Umatilla Sahaptin ‘elder’

One of the words for an ‘elder’ in the Umatilla Sahaptin-language dictionary surprised me.

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This word, lɨmyáy ‘elder (term of respect), is actually not in the main Sahaptin-to-English dictionary.

I only stumbled on it in the English-to-Sahaptin section, on page 505.

That placement, and the fact that the usual root for ‘elder’ is nč̓í (literally ‘big’), suggests to me that we have here a borrowing from Chinuk Wawa.

The Jargon word in question would be lamiyáy ‘old woman’.

The origin of this is Canadian Métis French la vieille ‘the old one (female)’.

It’s really impressive to find a language, such as Umatilla, that’s had so much contact with Chinook Jargon that it’s borrowed a CJ word for one of the most respected members of Native society.

Bonus fact:

As an indication of the enormous respect traditionally accorded to elder women, here is a quote also found at

“Those people respect the aged with veneration, I observed an old woman in one of the Lodges which I entered She was entirely blind as I was informed by Signs, had lived more than 100 win­ters, She occupied the best position in the house, and when She Spoke great attention was paid to what She Said”

-Wm. Clark, October 17, 1805

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