Implications of ɬúsh-íliʔi

Here’s another meditation on Grand Ronde elder Victoria Howard’s traditional monster story, “Just One His Leg. Just One His Arm”.

good land

(Image credit: Amazon)

It was collected in field notebooks by Melville Jacobs, a non-Native folklorist, anthropologist, and linguist, and published by him in 1936’s “Texts in Chinook Jargon”. 

In that form, on page 2 (paragraph 6, section 2), Mrs. Howard is represented as telling us that the young female character and her dad and uncles:

las lax

ɬas ɬáx̣ kʰapa ɬúsh-íliʔi,

translated by Jacobs as ‘they came out to a good (open) place’.

Now, ‘good place’ is the literal meaning of ɬúsh-íliʔi in CW.

But also, there’s a long and clear documented history of this phrase’s less-literal usage:

  • tlush elehi ‘prairie’ (Demers – Blanchet – St. Onge 1871 [circa 1840 data], southern dialect)
  • closhe illahe ‘prairie’ (Alexander Caulfield Anderson 1858, southern dialect)
  • kloosh illahee ‘prairie’ (John Booth Good 1880, northern dialect) 
  • tlush-elehi ‘everglade, dale’ (Louis-Napoléon St. Onge 1892 [circa 1871 data], southern dialect)
  • klóshe il-la-hē ‘field’ (John Kaye Gill 1902)

So this phrase (tloosh-ilahi in our new BC teaching alphabet) is the established CW expression for any open area, including meadows, farm fields, etc.

There’s a decent chance that the 1850s Washington Territory “Stevens treaties” that guaranteed Indians continuing access to “open and unclaimed lands” expressed that concept to them like

kʰánawi ɬúsh-iliʔi, pus hílu q’əláx̣an míɬayt
‘all open spaces, if there are no fences there’

Interesting to contemplate how: 

(1) CW equates ‘goodness’ with open spaces (in older times, the natural prairies and forest clearings and village sites; later, farms and towns too?),

(2) and there’s thus an opposition between ɬúsh-íliʔi & wild places, which CW expresses in several ways including the antonym ‘bad’, e.g. pʰishák ‘bad; a rough, brush place’.

The latter ‘bad places’ are in turn connected with dangerous “skukooms” (skukúm), the Salish etymology of which is ‘inlanders’. This again shows the folk contrast between more open inhabited places, which normally hugged watercourses, and more forested inland wild places.

That’s the imagery that also underlies our CW-origin PNW English phrase “stick Indians” (forest people). And a synonym for that is CW pʰishák-tílixam ‘bush people, Molala Indians’, literally ‘bad(-place) people’!

If we look for a source of this Jargon metaphor, I think we won’t find it in the tribal languages that played big roles in forming CW. From ancient Proto-Salish through into the modern SW Washington Salish languages, the word for a ‘prairie’ or ‘valley’ of open space is máqʷmNatítanui (Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinookan) expresses ‘prairie’ as tEm’ā’ēma according to Franz Boas 1910:603, perhaps tE- ‘Noun Plural’, m’ā’ē of unknown meaning (but kinda resembling the neighbouring Salish word!), and -ma ‘Collective Plural’, i.e. perhaps roughly ‘the prairies’. (! Kind of a wild guess !) None of these have any perceptible relation with words for ‘good’ in these tribal languages. 

By contrast, I know that English has long spoken of ‘good land’ (when it’s not my late grandma’s old-school euphemism for ‘good Lord!’) in regard to arable acreage. And maybe French says bonne terre and/or terre bonne. There’s a town of Bonne Terre in Missouri, and a Terrebonne Parish in Louisiana, suggestive of conventionalized frontier-era French phrases.

So Euro-American languages are the most likely inspiration for the Jargon’s ɬúsh-íliʔi, which we thus should think of as a probable “calque”, a loan-translation directly from those languages. 

Likewise, I imagine that the idea of wild places being ‘bad’ in Chinuk Wawa has something to do with the established American English ‘badlands’ (as in the name of the region in the Dakotas). There’s also a Mauvaise Terre Lake in Illinois, which is historically French-speaking territory.

Contrast this with the imagery used in SW WA Salish, where e.g. Upper Chehalis has časə́k’ʷ ‘wild (country)’ (which I suspect of being a borrowing of — guess what — CW’s pʰishák, so it can’t be the source of a Jargon metaphor!) and smin’tšn’ ‘wild country’ (which I suggest is literally ‘the foot of the mountains’). I haven’t found a Lower Chinookan word yet for ‘wilderness’ etc. 

What do you think?