Chum salmon, dog salmon, (salmon)trout

An Indigenous metaphor that’s partway preserved in Chinuk Wawa is the fish species name that’s literally ‘spotted/marked on the body’ in SW Washington Salish.


Dog salmon, breeding male (image credit: Wikipedia)

There’s a lovely field note by John Peabody Harrington (1942) for the Lower Chehalis Salish word q̓ʷəɬáɬc̓ ‘dog salmon’:

Emma [Luscier]: there are no Quinault-salmon in Shoalwater Bay. But there are lots of dog-salmons jumping in the Palix river here, the whites call these in [Chinook] jarg[on]. tsʼαm̓ salmon, in regular Eng[lish]. dog-salmon. Emma once askt Mr. Lɪn Bush, How is it that the Whites call it dog salmon when it is a good (savory) fish? It does not sound good. Mr. Lɪn Bush answered: It is because it has teeth like a dog. = [Lower] Cheh[alis]. ĸʼwαɬá·ɬtsʼ, which means lit[erally]. spotted fish – just as jarg[on]. calls it tsʼαm̓ salmon. But really it is the most savory salmon we have over here.

I appreciate all the information there about various people’s use of 3 languages on Shoalwater Bay, Washington, a.k.a. Willapa Bay.

  • Emma Luscier associates the long-documented Chinuk Wawa term t’sə́m-sámən (literally ‘marked-fish’ in the lower Columbia River-area dialect) with White people. Indeed it’s English speakers who took this phrase up as our regional expression “chum salmon”, no later than the mid-1880s.
  • Holding Native values, where ‘dog’ is a major insult, she thinks non-Native people are odd to also call this fish ‘dog salmon’. That phrase must have been coined by Settlers, just using the resources of English itself.
  • She also tells the Lower Chehalis Salish name of the fish, q̓ʷəɬáɬc̓ in the phonetically detailed spelling that linguists have come to prefer for PNW Indigenous languages. This is q̓ʷəɬ-áɬ-c̓, literally ‘marked-on-body’. When you look at the picture above, what do you think of that description?

A very close cognate is in Quinault Salish, q̓ʷəł-á-c̓i ‘dog salmon’.

And the Upper Chehalis Salish dictionary says qʷəł-áł-cn̓ ‘dog salmon’, really similar — but that qʷəł seems a mistake for ʷəł ‘marked’, and the -cn̓ part would be Salish for ‘mouth’! (Also the dictionary entry cites a Lower Chehalis form that I haven’t found anywhere in the documentation of that language.) Hmm…

Rare synonyms in Chinuk Wawa are:

  • < lekai salmon >, literally ‘spotted fish/salmon’, using a Métis French-origin adjective (le caille ‘spotted/piebald one’) that’s otherwise used mostly for horses.
  • (Demers, Blanchet, & St Onge 1871) < chilwis / skilues > ‘dog salmon’. I’ve searched the data on Chinookan and K’alapuyan languages without finding any leads on its etymology. In Sahaptian languages there are vaguely similar forms: Nez Perce ʔiswí•si ‘salmon ready for drying, cut’ and Ichishkíin Yakama Sahaptin iswís ‘dried salmon spine’.
    But the optional “S” prefix and the alternation between “CH” and “K” strongly suggest a Salish source, and specifically Cowlitz, although I’m so far having no luck finding any already-documented source form in SW WA Salish. Probably compare Proto-Salish *s- ‘Noun prefix’, *k’ə̣l ‘to cut (esp. skin), rip’ and *-was ‘body; chest’. Thus this word was another Salish way of commenting on the vertical marks along the midsection of the dog salmon — it uses another version of the same Native metaphor!

Finally a comment that some of the frontier-era Settlers whose words we turn to in our research used an English synonym “trout” or “salmon-trout” for this fish. (The term may have extended to other species too, but I believe most folks realized it was specifically the dog salmon.) Father St Onge’s 1892 manuscript dictionary of the Jargon defines < tsom samon > as ‘trout’.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?