1841: Previously unknown early CW place names…and Native humour??

A Chinuk Wawa place name that I hadn’t known of 1in the lower Columbia River area…

…leads to some potentially important discoveries. 

I was researching a bit about the location of “Cathlapotle”, and lo and behold, from one of our greatest authorities on Pacific NW history, up came a Chinuk Wawa toponym I hadn’t known of:

BACHELORS ISLAND, in Clarke County. On Saturday, March 29, 1806, the Lewis and Clark Expedition gave this island the name Cathlapole (one spelling being Quathiapotle) Island after the Indian nation of that name, who lived near there. The Wilkes Expedition, 1841, named it “Pasauks Island” and what is now Bachelor Island Slough was called Pigeon Creek. Recent charts carry the name Bachelor for both features.

— Edmond S. Meany, “Origin of Washington Geographic Names” (1923)

Quoted at https://www.cascadedistrict.com/places/105350, which is the source of this good aerial image:

pasauks island

Another website cites the name from Wilkes’ 1846 publication as < Pasainks >, but it was actually < Pasaiuks >.

This of course is Chinuk Wawa pʰasáyuks ‘Canadian, French’. Why?

Did some French Canadian(s) settle here early in the frontier period, as they did in many nearby locales?

Sure. The same maps we’ll be talking about below include “Plumondon” (Plamondon) Island, Bachelet Island, and Framboise (La Framboise?) Bluff, among others bearing Canadian fur-trade surnames. (As well as places named for other important individuals and ethnic groups of the time there, like Casenove, Wyeth, Ramsey, McLaughlin [McLoughlin], Kanaka, and so on.)

Anyhow, in researching this, I noticed that the Wilkes Expedition charted additional places around there with CW names, hardly any of which I’d previously had awareness of. 

This is because researchers of the Jargon have always focused on Horatio Hale’s linguistic description of CW, rather than noticing the maps that were published with it in (a separate volume of) the Expedition’s 1846 report.

mitlait river

The scene of the action (image credit: Library of Congress)

Here are the other 14 Chinuk Wawa place names I’m finding there besides < Pasaiuks > Island, thanks to the US Library of Congress website:

  1. < O-lu-man > (‘old man’) Creek
  2. < Maimi > (‘downstream’) Run
  3. < Sunday > Point, assuming this location had some connection with e.g. gathering for Christian worship
  4. < Kintshotsh > (‘British’) Island
  5. < Kanem > (‘canoe’) Island
  6. < Pitshik > (‘green/blue’?) Point
  7. < Latapl > (‘table’) Bluff
  8. < Mitlait > (‘there is a’ (!!)) River
  9. Lalu > (‘wolf’?) Islets
  10. < Smoke > (‘smoke/fog’) Island 
  11. < Paia > (‘fire’) Island 
  12. < Snas > (‘rain’) Inlet 
  13. < Wapantoo > (‘Indian potato’) Branch or Lower Mouth of the Willamette (elsewhere it’s < Wapautoo >) 
  14. < Kanaka > ‘Hawaiian/Pacific Islander’ Island

I’m thinking we have quite a number of additions to make to our knowledge of “general Lower Columbia” Chinuk Wawa!

The Jargon names peter out by the time you get upstream to Fort Vancouver.

Is this is highly significant as I’m thinking it is? It would appear as if, proceeding from that place (the epicenter of Jargon use) downstream through Lower Chinookan country — in other words the oldest heartland of CW — numerous local landmarks were routinely known by CW names.

Hmm, and there are linguists who would claim that “pidgin / creole” languages such as this one don’t have any place names!

I have the impression these were actually-used, recognized local names in fluent early-creolized Chinuk Wawa.

It would be extraordinary for a naval mapping crew in the mid-19th century to have bestowed fanciful, impressionistic names on a large number of places in a “new” part of the world. Looking at other regions mapped by Wilkes’ “U.S. Ex. Ex.”, and other folks’ nautical maps of the Pacific NW, we find a very great preponderance of (1) local names already in use and (2) new names commemorating some specific European/American individual. We hardly find any (3) imaginative stuff like “Old Man Creek”, or pairings like our adjacent “Smoke” and “Fire” Islands. 

The above listed toponyms almost all exemplify CW’s strong pattern of noun+noun compounding. The second members in these compounds, their “heads”, in linguist talk, would have been in CW: 

  • nús (‘nose’) ‘point’
  • tsə́qw / chə́qw (‘water’) ‘river’ and perhaps also ‘branch’ and ‘inlet’
  • (tənəs-)íliʔi (literally ‘(little-)land’) ‘island’
  • (I don’t know how to say a ‘bluff’ (“high steep bank“) in 1840s Jargon, unless it’s the known early expression sáx̣ali íliʔi (‘high land’); up in BC half a century later, it was definitely < blof > (and sáx̣ali íliʔi was ‘heaven’!)

Note: We’ve previously seen, in the example of the various PNW places named míməlust+[(tənəs-)íliʔi] (‘dead.people+(little-)land’) ‘cemetery island’, that the Diminutive prefix tənəs- was known to sometimes drop out, leaving just its own head noun, resulting in the simpler míməlust+íliʔi. CW prefers to phrase stuff as tersely as it can. It’s a human language, that way. 🙂 

By inference, perhaps a latáp+[sáx̣ali íliʔi] for ‘Table Bluff’ was sometimes realized as latáp+íliʔi.

Now, ‘Green/Blue Point’ and ‘Downstream Run’ are not compounds, just regular adjective-and-noun phrases, and as such they’re unremarkable in every way. However, I think it’s worth observing that if ‘Run’ reflects known early CW kúri tsə̀qw (‘run(ning) water’) ‘a falls, rapids’, then máyʔmi [kúri tsə̀qw] could likewise have also been just máyʔmi tsə̀qw. (I have not actually found a noun ‘run’ in a relevant meaning in any nautical/maritime dictionaries so far.)

A final possible exemplar of this reduction rule could involves possible occurrences of the known early CW tənəs-tsə́qw (‘little-water’) ‘creek’. In the expressions above using “creek”, “inlet”, and “branch”, this head noun could very well have been simplified to úlman+tsə́qw, wáptʰu+tsə́qw, and snás+tsə́qw.

The only item in our tally that might give us pause is this < Mitlait > River. Míɬayt isn’t really known to be used as a noun in Jargon, so this place name would appear not to be a compound (defined as noun+noun), but instead a “copular” (be-verb) predicate, literally ‘there’s water (there)’. Such structures are very unusual in known CW place names.

It’s more or less imaginable to me that e.g. a local pilot — these were an absolute necessity for larger vessels to take on board in unfamiliar waters — would’ve been a knowledgeable Native guy who was answering the US Naval crew’s questions about landmarks in CW, and in at least this case, might joke that “Duh, there’s water over there!”

I’m duty-bound to report an alternative possibility, though. It’s also plausible (but requires a more specific context than we’re provided by the Wilkes maps) that this place name is intended as a sort of compound, míɬayt(-)tsə̀qw (‘sit(ting) water’). That’s to say, if the body of water in question ran sluggishly, as I have personally seen plenty streams in its area doing, its CW name may actually mean about the same as present-day local English ‘slough‘. And that in itself would be a new CW discovery for us!

Bonus fact: there’s also a place on these maps called “The Swash“, a beautiful old nautical word in English for the rush of seawater up the beach after the breaking of a wave“. You’re welcome! 🙂 

What do you think?