Borrowed numbers, and linguistic archaeology

Numerals do get borrowed from language to language. Famously (among Pacific NW linguists) the word for ‘4’ is essentially the same across the Salish, Chimakuan, and Wakashan language families.

sub_abstract (1)Borrowed numbers (image credit:

And of course the larger the quantity named, the more likely an ethnic group will find itself needing to suddenly borrow a word for that at some point — as with Middle English ‘million‘ from Old French.

The Chinookan language family, whose numerals also became Chinuk Wawa’s basic way of counting, are an example of borrowing numbers from neighbours.

But in this particular case, the pattern is quite interesting, because it’s not the largest numbers but most of the largest digits that may have been borrowed. 

Before we go any further, please let me stress — I’m not saying Chinuk Wawa borrowed any number words straight from Salish! I’m looking farther back in time, to show yet again that one of ChW’s important source languages, Chinookan, had a significant amount of contact with Salish prior to the presence of Europeans and prior to the known existence of the Jargon. In other words, I think it’s important to recognize that Salish has always been an important player in the land that gave birth to Chinook Jargon.

The Jargon indeed borrowed lots of words directly from Salish, but any Salish-ish number words came via Chinookan.

Now, let’s have a color-coded look at some figures, then I’ll wind things up with a comment about geography and time.

1, 2, 3, 4: Chinookan

The lowest numerals in the Chinookan languages (1, 2, 3, 4) are native to Chinookan as far as I can tell. Each is a simple root shape that differs from what’s found in neighbouring language families. Across the four languages of the Chinookan family, these roots are the same ones as in Chinuk Wawa: íxt ‘1’, mákwst ‘2’, ɬún ‘3’ (not found in the Kiksht data I have), and lákit ‘4’.

5: Salish?

But I’m wondering about Chinookan & ChW ‘5’. Its shape is structurally identical to ‘6’, at least in that it too could come from the normal Salish root shape CVC plus Salish “Middle Voice” suffix -m. Could Chinookan qʷənəm be a borrowing of the Salish root I know as kʷəná- ‘take; hold’ in modern Lower Chehalis (plus Middle Voice -m)? Maybe with the idea of ‘grasping; making a fist’? This same form is used across the whole Chinookan family.

6: Salish

I’ve previously written that Lower Chehalis t̓əx̣ə́m ~ təx̣ə́m ‘6’ (some of the last lifelong speakers say it’s ‘8’) reflects a Salish word that influenced Chinookan (which has tə́x̣əm, but I haven’t found a Kiksht ‘6’), ultimately giving us Chinuk Wawa’s táx̣əm. Also, in at least northern Sahaptin, there’s a compellingly similar and thus plausibly borrowed form for ‘6’, p[-]tx̣n (we’re told pa- is a numeral prefix). The first Lo. Cheh. form is the original, going back to ancient Proto-Salish *t̓aq̓ ‘to cross over; (in derivatives:) six’. It still is the word for ‘six’ in Cowlitz and Upper Chehalis; probably ɬəw̓ál̓məš (Lower Chehalis) too still had it circa 1800 AD. A neat roundabout support for the claim that ‘6’ literally meant ‘cross over’ in Salish, from a traditional Native system of counting on the hands, is the newer word for ‘6’ in Lower Chehalis and Quinault Salish, sítəč, which literally means ‘cross over (on) the hand’!

7: Salish + Chinookan?

sínamákwst ‘7’ seems rather Chinookan,  ‘___ two’ … but could the /sin/ it be a typically Chinookan pronunciation of Salish cíl ‘five’? Chinookan na- is a locative prefix, per Boas. So maybe this is ‘five on two’? Clatsop-Shoalwater & Kiksht use the same word for ‘7’; Kathlamet & Clackamas ‘7’ not found.

8: Salish?

