Quinault Salish ‘buttons’ from Chinuk Wawa ‘gambling game’?

(s)lahál for ‘stick game’ is a Chinuk Wawa word…


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My parenthesized (s) there indicates that the “S” sound is optional, depending on the regional dialect of ChW. The word got loaned from the Jargon into numerous tribal languages, and it seems to me that the farther north you go, the less you hear the “S”.

I don’t see that I’ve yet published my thoughts on (s)lahál‘s etymology. As usual, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde 2012 dictionary has very good notes, in this case pointing out Salish as the direct source. Just on the basis of the detachable s-, which is the noun-marking prefix in Salish, that’s a good call.

Also as usual, I have a few more thoughts. Not finding any obvious roots native to Salish languages and resembling lahal, I also suggest we consider the compelling case of the Lower Chinookan noun stem -qā’lxal ‘gambling disks’.

That word would seem to be a normal Chinookan reduplication of a root –qalthough at the time I’m writing this, I don’t yet know a meaning for such a form.

I can imagine SW Washington Salish people, such as Lower Chehalis and Cowlitz, having encountered the noun i-qā’lxal when participating in traditional gambling games with Lower Chinookans. It wouldn’t be the first Chinookan word to lose its noun prefix (here i- ‘Masculine Singular’) when adopted by — or spoken to — outsiders. From a resulting intermediate stage like *xalxal, I suggest it would’ve been a short step to a reanalysis as *lxal ~ *ləxal ~ *ləhal ~ *lahal.

I direct your attention also to other gambling terminology in Chinuk Wawa, including íɬukum, which is known to have a Chinookan source. (Find another example below.)

The word (s)lahál conceivably reached the Quinault Coast Salish directly from the Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinookans to the south of them. That is, it could’ve been Quinaults who reanayzed the Chinookan stem into the form we now have in Jargon. Certainly we have evidence of the “S”-less form of this word in Quinault, as you’re about to see.

But words from Quinault into the Jargon are exceedingly rare, even scarcer than ones from Tillamook Salish. The one good candidate that comes to mind is the older Chinuk Wawa’s ~ilaki ‘sea otter’.

So, more likely, (s)lahál came via CJ to Quinault land.

Once it became known by Quinaults, the CJ word (s)lahál evolved further, within their language.

Here I’m talking about (from Ruth Modrow’s 1971 dictionary of Quinault Salish) < lahə́ʔləm > for ‘buttons’. This actually looks like a “middle-voice” verb in Quinault, so the speaker might have meant ‘to play a game of buttons’.

This stacks up well against George Gibbs’s observation (1877:206) about gambling disks being known as < tsil-tsil > ‘buttons’ in Jargon! That’s another word of Chinookan etymology for you.

If the Quinault < lahə́ʔləm > was in fact intended as a noun by the speaker, the < -əm > part is perhaps a version of the frequent Quinault noun plural suffix -əlma, which I strongly suspect is etymologically the Salish “stem extender” -əl plus a borrowing of the Chinookan “collective noun plural” -ma. Perhaps the final “L” of lahal got somewhat reanalyzed into a component of -əlma?

In any case, < lahə́ʔləm > apparently evolved from the original connotation of a gambling game, and came to be understood by Quinaults as having a salient association with ‘buttons’. Thus the English translation supplied to dictionary-maker Modrow.

Bonus fact:

George Coombs Shaw’s dictionary, which often amplifies what previous published lexicons had told us about Chinuk Wawa, has this edifying entry:

shawslahal 1

shawslahal 2

Here we have Nisqually (Southern Lushootseed Salish) and Klallam Salish words effectively identical with the Quinault one above, and defined by Reverend Myron Eells, quoted by Shaw, as ‘the gambling disks’.

I’m not really sure what to make of Eells’s claim that < mamook lahal > should “properly” mean ‘to gamble with the disks’ and < mamook slahal > ‘to gamble with the bones’. I haven’t seen indications of folks ever distinguishing between the two forms. The game is played identically, whether it’s with sticks, bones, or disks.

I think what’s more to the point is Eells’s observation of local variation in how the word for the game was pronounced.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?