Another Indigenous metaphor: ‘Afternoon’ in CW is from Chinookan

Chinuk Wawa’s southern dialect, as documented in the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation community, says láx̣w-sán (literally ~ ‘leaning-sun’) for ‘afternoon’.

tilting sun
(Image source: atoptics)

Why? Because Chinookan languages already did. 

We find the same expression in those languages, using their native word for ‘sun’.

Here’s one example from the several in Natítanui (Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinookan) : 

lax oolax2

Boas 1894:66

We can also take note of that ‘thus the sun’ at the end of line 18. In the neighboring Lower Chinookan language’s “Kathlamet Texts”, narrator Q’lti sometimes just says “the sun was there” (as if he were pointing during the storytelling) and it’s translated as ‘in the afternoon’. But there’s also a parallel phrase to what we’ve seen above: 

kathlamet lax sun

Boas 1901:208

So far we’ve seen researcher Franz Boas translating this láx̣(w) as ‘afternoon’, catching the meaning of the whole phrase but not seeing that this little word means ’tilted’ etc.

Turning to Clackamas Upper Chinookan, we see that this language too has its cognate of the above expression, and researcher Melville Jacobs explains it as ‘the sun was to one side’:


Jacobs 1958-1959:443

The fourth language in this family, Kiksht (Wishram, Wasco, etc.) Upper Chinookan, also has a narrator gesturing to the west and saying ‘when the sun was over there‘ to indicate late afternoon or evening. Was there a verbal taboo against referring to the land of the dead by name? Would this explain why e.g. inland Indigenous people sometimes got worried by White treaty negotiators saying that they’d have nice reservations ‘in the west’? Other than that, the expressions I find for ‘afternoon’ do not resemble the above ‘sun on one side’ phrasing. 

Summing up, there’s a consistent picture in the Chinookan languages of folks referring to the later daylight hours indirectly, by gesturing or saying words to the effect that the sun is in the west. And this is the source of Chinuk Wawa’s metaphor of the afternoon’s ’tilting sun’. 

What do you think?