The drunkard’s walk, from Chinuk Wawa to Upper Chehalis

Stuff keeps turning up, somehow.

The Drunkard’s Walk Problem is a classic concept in statistics that I’m going to dumb down, because I never took Stats, as “even through a bunch of seemingly random steps, you’re highly likely to reach an interesting destination”. Like someone who’s had too many drinks trying to reach a lamppost to lean on.

By sheer chance — right? — Upper Chehalis Salish has a word for a ‘drunkard’ /qátlam/ that illustrates such funny coincidences.

M. Dale Kinkade’s dictionary of that language shows this word under the root for ‘water’ /qá•ʔ/, analyzing it as /qá-t-lam/ [water-INDEFINITE ARTICLE (‘a; some’)-alcoholic.drink].

That has to be wrong.

This /qátlam/ has no long vowel, & no glottal stop in its first syllable…but it needs to have one or both, to be a form of ‘water’.

‘Water’ makes no sense here anyways.

The /qá/ part would have to be a verb in order to make the -t- INDEFINITE ARTICLE + /lam/ ‘alcoholic drink’ sensible at all.

A more believable view is that /qátlam/ is a phrase borrowed from lower Columbia Chinuk Wawa (previously unknown to us, so a random new discovery) — q(‘)át-lám ‘loves alcohol’.

But wouldn’t you know…equally believable, I admit, is Upper Chehalis /qát/ ‘to like’ + the Chinook Jargon borrowing /lám/ ‘alcoholic drink’! This UpCh verb /qát/ enters into several compounds to indicate a person’s habitual inclination, including ‘to like women’, ‘to like cooking’, ‘to always be tramping (hiking)’, etc.

(Neighboring Cowlitz would seem like an equally good Salish origin here, with its /qát/ translated by Dale as ‘pet’ [a verb], as in /q’ał-qát-n[-]ł/ ‘nice, kind’, which is close to a sense of ‘to love’.

But, as I inspect it more closely, the difference is that the key shared element in Cowlitz forms words for personal proclivities is q’ał- (an Irrealis marker like ‘would; liable to’) — and its /qát/ is just one of the roots in that pattern.

Whereas Upper Chehalis generalizes its /qát/ among quite a few proclivity words. So I favor UpCh if we’re to see ‘drunkard’ as Salish.

Just to confuse you more if I can, this means Upper Chehalis’s word shown by Kinkade as /q’ał-qát(‘)-n[-]ł/ ‘cute; it is funny’ may just happen to be loaned from Cowlitz!)

[Side note — I think the Grand Ronde dictionary doesn’t mention these two Salish languages as potential sources for Chinuk Wawa q’át ‘to love’. It does refer to a Chinookan source. And the prefixed /q’ał-/ may be a Chinookan-to-Salish loan, I suspect. Things get tangled.]

Both a CW-based & a Salish-based etymology allow the /-t-/ INDEFINITE ARTICLE analysis within Upper Chehalis, but that’s a needless complication.

Finally, we have to recognize another probable, and unpredictable, influence of Chinuk Wawa here. CW pʰáł[-]lám ‘drunk’ (literally ‘full of booze’) likely influenced the Upper Chehalis pronunciation /qátlam/.

However we managed to get to it, we have here a previously unnoticed Chinuk Wawa-influenced word for ‘drunkard’ in a southwest Washington Salish language.

What do you think?

hayu masi to Jedd Schrock for comments on this — all errors are my own!