yátʰum: a bonus etymology?

The word yátʰum ‘sister-in-law’ is not very well-known in Chinuk Wawa.


(Image credit: Dear Ava)

The 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary is probably the only source we know it from. But I’d like to talk about it a little bit.

There, a splendidly researched etymology connects this word with a Kathlamet and Clackamas Chinookan root -tum ‘sister-in-law’. The ya- part means ‘his’ or ‘her’ sister-in-law. (I find only a different form for ‘sister-in-law’ in Natítanui/Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinookan, -pučx̣an, and no word for the concept in Kiksht Upper Chinookan.)

I would just add that this -tum bears quite a resemblance to Proto-Salish *tum-aʔ ‘mother; aunt’. (There, the -aʔ is a kind of emotionally positive suffix and/or a marker of inalienable possession, and it’s found on many kinship terms and body-part words.) Modern correspondents of *tum are found throughout the Salish language family.

Modern Lower Chehalis Salish, one of the main sources of Chinuk Wawa lexicon, uses other roots for ‘mother’ and ‘aunt’. But it does have túm ‘navel, belly-button’, which I’ve long suspected is a cognate of *tum-aʔ.

Lower Chehalis also has s-mátəxʷ ‘son-in-law; in-law’, where the modern root can be analyzed as into the typical Salish consonant-vowel-consonant shape mát, plus one of the common dorsal-consonant stem add-ons seen throughout Salish. This mát is apparently a “metathesized” form of Proto-Salish *tam ‘close relation (friend, husband, relative)’), which in turn is possibly cognate with *tum-aʔ ‘mother; aunt’.

Admittedly, the modern Southwest Washington Salish languages give few indications of a form like tum in a meaning like ‘mother’ or ‘aunt’.

But if (Lower) Chinookan and Salish have been in contact for a long time, which is indeed the pattern I keep perceiving and writing about, then maybe Chinook Jargon’s yátʰum has a pedigree that encompasses an older Salish *tum.

What do you think?
qʰata mayka təmtəm?