Klahowya! From the Strait of Juan de Fuca?


(Image credit: ebay)

This idea was first inspired by a song sung by Dr. Scott Tyler 20 years ago, so I say ƛ̓e●ko● to him.

(Note — For easier visibility onscreen, I’m using large dots to show vowel length in Southern Wakashan languages.)

Chinook Jargon’s well-known word < klahowya(m) > (łax̣áwya(m)) ‘poor; destitute; pitiful; etc.’ is consistently analyzed by us linguistic scholars as coming from the old Natítanui (Lower Chinookan) tribal language.

The 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary of Chinuk Wawa points out the sensible source word in Natítanui, łá-x̣auyam, literally ‘one’s poverty’.

Long story short, though: the only Chinookan language that has that root –x̣auyam for ‘poor’ is the one on the coast, Natítanui.

The 3 reasonably well-documented Chinookan languages upstream (Kathlamet, Clackamas, Kiksht) all seem to use a different root, –giutgʷax̣. All things being equal, a historical linguist might tend to think that the upriver majority represents the older, native Chinookan form.

If that’s the case, then where might Natítanui Lower Chinookan have gotten its –x̣auyam?

Well, here’s one new idea.

There is a root łakʷ- ‘having a hard time doing, poor, destitute’, and several words made from it, in Makah (a southern Wakashan language), that are reminiscent of Chinook Jargon’s well-known word < klahowya(m) > (łax̣áwya(m)) ‘poor; destitute; pitiful; etc.’

I’ll show a couple of snippets from Matthew Davidson’s 2002 linguistics dissertation, “Studies in Southern Wakashan (Nootkan) Grammar“:

makah klahowya

page 423

makah klahowya thank you

page 429

Those capital “N’s” indicate the corresponding, very similar forms in Nuučaan̓uł (NCN) speech across the Strait of Juan de Fuca on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada.

I’m not necessarily claiming in specific that “klahowya!” came from Makah…

… Imagine if it instead goes back to the early Vancouver Island “Nootka Jargon” pidgin that we know was an ancestor of Chinuk Wawa.

This word isn’t to my knowledge documented in the old NJ sources from the late 1700s to early 1800s. But no less an authority than Ross Clark, who wrote the unpublished but definitive study of NJ in 2001, has noted that a number of other presumably NJ words also lack such direct proof.

In any case, the following is my reasoning for seeing a connection as possible.

The “E” vowel in ƛ̓e●ko● ‘thank you’ is somewhat rare in the southern Wakashan languages; you’ll run into it fairly seldom there, it seems to me, as it occurs mainly in expressive words like these:

  • nee ‘say!’ (i.e. ‘hey!’, an attention-grabber)
  • łałeʔinq ‘pins and needles’ sensation (like when your leg “falls asleep”)
  • k’ʷeesis which is a hypocoristic (nickname / pet name) for the personal name k’ʷaasaw(‘)in
  • eekum ‘Princess’ (a hypocoristic form of the normal word ḥakum)

I mention this fact to back up an idea I have, that the interjection ƛ̓e●ko● is etymologically related to that root łakʷ-.

Admittedly, this would also involve one or more consonant alternations that aren’t usual in Southern Wakashan. But I see it as plausible nonetheless, in an areal / circumstantial view:

  • The ƛ̓ is similar in sound to łʔ, which is a known NCN alternant with ł, itself a sound which all around the Pacific Northwest tends to alternate with ƛ (i.e. ).
  • The k in ‘thank you’ is similar to the  in ‘poor’, and both are somewhat similar to the x̣ in Chinook Jargon’s < klahowya > łax̣áwya(m); for instance in Salish languages south of Makah on the Olympic Peninsula there are many instances of a historically original *k developing into a modern x, x̣. Similar shifts occur in Chinookan.

The fact that these consonant mutations aren’t native to Southern Wakashan might be a strength in this argument.

It could tend to suggest that < klahowya > represents, say, NCN łako●wi ‘poor, destitute’ having become adopted by non-NCN speakers.

Was this NCN word (whose suffixal material is opaque to me) ever used as an interjection, as the Jargon word and ƛ̓e●ko● are?

Whether as a loanword into e.g. Salish or as a possible word of Nootka Jargon, I’m imagining the Jargon word as having a really sensible potential source in SWak.

The corollary of the above line of thinking is that Lower Chinookan would’ve re-analyzed what started out as NCN ~ łak[-]o●wi, as ła-ko●wi, ‘its ko●wi‘. 

If < klahowya(m) > is a borrowing from the north, the final -m on the Lower Chinookan and some variants of the Chinuk Wawa form remains to be explained. Final -m’s are a Salish specialty, not that we have any particularly strong reason to invoke Salish. Except that the 2 next languages to the north of Lower Chinookan on the coast are Lower Chehalis Salish and Quinault Salish. Hmm.

Now, logically we also have to consider the reverse directionality — did SWak łakʷ- words come from Chinuk Wawa? To my mind this is an extremely unlikely proposition, seeing as how SWak languages are pretty clearly united in isolating that short łakʷ- shape out as a root that bears a consistent meaning across their various dialects / languages.

We also have to entertain the possibility that the Southern Wakashan forms, the Chinuk Wawa forms, and the Lower Chinookan form, are only coincidentally similar. In that case, maybe you should disregard everything I’ve just said 🙂

Today’s thought exercise is speculative in nature. But I think it’s worth a bit of reflection, since the Lower Chinookan root –x̣auyam is such an apparent odd duck among Chinookan languages.

What do you think?