Lionnet ‘arrow’ mystery, and Salish?

Alongside what we now consider the usual word for ‘arrow’, Father Lionnet’s 1853 Chinuk Wawa vocabulary presents a mystery…

chehalis arrowheads

Chehalis arrowheads (image credit: DailyKos)

He gives a synonym < tsatsots > that I’m gonna bet you’ve never seen before.


We know that the word spelled as < kalaïten > here is from Chinookan languages; see the 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary, under kalaytən, for more background on it. (It’s also used for ‘bullet; (lead) shot; a bow’.)

< Tsatsots > isn’t from any source that’s evident in my first research into it…

In the main Chinookan source-language of CW, Natítanui (Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinookan), I find the following forms (aside from the kalaytən type) —

All interesting, but none seem like clues to Lionnet’s CW < tsatsots >.

So let’s look at Southwest Washington Salish, what some linguists refer to as the “Tsamosan” languages, which also played a huge role in forming CW.

In Lower Cowlitz, for example, we find

  • s-cáqʷ ‘arrow’ (perhaps from the word for ‘paint(ed)’)
  • ʔéʔɬp-tn ‘arrow’ (literally ‘little shooting instrument’)
  • s-q̓ʷúyx̣ ‘arrow’
  • síɬ ‘arrow, bullet’ (just possibly this is a metaphor, ‘eater’)
  • sɬ[-]ú ‘arrowhead’ (seemingly ‘little arrow’)
  • šáw-qs ‘iron arrowhead’ (literally ‘bone-point’)

Upper Chehalis and Lower Chehalis have similarly varied vocabularies for arrows, but no forms resembling < tsatsots >.

But I’m getting an additional idea for where to seek an etymology for this word. You’ve seen above that words for ‘arrow’ tend to get repurposed for ‘bullet’, and to involve the idea of ‘shooting’. A SW WA Salish root for ‘shooting’ that’s used in Indigenous words for ‘gun’ is c̓íč̓- ~ c̓ə́č̓-, which also shows up in words for ‘mosquito; gnat’. Could < tsatsots > be an attempt at showing us a typically Salish reduplicated form, something like (s-)c̓ə́č̓-c̓əč̓ ?

This will remain indeterminate, because it’s almost guaranteed that we won’t find any significant new sources of data on SW WA Salish languages. But it’s an idea to consider, in light of our ongoing realization that there’s plenty more Salish in Chinuk Wawa than had been previously spotted.

What do you think?