A word & an Indigenous metaphor discovered: ‘Deceive’ is solved by birds

bird fooling

Black heron fooling fish into seeking shade (image credit: Audubon.org)

I think I’ve just solved a mystery we’ve been examining, by turning up an Indigenous metaphor!

I’ve recently written about the puzzling Chinook Jargon expression for ‘cheat, fool, deceive, trick’, spelled variously as < lalah >, < lahlah >, etc. in the old lower Columbia River sources.

The < lahlah > spelling leads to the logical conclusion in the 2012 Chinuk Wawa dictionary of the Grand Ronde Tribes that we have here munk-láx̣w-lax̣w, built from the Causative prefix (mamuk-) and a reduplication of the word for ‘leaning’ or ‘off-kilter’.

But why, then, did careful observers of the Jargon also keep writing the < lalah > form?

I’ve stumbled onto an answer.

It turns out, Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinookan has the noun stem -láləx̣ ‘bird [generic]’. (Boas 1910:567, 599, 607.)

This is just possibly the source of Father Lionnet’s (1853) < klakla > mouche’ [i.e. ‘a fly’ in English]. And it might perhaps be relatable to Chinuk Wawa kələkələ ‘bird’.

It definitely amounts to our discovering a new noun in earlier Chinook Jargon, láləx̣ ‘bird’.

Now, the 2012 Jargon dictionary from the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde gives us an entry munk-kə́ləkələ ‘make a fool (monkey, literally, “bird”) of. That’s pretty obviously a clearer, to us, synonym for old-time Jargon mamuk-láləx̣.

Whichever synonym you choose, it looks to be a Native metaphor in origin. I find in a Clackamas Upper Chinookan story an old woman muttering “ə́ iłc’ígala łx̣ánitlulamit“, with a translation given — surely via Jargon, by the way — as ‘Oh some bird is fooling me’. (The iłc’ígal(a) there is the noun for ‘bird’ in that language, apparently related to our kələkələ.)

Really interesting to me is how this Clackamas example makes us consider whether mamuk-láləx̣ / munk-kə́ləkələ was originally understood by speakers as (A) make someone be like a (foolish) bird or (B) make like a (tricky) bird and fool someone!!

Because we don’t want to be fooled into following our English-influenced assumptions, do we, like birds…

What do you think?