Also a Chinookan etymology for tunús (and ‘9’?)

Little Rock 9

Little Rock 9 (wík kʰə́ltəs łáska, uk łíʔil-tílixam)* (image credit: HistoryLink)

…Plus new news about Chinookan diminutives and Franz Boas’s level of fluency in Chinuk Wawa.

There is a lot going on here with a little!

The Grand Ronde Chinuk Wawa word tunús ‘a little’ is an adverb and a quantifier (my analysis, not what you see in the 2012 dictionaʷy), whose pronunciation has been a puzzle.

Tunús, unique to Grand Ronde, is an unexpected pronunciation — but it’s reasonably clearly related to Chinook Jargon’s firmly established adjective tənəs, tənas, etc. meaning ‘small, little’ (which also gave us tənás ‘child’).

That basic Jargon word is known to trace back to the “Nootka Jargon” of the late 1700s, and ultimately to a Nuučaan’uł word or words based on a noun root t’an’a ‘child’.

Grand Ronde’s variant pronunciation tunús vaguely calls to mind the “ínatay” (“other side” of the South Yamhill River) Grand Ronde pronunciations that were associated with southern Oregon tribes, like the Umpquas, Rogue Rivers, and Shastas. They are remembered as using an adjective/quantifier tinís, tənés, and so on.

There was indeed quite a bit of variation happening within the new reservation melting pot in the second half of the 1800s. So I’d like to suggest a far more precise inspiration for tunus, coming from a “usual suspects” G.R. ethno-linguistic group: the Chinookans.

A number of unanticipated insights might result from this line of thinking.

In the following examination, I’ve put Chinookan words into a Grand Ronde spelling style, to make things easier to compare.

We should look first to Chinookan ADVERBS/QUANTIFIERS, because those are the functions of the Jargon’s tunus:

  • Extremely important to notice is an adverbial ROOT #1, which varies in pronunciation, but that is plausibly explainable as “Chinookan sound symbolism“:
    • Sapir 1901:58 (Wishram/Kiksht Upper Chinookan) t’sú[-]nus ‘a little’ and a reduplicated t’sú[-]nus-t’su[-]nus ‘just a little bit’, both of which match Grand Ronde’s usage of tunus and tunus-tunus. (See comment below at ROOT 4 about the vowel “U”.) Sapir writes these as single words, but I think we’re seeing the same things as…
    • Jacobs 1958-1959:418 (Clackamas Upper Chinookan) t’ú-nút’ł ‘exceedingly little of’ (i.e. literally ‘too little of’). Compare both Grand Ronde Chinuk Wawa t’úx̣əlq’a‘too much; excessively’ [Chinookan; originally perhaps t’ú[-]x̣əl[-]q’a], and 1910:671 (Kathlamet Lower Chinookan) nút’ł ‘a little’ (possibly also used as an adjective stem, to judge by Clackamas (Jacobs 1958-1959:461). Notice the “U” vowel again (see ROOT 4).
  • Not really of use to us is ROOT #2, seen in these Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinookan examples:
    • 1894:248 mə́nx-ka ‘(for) a little only’
    • 1894:9 mank ‘a little’
    • 1910:567 mə́nx-i ‘a little while’

Secondarily, we can look to Chinookan ADJECTIVES:

  • Most relevant in this category, but a stretch, is ROOT #3, found perhaps in Shoalwater-Clatsop only. (Boas 1910:666 explicitly analyzes this as having the form -nukstx̣, but I’m wondering if it begins with a vowel a, from the examples shown here. ROOT #3 is just conceivably related to the above nus/nut’ł; however, we don’t yet have an understanding of any supposed suffixal –kstx̣.) (Also, see comment at ROOT #4 about vowel “U”.)
    • Boas 1894:38 i-t-anúkstx̣ ‘its smallness’; page 43, ‘a small [f.]’; page 92, ‘small’
    • Boas 1910:621 g-i-t-anúkstx̣ ‘little’
    • Boas 1894:261 i-[a-]anúkstx̣ ‘small’
    • Boas 1894:196 g-i-anúkstx̣ ‘a small one’; page 224 ‘a small’
    • 1894:234 i-ł-anúkstx̣ ‘small’
  • Less directly involved in understanding the story of Chinuk Wawa’s tunús is ROOT #4, found in all Chinookan languages:
    • 1910:641 (Wishram/Kiksht) i-ła-k’úits ‘very little’ — compare 1894:38 (Shoalwater-Clatsop) i-a-qwáił ‘large’, differing only by Chinookan sound-symbolism in the root consonants and vowels. [**Also see footnote 2 for a fun further point!]

