Possessed penis

A famous high-visibility one (image credit: KickAssFacts)

A basic anatomical word whose etymology hasn’t been fully explained before…

Pálaks ‘penis’ is definitely from Salish, a fact that the Grand Ronde Tribes 2012 dictionary of Chinuk Wawa notes, pointing out SW Washington Salish (s-)pálq. That root word goes all the way to ancient Proto-Salish.

This still leaves the final -s to explain, and that’s also basic Salish.

The 3rd person possessor suffix on nouns, likewise reconstructed all the way to Proto-Salish, is -s.

So Jargon’s pálaks is from local Salish pálq-s ‘his penis’ / ‘their penises’.

(Nouns and 3rd person markers in Salish are unspecified for plural vs. singular number, so both readings are legitimate. Gender isn’t grammatically indicated either by Salish -s, but pálq-s is a rather gendered organ by its nature.)

Add this one to the solid pattern of anatomical items in Chinook Jargon that come from possessed forms in the region’s tribal languages.

For example, wherever you find a Jargon body-part word with /ia/ or /ya/ as its first vowels, that’s a 3rd-person possessed Chinookan term; unlike Salish -s, this specifically indicates a masculine possessor:

  • tʰiyáʔwit ‘leg’
  • siyáxus ‘eye(s); face’
  • yáqsu ‘hair’

Scholars of pidgin-creole languages such as Chinuk Wawa seriously suggest that a reason why we often find possessed body parts in these languages is the pointing-and-asking approach:

Newcomers to a place, trying to communicate with local folks, point at anything they want to know the word for.

Interesting (from our current perspective) that you could point at someone’s penis about 200 years ago.

But we’re told by historical sources that many Native people of the lower Columbia River region dressed appropriately for the mild temperate climate, going more or less nude much of the time. The pronunciation of Salish q as in our Chinook Jargon word may reflect the Diminutive consonant symbolism of Chinookan speakers, as though the naked person being pointed out was a little boy. Or a cold man.

Also interesting that we have so many Chinookan-sourced anatomical words in the Jargon, but a Salish one (with foreigner-type pronunciation of the original /q/, even) for ‘penis’. In Lower Chinookan, the Shoalwater-Clatsop word for ‘his penis’ is known: iák’alxix. That same noun is what we find in Clackamas and Kiksht Upper Chinookan.

So I hypothesize that we also have here an addition to the abundant evidence of Lower Chinookan people’s use of Salish:

Among other points, it would seem as if they expressed more-or-less taboo anatomy in Salish.

This could help us understand why the Chinuk Wawa word for ‘vagina’ is Salish as well.

Skwích might in fact be a pronunciation of the possessed form s-kʷə́č-s (in Grand Ronde-type spelling, this would be s-kwə́ch-s) ‘her vagina’. There’s a good deal of assimilation of word-final sibilants in the Lower Chehalis Salish that was used by the Shoalwater-Clatsops. For instance the Reflexive suffix -cəš (-tsəsh) is frequently pronounced as just -č (-ch).

It interests me to consider whether this unique pronunciation trait of Lower Chehalis (I haven’t noticed it occurring in the other 3 SW WA Salish languages) could itself be due to Lower Chinookan’s strong influence. I mean, could it be that there were so many non-mother-tongue users of Lower Chehalis that their distinctive pronunciation habits became the norm?

Once again, lots of history emerges from a single Jargon word!

What do you think?