Happy Halloween: A part Upper Chehalis, part Chinuk Wawa monstrosity? :)

From the land of the “Halloweena” tribe…


(Image credit: me.me)

I was given a start by this one weird word…

Pioneering ethnographer-linguist Franz Boas’s 1927 Upper Chehalis Salish field notebooks contain, on frame 440 of the microfilm version (hayu masi to Jedd for sharing it), the word that jumped out at me.

This word is written by him as < sap¦a’etc!ιpʿ > ‘to chop wood’, and it really leaped off the page at me…

‘Chopping’ roots

In the modern Upper Chehalis dictionary, this word is filed under the entry for the root sə́p’-, which means ‘hit (as with a stick), strike, whip, spank’, which strikes me (get it?) as a concept distinct chopping and cutting. Its cognate in Lower Chehalis is limited to senses of ‘hitting; clubbing’. I don’t find it at all in Cowlitz or Quinault, although it’s an ancient root found in many Salish languages.

Quinault uses other verb roots to express ‘chop wood’, e.g. in páx̣-ač. So does Cowlitz c’uk’ʷ-áy-kʷp ‘chop wood, cut wood, split wood’. In fact, within Upper Chehalis itself, ‘cut wood’ uses a different form, q’ʷiƛ̓-áy-čp.

Murky writing

My question here is, what’s up with the indistinct mark “¦” next to the first “p” in Boas’s handwritten phonetics? It’s almost as if he was unsure whether this was a plain /p/ or a popping (ejective) /p’/; Boas would write the latter as < p! >. The plain vs. ejective difference is a distinction that I’ve seen Boas flub in his field notes on other PNW languages that have it. Like other eminent early philologists, as they were known in the 19th century, including Modeste Demers and JMR Le Jeune, Boas had an easier time perceiving “popping K”-type sounds than ejective T-, P-, etc. type sounds in this region’s languages. The great UBC Salishanist M. Dale Kinkade, incorporating Boas’s notes into the 1991 dictionary of Upper Chehalis, had to decide what this word’s “p¦” represented, and he very reasonably parsed this word as having (a known alternate form of) the pretty frequent root sə́p’- in it. Thus, Kinkade has it as sap’-áy-čp, a totally grammatical formation (literally something like ‘hit-at-wood’). 

Chinuk Wawa in a loan blend?

But given the oddity of sə́p’- supposedly meaning ‘cut / chop’ in just this one word, I wonder if a different analysis is called for. An equally grammatical parse would be saʔ-páyə-čp, literally ‘make-fire-wood’. I find the phonetics believable, too, as Boas’s hesitant-looking < p¦ > might correlate with a pronunciation more like [pʔ ~ ʔp]. (As we’d expect in saʔpáyəčp.) My proposed parse would use the multi-talented Upper Chehalis root saʔ-, which indeed occurs in lots of compounds with a following noun expressing the direct object. It would also use the Chinuk Wawa loan páya ‘fire’, which we already know in several other Upper Chehalis dictionary entries:

  • < Pai-a-tsikʹ-tsĭk-cu-was > (‘fire wagon road’) ~’railroad’ (another loan blend of CW & Up Cheh parts)
  • < paiʹa sapalîʹl > (‘fire/cooked flour’) ‘bread’
  • páyəšəp (‘fire ship’) ‘steamship, steamboat’
  • < Spai-yetʹs-ta-ka > (‘fire-fire’) ‘blaze’

And this precise structure combining Up Cheh saʔ– + a CW noun is actually a pattern in this Salish language. Here are more examples of it:

  • sa•-saplil- ‘knead dough’ 
  • sa•ʔ-q’əláx̣n- ‘build a fence’

These expressions might well be half-translations from Chinuk Wawa (mámuk + Noun).

Bonus fact:

One last point — my saʔ-páyə-čp and Kinkade’s sap’-áy-čp both could have been in the mind of the Upper Chehalis speaker who was working with Boas; I’ve found that puns were a real lively factor in Southwest Washington Salish.

Also, either or both could have been puns for, or mild mental slipups by the speaker as (s)he tried to recall, the well-documented stem ƛ̓(a)ʔ-áy̓-čp- (‘get-at-wood’), which is used in expressions for chopping wood (as in going out and harvesting wood) as well as for ‘axe’.

What do you think?
qʰáta mayka tə́mtəm?