kíkwəli pi Sproat

Gilbert Malcolm Sproat’s 1868 book “Scenes and Studies…” implies a unique etymology for a common Chinuk Wawa word…


Partially submerged at Louie Bay (image credit: GuillermoBarron.com)

Sproat comments on page 139 that the “Jargon Chinook” word < Keekilly >, which he glosses as “low, deep down”, is mighty similar to his personal knowledge of Nuuchahnulth < Keekqulh >, translated by him as “submerged.”

His point in highlighting the similarity in this pair of words (and several others) is that Nuuchahnulth and (old) Chinookan must be related to each other. The consensus as of 2020 among linguists is that those languages aren’t sisters, but we can still draw a useful hypothesis from Sproat’s thinking:

That Nuuchahnulth, perhaps via the pidgin “Nootka Jargon” that’s known to have influenced the earliest documented Chinuk Wawa, may be among the sources of CW kíkwəli ‘down, under; low, beneath, bottom’. (I’m quoting the definitions from the 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary there.) 

That’s a new idea — at least, it hasn’t received serious consideration in previous research on Chinook Jargon.

There’s been wide agreement, and convincing demontration, that this Chinuk Wawa word traces directly back to a pan-Chinookan uninflected particle meaning ‘down, below’. (The 2012 dictionary cites Lower Chinookan forms, but cognates of the same particle are found in Kiksht and Clackamas Upper Chinookan as well.)

But it wouldn’t be beyond belief if we found a similar potential source word in Nuuchahnulth. We’ve observed any number of times on this website that several CW lexemes (for ‘water’, ‘hat’, and other concepts) have quite similar-sounding correspondents that are native to both Chinookan and Nuuchahnulth. 

My own difficulty lies in not yet being able to find a word like < Keekqulh > “submerged” in either the “T’aat’aaqsaapa Cultural Dictionary” or the “Concise Dictionary” of Nuuchahnulth. 

Well, then, might Sproat’s local Nuuchahnulth-speaking friends have borrowed the CW word into their language?

What do you think?