Catching up to an etymology for t’ɬáp

Here’s another in my sporadic observations on ancient roots of Chinuk Wawa words.


(Image credit: Why Name It That?)

The verb t’ɬáp can rightly be etymologized as a Lower Chinookan “particle”.

There are several kinds of “particles” — a word that I put into scare quotes exactly because it tends to get used in real mooshy ways in linguistics. 

The particular sort of “particle” that we’re talking about here can be specified as: 

  • a primary-stressed,
  • lexical (not grammatical),
  • un-inflected item,
  • that the Chinookan languages use as a verb by putting some form of the word for ‘to do’ right after it.

It’s amply documented in the best existing learner’s tool out there (the 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary, which you should buy today) that t’ɬáp comes from Lower Chinookan t(‘)ɬáp.

Now, it’s interesting that this word looks to be the only way to say ‘find’ in Shoalwater-Clatsop (Natítanui, which was the main Chinookan language in the earliest known years of Chinuk Wawa’s formation through contacts with visiting ships).

The next Lower Chinookan language upriver, Kathlamet, varies between t(‘)ɬáp and a separate, definitely native Chinookan, inflected verb for ‘find’, e.g. ičɬúskam ‘he found it’. Clackamas and Kiksht, the Upper Chinookan languages, seem to only use their inflected verb for ‘find’.

This differential expression of ‘find’ matches what we consistently see, with definite or potential Salish loans clustering in the Lower Chinookan languages, especially in Natítanui, which is the one closest to Lower Chehalis Salish, itself an enormous donor of lexicon to Chinook Jargon. (Whereas Cowlitz Salish, the neighbor of Kathlamet Chinookan, can’t be shown to have contributed terribly much to the Jargon.) 

So I want to add that this “particle” stands a good chance of being another of the many Chinookan words that bear every sign of being borrowed long ago from neighboring SW Washington (“Tsamosan”) Salish languages, particularly from ɬəẃál’məš, Lower Chehalis.

We don’t know of a 100% exact match for this word in any of those languages. (Upper Chehalis t’ɬáp’a-, a bound root or stem meaning ‘go and see if something is somewhere, make a guess at’ is extremely compelling, however!)

But, all of them contain words based on the verb root ƛ̓áʔ, i.e. what we’d write in Grand Ronde-style phonetics as t’ɬáʔ, meaning something like ‘to go get, to look for (hunt), to harvest’ (also ‘to reach, to go as far as’ which parallels one of the uses of t’ɬáp in Chinuk Wawa), and known to trace all the way back to ancient Proto-Salish. Some examples:

  • Lower Chehalis Salish: 
  • Lower Cowlitz Salish, using a Chinuk Wawa root for ‘fish’: 
    ‘fish, go fishing’
  • Upper Chehalis Salish:
    ‘hunt food’
  • Quinault Salish, using the same metaphor as Chinuk Wawa’s nánich-máwich:
    ‘hunt (for deer or elk)’

If this Salish root is what’s at the, well, root of Chinuk Wawa’s t’ɬáp, then we’re also inferring a Salish suffix -p. (In Chinookan, there’s no suffix of that shape that I’ve ever seen.) I have two ideas about that, one being less plausible, the other more so.

First, -p might be a cognate of the identical “inchoative aspect” suffix found in all Interior Salish languages. However, SW WA Salish is quite a distance away from Interior Salish territory, and that -p is not found in any Coast Salish languages. So, not an incredibly likely analysis. (But read on.) 

Second, the explanation that I think is more promising: -p might be the pan-Salish, and therefore ancient, “lexical suffix”. Each of the 4 SW Washington Salish examples above contains lexical suffixes. (Cowlitz using a brand-new one taken from Chinuk Wawa!) There is a well-known Salish lexical suffix -p, which means the ‘bottom / base’ of a thing. So *t’ɬáʔ-p would have originally conveyed an idea like ‘(for someone to) get its ass, catch its ass’.

There’s a reason why I’m using such an earthy translation. In other languages of the world, “adversative” grammatical forms — indicating that an action is done not for the benefit, but instead to the detriment of / beyond the control, of its object — have developed from words for ‘butt’!

In this scenario,*t’ɬáʔ-p would’ve become conventionalized as ‘to wind up being gotten, found, etc.’ Which is how I understand the meaning of t(‘)ɬáp in Chinookan

This is not at all to claim that *t’ɬáʔ-p was originally a cussin’ word. I have no reason to think that it was. What I’m suggesting is that it may have been used in an effective meaning of ‘to be gotten, to be harvested, to be gathered, to be found’, etc. 

Bonus ideas:

To say a bit more, as promised, about idea #1, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Interior Salish languages had historically innovated their inchoative grammatical suffix -p from the exact same source, “butt”. My sense of the semantics behind that? (Sorry for that pun.) Exactly the same as I note for our suggested Coast Salish *t’ɬáʔ-p. It strikes me as possible that an “adversative” idea, of actions being done to you, could easily become an inchoative idea, of an action that winds up happening. Proto-Salish may well have already had the adversative usage of “butt” long ago, which would increase the chances of two separate groups of daughter languages developing it into more-specialized usages. 

And here’s a tip for other historical and contact linguists: foreign loan-words into Chinookan are most likely to wind up as this particular type of “particle”, retaining a significant portion of the semantic and syntactic complexity that their etyma originally carried. 

What do you think?