Nez Perce metal names

missing nez perce gold

(Image credit: Amazon)

There’s Chinuk Wawa here. Do you see it?The names of metals in the Nez Perce language (Sahaptian family, northeast Oregon, southeast Washington, northwest Idaho):

nez perce metal

Don’t be fooled by my wording of the question. There are no Chinook Jargon words in this clipping from Haruo Aoki’s Nez Perce dictionary.

But the semantic range of kícuy parallels that of Chinook Jargon’s chíkʰəmin.

And the phrases for ‘gold’ and ‘silver’ closely translate those in CJ, pʰíl-chíkʰəmin / pʰíl-dála (‘red-metal / red-money’; note that the words for ‘red’ and ‘yellow’ in the Indigenous languages are often the same or similar) & tk’úp-chíkʰəmin / tk’úp-dála.

So does the expression for ‘bank’, apparently, cf. the term *dála-háws that I’ve reconstructed based on evidence in northern coastal languages.

The Nez Perce for ‘railroad’ may also reflect Chinuk Wawa, as I’ve also been reconstructing similar phrases (like páya-t’síkt’sik úyx̣at) from the same kind of evidence.

Whether it’s Nez Perce that inspired the Chinuk Wawa phrases, or the other way around, is a little bit indeterminate, since NP was an early intercultural contact language in its own region, and I’ve even argued that it was the ultimate source of at least one Jargon word sikstiwa, an early form ‘friend’ and probably the ancestor of the better-known form shiksh.

But the clustering of several phrases matching the Jargon suggests that the influence went from CW to Nez Perce.

The Jargon was definitely known in NP country, and it left other traces in Nez Perce. (Although Aoki labels most of them in his dictionary as ‘English’, ‘French’, and even ‘Spanish’!)

The NP term for ‘railroad’ (‘trail of metal’) might even be evidence of a folk-etymology of Chinuk Wawa’s páya-t’síkt’sik úyx̣at (‘fire-wagon trail’) as chíkʰəmin úyx̣at (‘…metal trail’), when you consider that t’síkt’sik is known to have had a variant pronunciation chikchik.

It looks to me as though we once again find subtle but real traces of Chinuk Wawa in the Indigenous languages of the Pacific Northwest. These traces haven’t been previously demonstrated in a systematic way, but I have been working to set that omission right.

What do you think?