pre-1857: “Siwash coat”

Another tidy morsel of linguistic archaeology for you…

siwash coat

In his bestselling frontier memoir, James Gilchrist Swan has “Siwash coat” as a Shoalwater Bay term for the traditional women’s fringed skirt of twined cedar strands (1857:155).

This phrase isn’t in any of the old Jargon dictionaries.

This’d be sháwásh kʰút if you wrote it in Grand Ronde spelling, although at GR the term for this garb would presumably be the old Chinookan kʰalakwati.


kʰalakwati (image credit: Thinglink)

The latter noun now shows up in the 2012 GR dictionary with the meaning ‘cedar bark’, but we have seen it in old sources specifically meaning the old-style skirt.

Swan’s literal English translation is ‘Indian gown’, although he doesn’t otherwise point out that this is a Chinuk Wawa phrase. 

Here is where you get reminded that English ‘coat’ became Jargon kʰút ‘skirt’. An example of a documented phrase involving this word is CW kíkwəli-kʰút for ‘a petticoat; a slip’. 

Now, you don’t suppose English ‘skirt’ is a hitherto unrecognized part of kʰút‘s etymology?

Several other Boston, Chinookan, and Salish words starting in “s” were reanalyzed by many Indigenous people without that “s”. (It’s because “s” is a common prefix, easily removed, in various local languages.) So the original [skərt] could’ve conceivably become [kərt] ~ [kəlt] ~ [kut]. Well, maybe. I’m speculating. 

In any case, “siwash coat” is a fine example of why I collect as much Chinuk Wawa as I can from sources other than the old dictionaries. There’s an enormous amount of precious information recorded, which I intend to gather into a single “grand unified” CW dictionary.

What do you think?
qʰáta mayka tə́mtəm?