Aiguille à peau?! Or more Chinookan-Salish?

One proposed French etymology that we can toss right out is the following flight of imagination…

Aiguille à peau

Bloodletting needles: the top result in a Google image search on “aiguille à peau”, November 27, 2020

In his “Philology” volume that’s part of the report of the US Exploring Expedition, Horatio Hale (1846:639) terms the etymology of Chinuk Wawa’s word < kiapōt > (k’ípʰwat), meaning ‘needle; sew’, “doubtful”. “Doubtful” is 19th-century talk for ‘uncertain’.

Here’s his entry for it:


While he doesn’t feel the confidence necessary to include this word among CW’s French-etymology lexemes, he suggests “qu[aere] aiguille à peau?“. Quaere, or query, means in effect “perhaps”. The rest is French for ‘needle for skin’; I imagine it could be more idiomatic to write aiguille à peaux (‘…for skins’). 

There are many too many problems with this suggestion for it to work: 

  • Phonological:
    • What happened to the initial vowel of the French word aiguille? CW doesn’t drop segments in this position.
    • The correspondence of /k’/ : /g/ would be unique for a European loanword. 
    • The French word has /üi/ at the end, and we have little to no evidence that CW would render this as /i/. 
    • The CW word’s final /t/ would be totally unexplainable if the source word were French.
  • Morphological: Most French loan nouns carry a definite article along with them into CW; in the absence of an initial /l/ in the word, *aiguille…* is a weirdie.
  • Syntactic: Extremely few entire French phrases successfully got integrated into Chinuk Wawa. (I can think of  loup marin > ‘sea wolf’ ⇒ < lumaran > ‘seal’, reported by Hale;  t’as pas honte ‘you have no shame’ ⇒ < tapahote > ‘shame’, l’habit court ⇒ lapikwo ‘frock, short coat’.) So all things considered, we should be skeptical of any claim about another phrasal loan.
  • Semantic/pragmatic: It’s unclear to me that aiguille à peau has ever been a commonly used phrase in French varieties. Various tries at Google searching are giving me the sense that this is quite a rare pairing of words.

All of this is more than sufficient to disprove a French etymology for k’ipʰwat.

Besides, there’s a solid-enough etymology for it in Chinookan languages, as the Grand Ronde Tribes 2012 dictionary shows: there are Clackamas (Upper Chinookan) nouns i-k’ipwa ‘awl’ and a-k’ipwa ‘needle’.

I’ve also found a Kathlamet (Lower Chinookan) verb iɬgíyupčx ‘they sewed [it] together’, which perhaps contains a related root (-giyup?). 

These notes lead us to an observation made in the 2012 Grand Ronde dictionary — that the Chinookan nouns lack the final /t/ seen in the CW form. GR 2012 suggests tentatively that -at is a Chinookan derivational suffix. They point to Dell Hymes’ 1955 dissertation on Kathlamet, which calls this -at “of uncertain significance” in its occurrences in words for ‘his anus’ and ‘his feet’. This is a reasonably plausible view.

I might just add a suggestion: If this suffix is unanalyzable in Chinookan, then it’s perhaps a morpheme borrowed from an unrelated language such as neighbouring Salish. Indeed, in Lower Chehalis Salish for example, a common derivational suffix occurring at the end of nouns is -t(‘) ‘Instrumental’, i.e. ‘a thing used for’ this-or-that. Such a meaning would work perfectly in a word like ‘awl’ or ‘needle’, perhaps built on a root ‘sew, stitch’ that I may have found above. (Moreover, these local Salish languages also use the Instrumental suffix in words for ‘anus’ that literally mean ‘farting-instrument’.) 

Once again, I’m putting forth the observation that etymologies of Chinuk Wawa words often are partly or wholly indeterminate between Chinookan and Salish.

One thing is certain — CW ‘needle; sew’ is not among the many Canadian French loans in the language!

What do you think?