1841: The Wilkes expedition and the earliest “artificial” CW place names
I’ve previously reported here, with some excitement, that the US Exploring Expedition commanded by Charles Wilkes documented Fort Vancouver-era place names on the lower Columbia River…
…but additional information makes me revise my conclusions!
This started when I came upon a book “Charles Wilkes and the Exploration of Inland Washington Waters*: Journals from the Expedition of 1841” edited by Richard W. Blumenthal (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009). ( * “Inland waters” = those not exposed to the open ocean.)
That volume made me aware that a number of locations in the Puget Sound area were mapped by the US Ex Ex with Jargon place names.
Which is a total trip, because we don’t know of Chinook Jargon having been much known in that area at the time!
So I had to do some investigating of my own into primary sources.
One obvious place to turn is to the published US Ex Ex maps
of these waters. Here’s my list of the potentially Jargon names I find in those charts:
- Lip-lip (‘boiling’) Pt, Olele (‘berry’) Pt, Pt “Kauawi” (‘oak’?)
- Tiye (‘chief’)
- Sitkum (‘middle/half’) Pt, Lahash (‘axe’) Rock, Tala (‘dollar/money’) Pt
- Sawash (‘Native person’) Bluff, Kula Kula (‘bird’) Pt, Kanem (‘canoe’) Pt, Kiapot (‘needle’) Pt, Takup (‘white’) Pt
- Oluman (‘old/old person’) Bluff, Killisut (‘bottle’) Harbor, Leku (‘neck’) Beach, Snas (‘rain’) Pt
- Port Yakso (‘hair’), Yulkat (‘long’) Bluff
- Pasisi (‘blanket’) Pt, Wawa (‘talking’) Pt, Naika (‘I/me/my’) Pt, Olo (‘hungry’) Bluff, Pulali (‘sand’) Pt, Musam (‘sleeping’) Place, Wikat (‘path’) Pt
- Talapas (‘coyote’) Pt, Yawa (‘there’) I
- Kalamut (‘pipe’) I
I think I saw a Klas (‘glass’) I. also, but I didn’t note which map it’s on.
All of this is well and good — we now know two sets of CW toponyms from that Expedition.
In other words, they all are known only from the maps. Which further undermines their status as legitimate CW names.
It looks as if the explorers made no serious effort to name these geographic features. Maybe they even put these names on the maps only later. This contrasts with a number of prominent anecdotes of the US Ex Ex naming various places in the moment of encountering them.
Need I specify, these names aren’t backed up by references in anyone else’s maps or explorations.
So I hereby revise my view — the Us Ex Ex’s Chinook Jargon toponyms look to be the very earliest occurrence of “officially imposed” place names in the language. That’s a genre that we don’t see much more of until the 1920s or so, when the US Forest Service brought in its policy of laying Chinook monikers on the map, taken from a published dictionary.
Maybe there’s some interesting explanation behind this.
One interesting aspect of the Wilkes Expedition’s CW names is that they use novel spellings. Do they match the phonetic notations of US Ex Ex philologist Horatio Hale?
Well, for example, he has taie
for ‘chief’, iáwa
for ‘that way, on that side’, kílitsŭt
for ‘bottle’ in the 1846 US Ex Ex volume of “Ethnography and Philology”. Those are mighty different from the above spellings. Are the above some other Expedition member’s attempt at spelling Jargon?
But wait — in his 1890 abridged popular re-publication of his Jargon data, “An International Idiom
“, Hale has kullakulla
‘path’, etc. So those map names, which resemble this English-oriented orthography, might be from Hale himself. I doubt they represent his field data, which almost certainly was in his careful phonetic alphabet. But they might be his off-the-cuff compliance with casual requests to name minor features “Indian style”.
In a separate post, I’ll show that the Puget Sound CW toponyms above had to have been bestowed during the Expedition’s second visit to that waterway, and why they must be artificial.
What do you think?