Discovering “mammok papoose” & more parallels between animals & humans

skookum papoose

Vintage Skookum papoose mailer, 1946 (image credit: Etsy)

A newly discovered phrase in BC Chinook Jargon…

Kind of unfortunate that the observer who reports it tries, misguidedly, to “correct” it!

On the other hand, the same reporter does another service by emphasizing that traditional Aboriginal salmon-fishing practices did an excellent job of sustaining the stocks:

mammok papoose

papoose 2

Indians not to blame for the loss of the salmon

     The Indians did not deplete the salmon.

     Their barricades across the stream were opened at the ends as soon as they had as many fish as the women could prepare for drying that day. They were opened, as the Indians said, to let the salmon go upstream to “mammok papoose” (jargon for reproduce). (Correct Chinook, mammok tenas.)

     I have gone to their barricades at al times, unexpectedly, and in the middle of the night, and found that it was so. 

     When the Indian population was great, salmon were in abundance. It was after the Indians had become greatly reduced, that export commerce depleted the three smaller years of each four…

— from page 47 of Canadian Technical Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences (Department of Fisheries and Oceans, 1987)

Papus ‘baby; child’ is a word that I’ve consistently found to be genuine British Columbia Chinuk Wawa.

  • From the Thompson-Stó:lo border area, John B. Good’s 1880 vocabulary has < tenas papoose > for ‘small child’.
  • Kamloops Wawa‘s style of Jargon uses just plain papus quite a bit.
  • A letter from BC settler H.M. Ball uses the word several times.

This same noun is documented early in the language’s homeland; Father Demers records it in circa-1840 Fort Vancouver usage. But it’s pretty uncommon in documents from that region.

What’s totally new to us is the verb < mammok papoose >, i.e. mamuk-papus ‘reproduce’ (‘make babies’).

The suggested synonym < mammok tenas >, despite being presented to us here as if it were common knowledge among Jargon speakers, is quite a rarity. It’s known from the obscure 1853 lexicon of Father Lionnet (circa 1848 data from the lower Columbia River): < mamuk tanas > ‘bring forth’, French enfanter (i.e. ‘reproduce’). I’m not sure we have traces of this expression from any later, which is to say more widely known, vocabularies of the language.

I’m inferring, from the sum total of my knowledge of Chinuk Wawa, that these 2 synonymous verbs were primarily used with reference to non-human animals. In Jargon as in English, ‘make babies’ seems an uncommon and maybe a bit taboo expression. We speak freely of a woman who:

  • is háyásh-k’wətʰín (‘big-belly’) ‘pregnant’
  • or pʰáł-k’wətʰín (‘full-belly’) ‘pregnant’
  • or pʰáł-lisák (‘full-bag’) ‘pregnant’
  • or who míłayt tənas ‘has a child (in her belly)’ ‘pregnant’
  • because she chaku-míłayt-tənás (‘become-having-child’) ‘got pregnant’
  • and then t’łáp tenás (‘get/find child’) ‘give birth, have the baby’

Yet I know of no established, common way of talking about a man and woman who ‘make a baby’ in this language.

By contrast — for salmon, for game animals, and for livestock, though, it feels simply descriptive to me to say ‘make babies’.

And linguistically, this is really interesting. Because mamuk- causative verbs prototypically require a degree of conscious volition, doing the action on purpose, human-style. (Hat tip to Tom Larsen and Henry Zenk for this observation!!) Animals are not human.

So, here we have additional evidence to something I found in a paper I published in 2007 about pronouns: larger, more important animals are grammatically treated very much like humans in Chinuk Wawa.

What do you think?