A Jargon verb mash-up in Central Coast Salish


(Image credit: Digital DJ Tips)

One useful verb in Hul’q’umin’um’ (sometimes called Cowichan) Salish of Vancouver Island strikes me as a borrowing from Chinuk Wawa…

I’ve recently written about the large number of such Chinook Jargon loans into Hul’q’umin’um’, and as I told you I expected, more keep becoming evident.

Today’s is notable, because hardly any Jargon loans in Salish are verbs; almost all are nouns denoting everyday aspects of modern life.

I’m talking here about Hul’q’umin’um’ me’sh ‘to take it off’, which appears to come from CJ másh ‘to throw (away), get rid of’ (and that word traces back to Canadian French marche). The pronunciation with “E”, resembling English mesh / mash, is what we expect a foreign “A” to be pronounced as by Salish people of southeast Vancouver Island, as we know for example from recordings of them speaking the Jargon.

Like native Salish verb roots, it’s also used in what we linguists call lexically-suffixed forms, such as me’sh-énum ‘to take one’s shoes off’ and me’sh-i’qwum ‘to take one’s hat off’.

Other Central Coast Salish languages, too, show signs of borrowing this Jargon word: there’s:

  • Sechelt (near Vancouver, BC) wásh-at ‘take s[ome]t[hing] from fire/heat/stove’
  • Skwxwu7mesh (North Vancouver, BC) wásh-an’ ‘move (something) away from the fire or heat; seat (a dancer); put (something) in the background; take (a pot) from the fire’, and with the Inchoative suffix wásh-i7 ‘go into the background; be away from the fire’
  • Upriver (Sto:lo) Halq’emeylem (near Vancouver, BC) máx [rhymes with Bach] ‘take it off (of a table example); take it away (from something); take it off (of eyeglasses, of skin off an animal) take s[ome]o[ne] off/away (from something); take s[ome]th[ing] out (of a tooth for example)’. (Note — /x/ and “SH” correspond and alternate with each other in Upriver Halq’emeylem.) Brent Galloway perceives a related, anomalous root (I suspect a later reanalysis) má / má’ ‘come off’ used in complex forms that parallel Chinuk Wawa expressions including ‘castrate’, ‘pull a tooth’, ’empty [i.e. discarded] bottle’
  • Lushootseed (near Seattle, WA) root wə́š ‘distribute’ (rhymes with English gush)
    • used in words for ‘payment’
    • and interestingly in wə́š-təb ‘distribute’ which is nearly identical with  wáštəb ‘Washington’ (maybe it’s even a pun on it, playing on connotations of treaty-guaranteed goods being distributed in older days; notice the unexpected final consonant — “D” would be a normal Lushootseed pronunciation of foreign “N”)
  • maybe in Klallam (northern Olympic Peninsula of WA) mə́s-t ‘to mess something up’ (sounds like English must), perhaps with English mess influencing it, similar to how English man-of-war became Klallam mənuwa; I’m more skeptical of the Klallam Dictionary’s notion of linking mə́s-t with the less frequent and more specialized English verb muss

The broad and unpredictable range of meanings and pronunciations seen above suggests to me that the root isn’t an old native Salish one. For instance, the Klallam word’s “M” sound tends to imply newness, since existing (old) Klallam “M’s” had mostly turned into /ŋ/ (the “NG” sound) by modern times. And “M’s” and “W’s” don’t tend to be correlated with each other from one Salish language to another. I certainly see no corresponding root of Proto-Salish, Proto-Coast Salish, etc. in Aert Kuipers’ “Salish Etymological Dictionary)”.

To my eyes, it looks like various other foreign words — maybe including Jargon wásh ‘to wash; to baptize’ — could have exerted an influence on this word’s development as one of the few possibly borrowed verbs in Salish. Could its odd-man-out status have contributed to that semantic instability?

There’s even more to the story. I’ve also got my eye on an unrelated language that neighbours the above Salish ones: Nuučaan’uł (a member of the Wakashan family). In John Stonham’s fine dictionary — thank you George Lang for the gift! — there’s an adjective waš ‘old [referring to inanimate object]; worn [out]’. This would be pronounced to rhyme with modern English gush, FYI.

I haven’t detected a trace of such a word in Kwak’wala, Heiltsuk, or Makah, which are other Wakashan languages but are spoken farther west and north. The closest matches in form seem to be shaped like Heiltsuk mas ‘two’, m’as ‘what; thing’, was ‘coho that is turning red’, w’asa ‘to hunt with a dog’. In other words, I know no reason for considering waš an inherited, native Wakashan word.

In both Salish and Wakashan languages, there are of course plenty of other words, provably old and native in origin, for ‘moving; removing; throwing away’.

So to put things more precisely, I’m suggesting we have here a Chinook Jargon word that got borrowed into a variety of languages of the Salish Sea. It remained a verb in Salish; it may have become an adjective in Wakashan.

[Editing on February 9, 2020 to add: Lower Chehalis Salish, about a hundred miles southwest of the Salish Sea, has wə́š/wáš ‘to pull’, used in wáš-ay’-ups ‘land otter’ (literally ‘dragging tail’. Similar forms are found in other SW WA Salish languages including Quinault, so the root is old there. Do you suppose it goes back to an ancient (that is, Proto-) Coast Salish meaning of ‘move something’? Could that have split into two regional usages, one ‘move it toward someone’ (SW WA Salish), and one ‘move it away from someone’ (Central Salish) perhaps under the influence of Chinuk Wawa’s mash?]

What do you think?