The mixed heritage of ‘hat’ gets a Salish explanation, too

The Jargon word for ‘hat’ already has several more-or-less reasonable etymologies, so let’s muddy things even more!

Those people gave me to eate nuts berries & a little dried fish, and Sold me a hat of ther own taste without a brim, and baskets in which they hold their water—
William Clark

cowlitz hat

Ska-tel-sun, a Samas tillacum with a grass hat” in 1847, painted by Paul Kane (image credit: Stark Museum of Art)

Before going any farther, let’s acknowledge that Paul Kane’s description < Samas tillacum > attached to the above portrait is probably Chinuk Wawa s(h)áwás(h) tílixam ‘Indian person’.

The normal word for ‘hat’ in Chinuk Wawa is siyápuł. This is quite justifiably traced by the 2012 Grand Ronde dictionary back to Chinookan, which is the very best match for the CW word’s sound and meaning.

2012 GR also observes that Nuuchahnulth of Vancouver Island, BC, and the Nootka Jargon (pidgin) that developed from it, have a similar-sounding word for ‘hat’, though it’s not as close in terms of sound.

Canadian French chapeau is also noted as a close-but-no-banana influence. 

Today we can chuck Southwest Washington Salish into the mix. Lower Cowlitz has a word š-yáqʷ[-]ł ‘hat’, and fascinatingly to me, the dictionary of that language goes on to specify ‘(old kind)’.

Presumably this is the traditional woven rain hat known throughout the Northwest Coast?

It’s yet another similar-sounding word to CW siyápuł.

Its structure is mildly mysterious; I’m not finding a relevant root shaped like this yáqʷ elsewhere in Lower Cowlitz or its sister SW WA Salish languages, only ones that mean ‘shake’, ‘twine around’ [hmmm!], or ‘vagina’.

(Contrary to lexicographer M. Dale Kinkade’s analysis, that is the root shape, to judge from the one possessed form he shows, š-yáqʷ-i ‘his hat’ — not *š-yáqʷ[-ł]-i. The suffix is super frequent in SW WA Salish, indicating intransitive verbs and/or intensified meanings.)

However, I suggest we consider these languages’ universally used, obviously old word s-xʷáy'[-]us ‘hat’.

Why do that?

Well, the Cowlitz š-yáqʷ[-]ł possibly is an example of a very frequent Salish historical process of “metathesis” that reversed the (first) two consonants in a word’s root.

A metathesis involving  xʷáy’ yáqʷ is totally plausible in SW WA Salish, where alternations between a fricative like xʷ and a stop like qʷ are common.

I’ve previously written that among the reasons we might infer for Salish speakers metathesizing words so often might be:

  • (A) taboo avoidance of words that sound like spiritually dangerous concepts including deceased people’s names, and/or
  • (B) sheer joy in word play as we often see in puns that show up in traditional stories.

I’m not Salish, so search me.

One way or another, though, it seems beyond mere coincidence that we’ve now found old words in 3 “unrelated” (as linguists think) Indigenous languages, plus French, that all could’ve played a role in the history of Chinook Jargon’s word for ‘hat’.

What do you think?