Found: an etymology for Grand Ronde’s ‘jail’

I’m very intrigued that in the southern creole CW-speaking community of Grand Ronde, Oregon — and only there — we find skúkum-háws as just one of several expressions for ‘jail’.


(Image credit: Wikipedia)

They also have noun-phrase synonyms for it unique to their community, púlakʰli-háws (literally ‘dark/night-house’) and kʰéphaws (spelled with no dash in it), phonetically [kʰε(·)p.hʌυs].

That last expression’s etymology hasn’t been clearly identified; the 2012 GR dictionary speculates that it’s from English “keep-house”.

I’ve had no luck tracking down any evidence that “keep-house” was ever a noun phrase for a ‘prison’ in any variety of English.

And I’m skeptical that “keep”, although it is known as an English noun for ‘jail’, was in circulation within the Chinuk Wawa of Grand Ronde during the childhoods of the elders who later worked with Henry Zenk to document their language.

CW as a strong rule only takes in words from its environment that are in frequent use, and my impression is that “keep” hasn’t been among the most common expressions for this concept in English.

Instead, the present meditation on the synonyms for ‘prison’ is opening my eyes to a different etymology.

We saw that Grand Ronde folks referred to the púlakʰli-háws.

Now, let’s consider this — are folks held in jails only at night, which is one of the possible understandings of púlakʰli?

Not to my knowledge.

So púlakʰli-háws more likely meant the ‘dark-house’ to the people of sháwásh-íliʔi.

I mentally link this to the widely expressed dread among Indigenous people of the frontier era that, once they signed treaties, they’d be sent off to the púlakʰli-íliʔi ‘dark land’.

And now my mind realizes that the Grand Ronde CW synonym for ‘dark’ is kʰíyəp, a word unique to that community.

Which sounds quite a lot like kʰép!

So I propose that kʰéphaws is really a compound kʰép-haws, which is really kʰíyəp-haws, one of a couple ways that GR folks said ‘dark-house’.

What do you think?