tláy-tə́mtəm, a ‘surprise’ from Salish

dried heart

Dried heart, surprisingly yummy! (image credit: Realtree)

I know we’re not supposed to speak moistly in the time of Covid-19, but I’m so happy to discover this one, I’m spluttering 🙂

Henry Zenk contributed a comment to my recent article “A Lecture on Manliness”, wondering about the Grand Ronde expression tláy-tə́mtəm.

Literally meaning ‘dry-heart’ or ‘dry-thought/feeling’, that phrase expresses being both ‘thirsty’ and ‘surprised’. That second meaning is a, well, surprise!

No obvious inspiration or source for that usage has easily come to light, Henry observes.

That is interesting, because a real majority of words and idioms in Jargon have turned out to have pretty good explanations, as reflections from one or more of the languages that were influential in forming early Chinuk Wawa.

I’ve taken this on as a little challenge, so I turned to my reference information about local Indigenous languages. (Neither French nor English has any common expression like ‘feeling dry’ for ‘surprised’ — my Francophone readers should and will gleefully correct me if I’m off course!)

But first, I want to remind readers that there are other Jargon ways to express ‘surprise’.

  • There’s chaku-tʰáx̣ mayka labúsh ‘your mouth gapes open’ — this could make you dry inside –, which traces to a K’alapuyan word. (There’s a similar expression, literally ‘mouth is open’, in Quinault SW Washington Salish.)
  • And there are the exclamations of surprise aná and alá, which are common among numerous Northwest languages.

Now let’s move on to possible sources for ‘dry-heart’ in Indigenous metaphors.

Southwest Washington Salish languages come to my mind first, because as I’ve previously observed, they’re an excellent candidate for having inspired Chinuk Wawa’s rampant “tumtum” idioms.

  • Lower Cowlitz Salish has at least one expression that suggests to me a similar metaphorical use of ‘dry’ — x̣ə́p-ay[-]q ‘lazy’ (literally ‘dry-inside’, historically it seems from ‘dry-in-head’)!
  • But the jackpot is Upper Chehalis Salish, with its x̣ap-ínuwat- ‘be surprised, become surprised, be amazed’, documented by Franz Boas a century ago as having a literal meaning ‘dry inside’!

We don’t have good documentation of metaphorical uses of ‘dry’ in the other 2 SW WA Salish languages, Quinault and Lower Chehalis, but the above info is sufficient to implicate Salish as the model of ‘dry-heart’ for ‘surprise’ in Jargon.

Just to cover the bases, I’ve looked into Chinookan expressions for ‘surprise’. What I find in Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinookan is a reliance on interjections, similar to the ones noted above for Jargon. In neighboring Kathlamet, I see that, plus a root -k’wachk (as it’d be written in Grand Ronde-style phonetics) ‘to be surprised’. In Clackamas and Kiksht Upper Chinookan I don’t notice anything translated in English as ‘surprise(d)’ or ‘amaze(d)’.

Nor do I find much in the way of ‘surprised’ in the published collection of “Kalapuya Texts”.

So all around, the picture looks like this:

Maybe Chinook Jargon speakers at Grand Ronde simply came up with a phrase ‘dry heart’ that sounded good to them for ‘surprise’. End of story, in that case.

But, if this expression is instead due to the contribution of any “source” language, the one good explanation is that it comes from a Salish way of talking.

And that fits in with a large-scale pattern of previously unrecognized Salish influence that I’ve been demonstrating for several years.

“Chinook” Jargon should not be understood as a pidgin version of older Chinookan languages, but instead, a pidgin of what’s for centuries been known as “Chinook” people’s language.

“Chinook” is a Salish word, meaning more or less ‘the neighbors’, and referring to a very specific Indigenous traditionally-bilingual community.

One little phrase helps us see today the truth in that view, I suggest to you!

What do you think?