Hidden discoveries: Extinct animals & creole-pidgin ethnozoology (Part 2)


< massache mawitch > (image credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve started  a mini-series on previously obscure animals and species names in the 1850s “Reports of Explorations…” for a railroad line across the Northwest.After the grizzly bear comments previously noted, a similar geographic limitation on moose habitat west of the Cascade Mountains is brought up on page 133:

I have obtained from Dr. Webber, of Steilacoom, a skull of an animal of the deer kind which the Indians say was formerly very plentiful, but now exterminated, and which they call in the Chinook jargon the massache maivitch [i.e. mas(h)áchi mawitch], or bad deer.

This is super cool. We haven’t known a word in Jargon for ‘moose’ before.

(Despite the supposed, but disavowed, A.C. Anderson published lexicon giving us < moose > — while defining it as ‘elk’!)

Quite something, eh, for a pidgin-creole language to have a word for locally extinct animals.

Extinct but obviously of cultural importance.

It brings to mind my recent post here about ‘sea otter’ in Chinookan and Chinuk Wawa seeming to be a loanword from Quinault Salish to the north.

On the subject of completely nonnative animals, George Gibbs on page 138 shares the opinion — informed and therefore of note — but still an opinion:

“The [Chinook] jargon word for cattle is Moos-moos, and is a corruption of Moos-moos-chin, the Walla-Walla word for buffalo.”

This pronouncement directly follows a discussion of the American buffalo having been extinct for quite some time west of the Rockies.

Knowing that fact, we’d expect a high likelihood of Walla Walla Sahaptin having borrowed its word for bison, and honestly I lean toward thinking that this < Moos-moos-chin > came from the peculiar Chinookan version of the Chinuk Wawa word for ‘cow, cattle’ (from Eastern Algonquian, and related to English ‘moose’). Chinookan has a still not-fully-explained suffix, approximately -ki, on that word…

Stay tuned for more new Jargon species names in this mini-series.

What have you learned?
What do you think?