The non-cussin’ way to talk about 2-spirits


(Image credit: Two Spirit Medicinals, Battleground, WA)

I recently wrote about the rare old Chinuk Wawa word < bur-dash >, concluding that it’s a Canadian cuss word for ‘homosexual’.

The rest of the story, since there’ve always been more than straight folks, is to dis-cuss them seriously.

We have in the Jargon a couple of respectful ways to speak of Two Spirits, who are traditionally seen as gifted with special powers, and valued for that trait.

Here I’ll express my thanks to the language program of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, which is the source of my information.

One expression of the concept is sítkum-mán-pi-łúchmən, literally ‘half-man-and-woman’.

We can note that sítkum also routinely means ‘part; partly’ in Chinuk Wawa, mán is also ‘male’, pi of course can mean ‘or’, and łúchmən ‘female’.

So you might also think of this expression as saying ‘partly-man-and-[partly] woman’, or ‘half-male-or-[half] female’.

The other way is to say sítkum-łúchmən, which is literally ‘half-woman’, or ‘part(ly)-female’.

The definition accompanying these phrases in the material provided to me is ‘a “Two Spirit” (a man or woman…who adopts the role of the opposite gender)”.

Now you know a respectful way to speak of such people.

I would just add, from my own research, there’s one literal translation of ‘two-spirit’ in Chinook Jargon that I expect nobody will use. It’s the expression < mokst tomtom > ( to show its “Chinuk Pipa” spelling; it would hypothetically be mákwst-tə́mtəm in Grand Ronde style), which is already “taken” — in British Columbia CJ, that’s the common expression for ‘doubting’! (Being of two minds, you see.)

However, there exist other words for ‘spirit; soul’ in the language, so I won’t be surprised if some folks bring in e.g. mákwst-p’ís, literally ‘two-soul’.

And in BC Jargon you could form the parallel to that, < mokst sili >.

Both of the preceding use nouns originally from Salish languages, but we know at least one other word for a spirit or soul, wín, in old Chinuk Wawa. It’s from English wind, and it also means your ‘breath, breathing’ in CW, so to my ears at least, if I tried calling someone mákwst-wín, it would seem as if I meant they had unusual endurance or talked too much!

And speaking of referring to people…

I heard someone point out the other day that if you get confused about people’s pronouns in modern English, where that’s a rapidly evolving part of the grammar, you might want to simplify things by talking a Native language instead!

This works well with Chinuk Wawa (as with Salish and many other languages) — in that there are no separate ‘she’ and ‘he’, just one third-person singular yáka.

And unlike French, Spanish, and so forth, there’s just one word for ‘they’, łáska. No consideration of gender there either.

So if someone tells you “my pronoun is yáka“, I think that means you’re lucky enough to practice your conversational Jargon.

What do you think?