What do you think?

On Memorial Day, the US holiday devoted to remembrance, let’s get into your thoughts.

It looks like still another Chinuk Wawa phrase traces back to (at least) the Lower Chinookan languages…

howsyourmind(Image source: Amazon)

…And today’s bit of research into it may also clear up a persistent uncertainty in CW studies.

qʰáta mayka tə́mtəm? (literally ‘how (is) your mind?’) is the usual Jargon way to ask someone ‘what do you think?’

Let’s methodically look into how the various Chinookan languages have historically phrased this idea.

Lower Chinookan branch —

Kathlamet — qáda imíxatakʷax̣ — is apparently ‘how is your mind/thinking?’


‘What would you think…?’ — Boas 1901:26

Natítanui (Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinookan) — qáda tmíxataqux̣ — likewise seems to be ‘how is your thought/mind?’


‘What do you think…?’ — Boas 1894:62 (79)

Upper Chinookan branch —

Kiksht — I understand the expression qə́ngi mxɬúx̣ʷan? to be not ‘how is your mind?’ but ‘how are you thinking?’ —


Sapir 1901:12-13

Clackamas — I believe the expression qá mxɬúx̣ʷan? to be likewise an active verb ‘how are you thinking?’ —


‘What do you think?’ — Jacobs 1955:444

The other main source languages of Chinuk Wawa:

For the Southwest Washington Salish languages that also played an important role in shaping CW, we unfortunately have little information on how folks historically expressed ‘what do you think?’ Like Chinookan, these languages have both verbs and nouns that correspond to ‘think’ and ‘thought’.

We do know that both English and (Canadian/Métis) French normally express this concept with a verb: ‘what do you think?’ & ‘que penses-tu?’


And so the preponderance of the available evidence suggests that it’s Chinookan, and as usual specifically Lower Chinookan (as we can see from the word choice and the syntactic strategy used), that formed the model on which CW’s qʰáta mayka tə́mtəm? was created.

This syntactic evidence from Lower Chinookan further helps us, by disambiguating between the 2 possible analyses of CW’s qʰáta mayka tə́mtəm? 

One logical view, all things considered, would be that this is CW saying ‘how are you thinking?’.

But we’ve instead seen that it’s the nouny view, that the phrase is asking ‘how is your mind?’, that makes the most sense as the ancestor of the phrase, and thence as a better understanding of it within CW.

Shall we count this as another Indigenous metaphor found?

Giant bonus fact:

That Upper Chinookan root for ‘think’, ɬúx̣ʷan, also gets used in those languages as the discourse marker for ‘maybe’, ‘seems like’, etc., equivalent to Chinuk Wawa’s t’ɬúnás. (Which comes from Lower Chinookan.)

I wonder whether the two words are historically related…? Would it make sense for an expression of ‘maybe’ to literally mean ‘think, suppose’, etc.?

I see that ɬúx̣ʷan in Lower Chinookan is a verb root for ‘think’, while the very similar ɬx̣ʷán is a particle defined as ‘perhaps’ in Kathlamet. And a frequent suffix (or clitic) ɬx̣ in Shoalwater-Clatsop gives the sense of ‘I think, suppose, infer’ to the stem that it attaches to, as in iáx̣ka-ɬx̣ ‘(it was) he, I think’.

A totally fascinating example is masátsi-ɬx̣ ‘pretty’, i.e. good-looking — which is constructed from the root that gave us Chinook Jargon’s ‘evil; bad; mean’! (Thus it might be literally ‘bad, I think’!) Was this a verbal taboo / avoidance expression in the traditional culture? In my reading of anthropology, I’ve encountered plenty of examples of groups that name babies, for example, with un-complimentary epithets, so that harmful spirits won’t be attracted.

Backtracking to the supposed similarity between Chinookan ɬúx̣ʷan and CW’s t’ɬúnás: we should note that in Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinookan, that latter word is consistently (t)ɬúnas (‘perhaps’), with a simple “slurpy L”, the same sound as in the root for ‘think’. So I think there’s something of a case to be made, pending some further investigation, that these words and the suffix –ɬx̣ are all relatives of each other.

What do you think?