This point seems not to have been made before — that in at least some Chinookan, a root-vowel change to u was also used in forming Diminutives. It may be highly significant that neighbouring Lower Chehalis Salish, spoken by so many Chinookan people, is the “epicenter” of the use of a Diminutive suffix -uʔ. (It’s far less frequent in the closely related Cowlitz and Upper Chehalis, although nearly as common in Quinault.) Yet another indicator of the strong influences back & forth between Lower Chehalis and Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinookan?

Moving on…the remaining evidence is negative, having little to contribute for our understanding of tunus:

    • Hardly relevant is ROOT(/PARTICLE) #5/6 (I suspect these two are related to each other):
      • 1910:646 (Shoalwater-Clatsop) gənəm ‘little (plural)’; Boas 1901:98 (Kathlamet) ksə́m ‘small (plural)’
  • NOT A ROOT AFTER ALL, and just tangentially relevant to the Jargon:
    • 1894:197 n-i-ł-gn-g-águ-x̣ ‘it [his soul] is too small [for the sick person’s body]’ (Boas analyzes the composition of this word in this way. [Linguists, read that page for the excruciating details, lol.] The literal meaning therefore seems to be something like ‘it is/goes around him’ — so, it’s got nothing to do with smallness. It’s worth adding that the sentence preceding this also seems to have a literal meaning that diverges from Boas’s published gloss of ‘It nearly fills him…’, making no actual mention of ‘fill/full’, and instead meaning I think ‘It [the sick person’s soul] is/goes all around near him [the sick person]’.) The explanation here is that Charles Q’lti was explaining the meaning of the story in which this word occurs by using Chinuk Wawa, and Franz Boas did not have a great grasp of the nuances of the “Jargon”. Stay tuned to my future writing for much more about that previously unresearched fact.

Boiling all of this down to extract the valuable oil that’s in it ( 🙂 ), I suggest that Grand Ronde’s unique tunús is a reservation-era innovation due to the strong and influential local presence of Upper Chinookan community members. Their tribal languages had expressions very similar in sound to this, having the relevant meaning of ‘(a very) little (bit)’.

What do you think?

*Wík-kʰə́ltəs łáska, uk łíʔil-tílixam is my suggested translation of ‘Black Lives Matter’. We’ve been seeing numerous Indigenous-language expressions of this idea, and as usual, you can’t just literally translate the English, word-for-word. Instead, Native languages have to decolonize the thinking in order to speak grammatically; for example, a Secwépemc Salish translation has it as ‘black people, the relatives honour them’. My Chinuk Wawa version says ‘they’re not worthless, the black people’.

**Another awesome footnote: Call me crazy, but could ‘nine’ in Chinuk Wawa have an etymology in a Chinookan ‘little’? The higher single-digit numerals in hundreds, likely thousands, of languages have analyzable etymologies that reflect traditional finger-counting. For instance older Lower Chehalis tə́x̣ə́m ‘6’ is from Proto-Coast-Salish ‘opening up, branching out’, which inspired later Lower Chehalis sít-əč ‘6’ from Proto-Tsamosan ~ ‘crossing over the hand’. So then, what if CW k’wáyts, which comes from Chinookan, goes back to a Chinookan expression like ROOT #4, k’úits, thus literally meaning ‘a little (less than ten)’? If accurate, a Chinookan etymology would then make the presence of k’wayts ‘nine’ in the unrelated Sahaptian languages a loanword, from Chinookan or Chinuk Wawa.