‘Sticks of pitch’ (pitch sticks?) vs. ‘pitchwood’

In one phrase of a story told by Victoria Howard, we have a beautiful illustration of the importance of “word order” in Chinuk Wawa.


Pitchsticks (perhaps stík lakúm?) (image credit: Practical Primitive)

The story is titled “Just One His Leg, Just One His Arm” by anthropologist Melville Jacobs, who published it in his collection “Texts in Chinook Jargon” (1936). 

Page 3, paragraph 10, section 1 includes the following passage, which I’ll present with my analysis of it:

álta ɬas lúlu-lulu stík lakúm
now they bring-REDUPLICATION stick pitch
‘then they kept brought sticks of pitch(wood) from all over’

This came to my attention once again because I’ve been working on translating it into Chinuk Wawa’s northern dialect for BC learners — a thought process that really heightened my attention to its southern-dialect grammar. Especially with those last 2 words. 

Stík lakúm is a normal CW measurement expression. In these, a noun indicating the unit of measurement (‘sticks’) is directly followed by the noun that tells you what’s measured (‘pitch(wood)’). So this means ‘sticks/pieces of pitch(wood)’…

…in fact perhaps it could translate what’s called, in the Pacific NW English of some outdoorsy folks I know, ‘pitch sticks‘. 

Okay, that’s a reach. 

But contrast our ‘sticks of pitch(wood)’ with the expression lakúm-stìk ‘fir tree’ (literally ‘pitch-wood, pitch-tree’). The PNW’s enormous native Douglas fir is said by some to produce the best “fatwood”, pitch-laden wood. 

Jacobs’ translation here is just ‘they collected pitchwood’, so it’s not clear whether he picked up on this distinction.

I can imagine that any uncertainty he may have felt here was amplified by a tendency (if not grammatical rule of CW, which Mrs. Howard was following. In a way that’s somewhat similar to the English that I grew up talking, fluent CW shows an aversion to needless repetition. If Mrs. Howard had felt like spelling things out in painful detail, she could have said *stík lakúm-stìk*, ‘sticks of pitch-wood’.

But she didn’t, as far as we can tell from Jacobs’ notes of her storytelling. That asterisked expression would be repetitious, and in fact might decrease the listener’s ease of understanding! I suggest this because it strikes me as possible that hearing  *…stík lakúm-stìk…* come along in the middle of a narrative might sound ambiguous — somewhere mentally between ‘sticks of pitch(wood)’ and ‘pitch-wood/tree’! 

Wouldn’t you know, I have no further examples of this repetition-avoidance at the tip of my tongue right now. But this is a phenomenon that I’ve long observed going on in both dialects of Jargon. I’ll keep my eyes open for more to share here. 

A couple final notes on today’s brief quotation: 

Because Jacobs doesn’t point out that stík lakúm is ‘sticks of pitch(wood)’, this use of lakúm as ‘pitch-filled wood‘ wiggled away when the superb 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary was being compiled. We should add this sense of the word into the entry for lakúm ‘gum, pitch’. (Which is of course from a French-Canadian word.) 

And speaking of the Grand Ronde dictionary, they offer a really compelling, somewhat different interpretation of the passage I quote above. I hope you already have a copy of that dictionary, as every learner and speaker should. Look at the entry for stik, subentry shtik

What do you think?