sámn in Lower Cowlitz Salish

generic salmon

“Generic salmon” (image credit: Montco.Today)

A very short further note on the huge impact of Chinuk Wawa on the Cowlitz tribe of southwest Washington state.

This is a Salish tribe who had early, ongoing, and close contact with the first non-Indigenous residents of the area, the employees and retirees of the Hudsons Bay Co.’s Fort Vancouver.

A result was that many people of Cowlitz heritage shifted to the early-creolized Chinuk Wawa of the lower Columbia River region. I’ve reprinted here a news report of the tribe having to hold an official 1915 meeting in CW because that was the language best known by the most members.

Others retained their Lower Cowlitz Salish language, but with a fairly enormous intake of “Jargon” expressions. I’ve published a scholarly paper showing that, but I’ve also kept on finding more examples to add to it!

Here’s one. It’s not my own discovery.

The masterful Chinuk Wawa dictionary (2012) of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde observes, in its entry for sámən ‘fish’, that Cowlitz Salish has borrowed this word as sámn. They go on to acutely point out that Cowlitz, just like lower Columbia Chinuk Wawa, uses this originally-English, originally-specific word as THE GENERIC term for all fishes!

Cowlitz, like the other members of the Salish family, of course already had a catchall (so to speak!) term for ‘fish’. Its ancient Proto-Salish ancestor language had *ciłn for ‘fish; food’, overtly related to the root for ‘eat’, *ʔił(t)n. Thatʹs still the word used in neighboring modern Upper Chehalis Salish.

P-S also had a root *̣l / *ʕʷəl connoting ‘shiny’, sometimes associated with fishes and forming the basis of the word for ‘fish’ in modern Interior Salish languages.

This is simply to show you what a powerful presence Chinook Jargon has been in the lower Columbia River area. Not only did a lot of people switch over to it as their daily language, but also many others replaced much of their native-language vocabulary with CJ material.

What do you think?