‘Pull out’ or ‘pole out’? CW as a tool in Salish research

While working on Thomas Paul’s “Sametl” story with our weekend Zoom group, I may have discovered something…

In that Chinuk Wawa story from a W̱SÁNEĆ (Saanich Salish) teller, published by anthropologist Melville Jacobs in 1936, we find a theme of the main character “Sametl” battling a contrary tide.

(FYI, his name seems to be a local Salish word SÁM˼EL for ‘Foggy’ or ‘Fog’!)

Trying to get ashore, SÁM˼EL brings out his canoe pole, standing it in the presumably sandy bottom to support his canoe against the current. 

Well now…

In the recent dictionary of Mr. Paul’s native SENĆOŦEN (Saanich Salish) language, I happened to notice entries for a root łíʔŋ glossed as ‘pull out’ & a root łíŋ ‘erect’…as in these two example words…

  • LI˼NES (analyzed as łíʔŋ-es = pull.out-put.causative) ‘to pull out the bow [of a canoe] with paddle’
  • LINESTW (analyzed as łíŋ-əstxʷ = erect-causative) ‘to be put up [e.g. mats to protect eyes], lined up [e.g. trees], erected, hoisted up’

The above example form of łíʔŋ is the only one that the dictionary provides. I think this is significant. Maybe łíʔŋ isn’t a productive root. Why? 

Well, I would suggest the idea of the two above roots actually being one, at least in terms of historical etymology.

In other words, could

łíʔŋ (seen by the dictionary as meaning ‘pull out’)

have derived from

łíŋ (pretty clearly meaning ‘erect’) + the infix -ʔ- ‘Actual Aspect’? 

Thus łíʔŋ would literally mean something on the order of ‘presently standing upright’.

That’s the position of your canoe pole when you jam it down through the water in order to get leverage against the bottom of the body of water that you’re traversing. 

It follows that łíʔŋ-es would literally mean ‘to put it (e.g. canoe pole) into an upright position’.

That is, ‘to pole out’, maybe ‘to put the pole out’?

My point is that whichever linguist was given the word łíʔŋ-es by a SENĆOŦEN speaker could easily have misunderstood the specialized phrase ‘pole out’ (if that’s how the speaker defined this word in their local English) as the far more familiar standard English phrase ‘pull out’. 

Such misinterpretations by linguists are not remarkable. Dealing as we do with enormous amounts of data as we try to learn all we can about a language, we’re bound to make some mistakes. 

When I work on the legendary Franz Boas’s notebooks, even his material in Chinuk Wawa (which he was supposedly very fluent in) reveals numerous near-misses and failures to grasp what the speaker was saying. 

And I’ve seen tiny red flags that creep in, like a researcher reporting a meaning ‘come back‘ for what’s obviously a name for humpback salmon, and ‘pine maple‘ for vine maple

What does all of this have to with Chinook Jargon, and why am I writing this on a CJ website?

Well, my friend, I think we’d have been less likely to spot the underlying unity of SENĆOŦEN łíʔŋ & łíŋ if we hadn’t been reading a traditional story told by Thomas Paul in CJ. 

What do you think?
kata maika tumtum?