Not quite heaven

not quite heaven

(Image credit: Amazon)

A phrase that we know really well from BC’s Kamloops Wawa newspaper has quite a different meaning on the lower Columbia River.

In the “northern dialect” of that missionary newspaper (1891-1904), < sahali ilihi > always means ‘Heaven’.

The literal meaning of that phrase is the ‘above land’; in the BC usage of both JMR Le Jeune and JB Good, < sahali > is understood as a locative reference. Other occurrences of the word in BC show it to be often used as an adverb ‘above; upstream’ and a preposition ‘above, over’.

That phrase is also known in “southern dialect”, where sáx̣ali-íliʔi is noted by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde (2012) dictionary with the same specialized meaning of ‘Heaven’. That usage was quite early, before the reservation period, and it’s interesting to ponder how its literal meaning was understood.

Because, in the community’s later real-world usage from 1855 onward, Grand Ronde Chinuk Wawa developed at least two other usages for this phrase.

Both show how the typical default meaning of sáx̣ali for them was more like an adjectival ‘high’ in elevation, rather than the later, more adverbial ‘above’. Consulting SV Johnson’s 1978 dissertation for a compilation of occurrences of this word in dictionaries, it’s clear that it primarily had the sense of ‘high’ throughout lower Columbia use.

My information on this phrase, in a pronunciation sáx̣li-íliʔ, also comes from CTGR 2012, with my grammatical analysis added here.

One is as an adverb ‘uphill’, for example in an elder’s sentence,

łátwa sáx̣li-íliʔ
go high-land
‘Go uphill.’

The other function of this phrase is as a noun, seen in another elder’s reminiscence,

nayka úl-mán kʰap-uk sáxli-íliʔ ya work.
my old-man in-the high-land he work.

‘My husband was up in the mountains, working (as a logger).’

All of this just goes to show you that we learn about history when we compare between dialects of Chinook Jargon.

What do you think?