Lumping splitting words…


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Franz Boas’s very fine “Chinook: An Illustrative Sketch” (1910) includes his student Edward Sapir’s summary…

…of “Diminutive and Augmentative Consonantism in Wishram“, i.e. a language closely related to the Shoalwater-Clatsop speech that Boas describes.

Sapir shows how most consonants of Kiksht (Wishram) Upper Chinookan, “as also without doubt of all other Chinookan dialects”, can systematically mutate to convey a sense of smallness or bigness. For example (put into Grand Ronde’s style of writing), you find i-c’hínun ‘eagle’ versus ił-t’sínun ‘bird’.

One Diminutive & Augmentative relation that Sapir doesn’t mention is pointed out by Boas elsewhere, for Lower Chinookan.  There, he notices that /ł/ can connote largeness, and /ts/ smallness. which gives us the two interrelated Chinookan source words for the Jargon’s yúłqat ‘long’ and yútskat ‘short’.

Boas also notices that Lower Chinookan /t’ł/ and /t’s/ alternate in this way, e.g. between t’łə́x̣ ‘to split large planks’ and t’sə́x̣ ‘to split small pieces of wood’.

Sapir speaks mainly in terms of 3-way consonant sets (unmarked, Diminutive, and Augmentative), while Boas phrases things in terms of 2-way sets (Diminutive & Augmentative).

But the above observations got me thinking about a four-way Chinuk Wawa set of Chinookan-sourced words that I suspect are historically related to each other, expanding Boas’s sound correspondence even further:

  • c’húx̣ ‘peeled or skinned off; chipped off, scraped’
  • t’łə́x̣ ‘torn, ripped’
  • úptsax̣ ‘knife’ (I’ve previously proposed a Chinookan ‘Instrumental’ prefix (u-)p- in the history of several Jargon words, which here would leave a root *-tsax̣ ~ ‘cut/split/tear/peel’)
  • t’sə́x̣ ‘split’

The 2012 Grand Ronde Dictionary of CW notes a vague potential connection between c’húx̣ and t’sə́x̣, but I may be the first to point out that there’s decent evidence for a sound-symbolic relationship among /c’h/ and /t’ł/ (both of which can be the Augmentative), /ts/ (which would seem to be the neutral version), and /t’s/ (Diminutive) in the old language.

Maybe we can think of these as a scale of forcefulness, as much as of bigness vs. smallness?

In any case, we seem to have here a nice little illustration of a very distinctive trait in the grammar of the Chinookan languages that played such a major role in forming Chinuk Wawa.

We can keep our ears open for other possible relationships among CW words that sound similar to each other…

What do you think?