaga’, are among the oldest words borrowed from the newcomers.

I’ve pulled a list of words for this from an excellent book, “Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge: Ethnobotany and Ecological Wisdom of Indigenous Peoples of Northwestern North America” by Nancy J. Turner (McGill-Queen’s Press, 2014):

turnip 01

turnip 02

turnip 03

turnip 04

This is such a useful chart. It moves generally from the northern end of the Pacific Northwest (south/southeast Alaska) southward, by language family. Most of the words for ‘turnip’ here are borrowings, and their sources are indicated in most instances. We can add some illuminating notes to it, though:

  • Tlingit anahoo is another borrowing of the Chinuk Wawa word; the shape of it evokes similarities with neighbouring but unrelated Nisga’a (see inuu).
  • Meanwhile, Dena’ina (Outer Inlet dialect) arepga is from Russian répka, and we know a vigorous community of Russian speakers intermarrying with Dena’ina is located in that territory, e.g. in Ninilchik, Alaska.
  • Dakelh’s Stuart Lake-Trembleur Lake dialect yanalru possibly indicates a blending of native ‘seed’ (see Saik’uz dialect) with influence from neighbouring, unrelated Nuxalk Salish’s pronunciation of the Jargon word, yanahu.
  • Tsilhqot’in danapes from English ‘turnips’ shouldn’t be neglected; there’s every reason to suspect it was borrowed in a Chinook Jargon-speaking context in late-1800s British Columbia, where new English loans were the rule, as we now know quite well from the Kamloops-area letters written by Indigenous people (see my dissertation). In fact, Le Jeune’s 1924 “Chinook Rudiments” vocabulary includes ‘turnips’ from English!
  • The same applies for Kwakwaka’wakw (whose panaps is probably influenced by another English root-vegetable word, ‘parnsips’), as well as Nuu-chah-nulth and Nuxalk.
  • Ditidaht ʔilawuʔ is another Jargon borrowing, as are the forms in nearby Salish (Comox, Sechelt, Squamish).

It should be explained that the Chinuk Wawa source for the borrowings listed above is consistently given in 1800s Jargon documentation in shapes already changed away from the original Frenchindicating early adaptation to Indigenous sound systems.

First, we need to understand that while modern French dictionary authorities tell us ‘turnip’ is le(s) navet(s) [lənave/lenave], in North America’s Canadian and Métis dialects of the fur-trade workers who influenced Jargon in the crucial Fort Vancouver era, you have le(s) navot(s) [lənavo/lenavo]. (I’m showing both the singular and plural forms of the noun, because as a real-world vernacular “street language”, Chinuk Wawa speakers heard and borrowed whichever version was used in discussing the sale and use of European agricultural products — for turnips, that’s a plural.)

That is the starting point.

Then, in earlyish Jargon, you find:

  • lenamo in Demers’s vocabulary (1871, from 1830’s data) (loaned into SW Washington Salish as ninamú ‘rutabaga’ in Upper Chehalis, ninəmú and niminú in Cowlitz; note that Quinault, off the main trade routes, developed a native word for ‘rutabaga’ that appears to literally contain prep instructions — ‘scrape the peel off’.)
  • < ledowo > in the Columbian newspaper of Olympia, Washington (1853)
  • < la-moo-ow > in T.N. Hibben’s BC dictionary (1877)

With the word for ‘turnip’ nativizing its sounds so early and diffusing so rapidly as contacts and trade with Whites flourished, it’s no mystery why the pronunciation of it varies so much throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Similar things have happened with other quite early-adopted newcomer plants, such as ‘potato’, although in that example, it seems to be a Native word that was shared far and wide.

What do you think?
Kahta mika tumtum?

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