Noses, Salish metaphors, & French rarities

nose of land

A nose of land? (image credit: biodrunk)

I’ve got two things on my nose, er, mind.

In her foreword to her book “Chinook-English Songs” (see “LBDB: Prose, not lyrics“), Laura Belle Downey Bartlett coined a Chinook Jargon name for the southern tip of South America, via which so many Settlers came to the Pacific Northwest:

< Okoke nose yah-ka nem, Horn >, literally ‘that nose called Horn’.

What she did there is not the the first occurrence of the common Jargon noun nús ‘nose’ in its extended sense as a ‘promontory’, ‘point’, or ‘cape’, even a ‘sandspit’, of land. It shows up in JK Gill’s dictionary edition of 1902 (page 46) or earlier. I’ve also seen it in George Coombs Shaw’s (1909:18).

Now, to my knowledge as a linguistic researcher, ‘nose’ (which indeed is the source of Jargon nús) isn’t commonly used in that sense in dialects of English, any more than nez in another European source language, French, is. (My Petit Larousse lists ‘cap, promontoire’ well down its lists of senses, a position that I take as suggesting it’s a somewhat infrequent usage.)

What now comes to mind for me is a massively widespread Salish metaphor.

Throughout that family of Pacific Northwest indigenous languages — therefore suggesting that it’s quite an ancient practice — the native words and suffixes meaning literally ‘nose’ also express the ‘point’ or ‘tip’ of something, whether in the environment, on the human body, etc. For example in Upper Chehalis Salish of Chinuk Wawa’s lower Columbia River-area heartland, táw-qs is literally ‘big-nose’ on a human, and the same suffix shows up in s-łáw-qs, a ‘point of land’.

I can’t rule out the existence of the same metaphor in other Indigenous language families of this region, but the data are less clear.

To take another lower Columbia River language, Lower Chinookan, as a comparison, Franz Boas 1910 has the following sort-of-similar-sounding forms that look to have relevant meanings:

  • page 600 [root] < -katcx̣ > i.e.  /kačx/ ‘nose’ [evidently of human]
  • page 601 < -tcxa > /čxa/ [root] ‘point of sealing-spear’
  • page 614 < -tk > /tk/ [suffix] ‘point of an object’ in words such as ‘arrowhead’ & ‘forearm’ as well as in ‘bone arrow-point’ on page 605
  • page 617 < -tcx̣ict > /čxišt/ [root] ‘nose’ [of elk]
  • page 633 < tctāx̣ > /čtax/ ‘around a point’ [full word]

It’s beyond my current grasp of Chinookan linguistic (pre-)history to assess whether the above forms are or are not related to one another. Just up the coast, I haven’t found any obvious connections between ‘nose’ and ‘tip, point’ in Quileute, which is a member of a third unrelated family (Chimakuan).

Summarizing for the moment, the most likely source of the Chinook Jargon metaphor NOSE::POINT is the local Salish languages.

While we’re nosing around into the background of Jargon ‘noses’, let’s get back to French.

I take note of James G. Swan’s 1850s memoir (1857:418) with < le nezʹ >, and Theodore Winthrop’s (published 1863:225) with < le nez >. These two southwest Washington state Jargon sources are analyzed as  being unconnected with each other in SV Johnson’s dissertation (1978:13). Therefore it would be unlikely that either had copied from the other. So this seems to be a genuine, if rare, Jargon word from Canadian/Métis French, and one that we’ve largely overlooked. I expect the pronunciation tended toward [ləní] in Jargon, judging by the well-documented Grand Ronde Chinuk Wawa word nipʰersi ‘Nez Perce Indian(s)’.

So add this to the long list of French words that became Chinook Jargon in what I call the ‘early creolized’ era when mixed-race families became the nucleus of the CJ speech community. (Mind you, the English-derived nús is known in CJ by the time of Father Lionnet’s manuscript, published in 1853.)

But I repeat, < le nez > in Jargon isn’t known to have referred to anything but human body parts. That metaphor, it seems, has to be credited to SW Washington Salish.

qʰáta máyka tə́mtəm?
What do you think?