Circa 1830s: Ross’s early Jargon “pig” is Salish

salish pig

Salish pig? (Image credit: One Arrow Artisan Bacon on Facebook)

[Edited to correct the date — Ross resigned from the Hudsons Bay Co. in 1825, which pushes the date of the Salish pig back to Fort Vancouver times or before.] Far and away the most normal word for ‘pig’ in Chinuk Wawa is kúshu, from French cochon.

A few other words for the concept are known, though; < polobax > ‘pig’ in Ross 1849 is a real oddity.

(It’s presumably a typo for *< polokax >. I’ll get around to explaining that.)

This word is probably 1830s data at the latest, as SV Johnson’s 1978 dissertation observes; it may even precede what I often call early-creolized Chinook Jargon.

Ross helped found Fort Astoria / Fort George in 1811, and stuck around to work for the NWC & HBC for several years; only the tail end of his fur-trade career was late enough to involve the creole community of Fort Vancouver. Ross had removed back east to the Red River Colony, a.k.a. Winnipeg, by 1840.

When I first noticed this early Chinuk Wawa rarity, I took it right away as coming from a Chinookan tribal language, because there, -əks, -uks, etc. are forms of the noun plural suffix. In fact I published a paper advocating that view.

But I can tell you now, for sure, that it’s Salish instead.

That’s because it’s confirmed, not by other Chinuk Wawa documents, but by serious linguistic research on Coast Salish.

The only languages it turns up in, to my knowledge, are Coast Salish:

  • modern-day Cowlitz p’alə́k’ʷ-qs ‘pig’ (literally ‘digs-with.the.nose’)
  • 1880s (?) Upper Chehalis < Pe-lokʻ-ks > ‘pig’, < olū’kuks > ‘pig’ (the second form is probably just a mistaken recopying of the first one by Franz Boas)
  • 1850s Southern Dxʷləšucid (Nisqually Lushootseed) < po-loʹ-kūks > ‘hog’

I haven’t found this word in the two coastal SW WAshington Salish languages, Lower Chehalis and Quinault.

Does its Cz-Up-Nisq distribution tell us something about the early, HBC-affiliated farming history of the region? It doesn’t seem to be analyzable in modern Lushootseed (where the closest matches for the root are evidently the duds p’alq’ ‘turned out of shape’ and p’ə́ləq’ ‘flash, blinking light’), but it’s easily understood within Cz.

One thought is that < polobax > could’ve taken root (pun intended) in the Cowlitz language in one of the Hudsons Bay Company’s agricultural enterprises, either around Fort Vancouver (est. 1824) and/or in the area of Cowlitz Farm (est. 1839), and then spread to Upper Chehalis and Lushootseed via Fort Nisqually (est. 1832).

Keeping in mind Ross’s departure from the PNW before 1840, the late-established Cowlitz Farm is a less likely setting. Perhaps, though, between Forts Vancouver and Nisqually, the word could’ve developed currency as a Jargon term.

Note that there are several early Native words for other introduced domesticated animals, e.g. ‘cow’, in SW WA Salish. Perhaps we’ll find more evidence of early Chinook Jargon farming words from Salish?

What do you think?