So hílu (halo) *is* from Haida. Or?

sun halo

“Sun Halo” (image credit: Pinterest)

Or, more accurately, from Pidgin Haida.

The Grand Ronde Tribes’ Chinuk Wawa dictionary of 2012 does a great job showing that the negative word hílu ‘lacking, without; be absent, gone, expired, extinguished’ should be traced back to the Haida language.

That’s 100% true.

Etymologically, anyway.

The Hibben & Carswell dictionary (of “Hydah, Tsimpsean, Chinook” and English) from Victoria, BC, circa 1871 has some occurrences of < hilo > in some of the negations. There, it clearly means ‘there are none; there are no ___’. A different structure is used to negate verbs.

(There are also a few Jargon loans…bread, money…in the Haida-language section.)

Just to add a clarifying historical detail, though:

We should probably say the source language of hílu is Pidgin Haida.

That was a fur-trade pidgin language known to have been used “between Haidas, Tsimshians, Heiltsuks, and Europeans in that area in the 1830s“, and eventually replaced by Chinuk Wawa in those northern Coast regions.

Pidgins seem to have abounded in the northern Pacific Northwest: I’ve argued there was a separate pidgin Heiltsuk in the same region and time.

And even earlier, the better-documented Nootka Jargon had presumably been of at least limited use up there, seeing as how ongoing trading contacts between Haidas and Europeans stretch all the way back to the late 1700s.

To me it seems likeliest that

  1. Haida Jargon existed before its first (circa 1830) documentation, and
  2. HJ would’ve interacted with Nootka Jargon (my readers know I’m constantly pointing out how multiple pidgins tend to coexist and influence each other, e.g. Chinese Pidgin English + Chinuk Wawa), and
  3. HJ’s hilu would, by the channel of the more widely used NJ, have made its way southward, where circa 1800 NJ formed the nucleus of the earliest Chinuk Wawa we know of

Note this contemporaneous (1863) reference to a Haida pidgin by AC Anderson, who incidentally describes Chinuk Wawa the way I’ve been lobbying for, as founded on a mixture of “Chiheelis” (Lower Chehalis Salish) and Chinookan.

hílu, in then-conventional spellings such as halo, hélo, and so on, is found in Chinuk Wawa word lists about as far back as we can look, the 1820s onwards: Ball’s Manuscript 195, Lionnet, Demers.

In some earlier data like Lewis & Clark from 1805-1806, we find only the other negator wik, but this doesn’t prove an absence of hilu at that time.

One historical change involving hilu that we do find inside Chinook Jargon is that, at first, hilu seems to have only meant ‘none, there is none, nothing’. That’s the case in Ball, Lionnet, Demers, and other early (Fort Vancouver-era) sources.

With time, though, some speakers came to expand its use until it was their general negator of all verbs, predicates, everything.

An example is that by the time Kamloops Chinuk Wawa was imported from the southward and being written by Indigenous people, hilu (spelled ilo by them) was practically the only negator — and wik was pretty much limited to a few set phrases like wik-kata (not-how) ‘cannot’ and wik-tlus (not-good) ‘bad’.

From that specific later stage in Chinuk Wawa, hilu even made a further leap, and replaced the native general negator míłt in Lower Chehalis Salish!

The details of hilu‘s grammatical evolution remain to be laid out in a separate, detailed study.

Referring back to Hibben & Carswell…I think it’s going to be fascinating to check —

Are any of the Hydah (and “Tsimshian”!) sentences actually pidginized versions of those languages?

I recognize some vocabulary entries, e.g. < clue > for boat…from the Haida Pidgin. Someone who knows more Haida and more of the Tsimshianic languages needs to look at those word lists!

What do you think?
Kahta mika tumtum?