Is Chinookan & Chinuk Wawa stúxtkin ‘8’ originally from Salish in some roundabout fashion? All Salish languages have a Noun-forming prefix s- and a lexical suffix for ‘head’ -qən/-qin. And specifically in the SW WA Salish languages that now neighbour Lower Chinookan, the word for ‘9’ (yes, I said ‘nine’) is túʔuxʷ. Could stúx(t)kin be an old borrowing, run through typical Chinookan sound changes, having a sense like ‘the head of 9’? (Which I admit is puzzling, much as Russian dévyat’ ‘9’ is odd in looking like ’10’, and Russian devyanósto ’90’ is weird in seeming to mean ‘nine but a hundred’!) Interestingly, the farthest Upper Chinookan language, Kiksht, has a totally different word for ‘8’ ~ (ɬ)gúɬx(dikš); I don’t know what forms Kathlamet & Clackamas used for ‘8’, as none are found in the data that I have access to.

9: Chinookan

I’ve also mused in the past that CW k’wáyts ‘9’ is Chinookan, because it resembles a Chinookan word < k’úits >, thus I suppose literally meaning ‘a little (i.e. a little less than ten)’. This same form is found in Sahaptian languages, where I’m not aware of it being analyzable, so maybe it’s borrowed from Chinookan there. Just because we’ve taken the argument this far already, we could make the case that Chinookan ‘9’ is SW WA Salish k̓ʷíʔəc ‘give me’! 😉 That’s not entirely far-fetched, considering that I believe Chinookan (and southern ChW) k’úyʔ ‘let’s’ (etc.) may well be from that same SW WA Salish root. (E.g. from the command form k̓ʷíʔaʔ ‘give (it)!’ Compare another southern CW polite command particle nixwa, which I think is from a SW WA Salish command ‘bring it!’.) By chance, Kathlamet, Kiksht & Clackamas ‘9’ are not found in the data I have, so technically we don’t know their words for it. But because there’s k’wayts ‘nine’ in the unrelated Sahaptian languages, I’m guessing that that form is widespread in Chinookan including the Kiksht and Kathlamet that neighbor Sahaptin. A reminder, Salish folks originally occupied that stretch of the Columbia River before the Sahaptins came, showing us that there’s been contact between these languages quite a ways back.

10: Chinookan

’10’, táɬləm, is Chinookan as far as we can tell. It’s a very different shape from the traditional Salish words for this quantity, e.g. Lower Chehalis pán̓əč.

100: Chinookan

The largest number-word in Chinookan languages and old-school southern ChW, ‘100’ t’ákumunaq, is native Chinookan. I’ve previously pointed out that it appears to be a metaphorical use of their word for the largest local tree species, Douglas fir. I find this usage in Kiksht, Kathlamet, and Clatsop-Shoalwater. (I don’t find any word for ‘100’ in Clackamas.)

A comment about geography & time:

There’s a great deal of uniformity among the Chinookan numeral words, from the farthest upstream on the Columbia (Kiksht) to the farthest downstream (Clatsop-Shoalwater). This is true of ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’, ‘4’, ’10’, and ‘100’, but also includes the definitely and possibly Salish-sourced numerals ‘5’, ‘6’, and ‘7’. A bit of variation is seen in ‘8’, with Kiksht using a seemingly Chinookan word while the three downstream languages have a possibly Salish form. (My confidence that ‘9’ could be Salish is far lower, so I’ll ignore that word just now.)

My point there is that whatever old Salish influence there is in Chinookan numerals, its wide geographic distribution implies a more diffused source, or even one specifically from farther up the Columbia, than the other Salish words that we find loaned into Chinuk Wawa.

Those later, non-numeral, words routinely correlate more narrowly with SW Washington Salish languages & the Lower Chinookan languages, all pertaining to the lowest downstream reaches of the Columbia.

My “linguistic archaeology” work shows us, then, no less than three historical layers of Salish in Chinuk Wawa:

  1. Some numerals loaned into all of Chinookan, long ago.
  2. Various loans into Lower Chinookan from SW Washington Salish more recently, typically nouns and verbs, taking Chinookan pronunciations and affixes, often shifting their meaning and function.
  3. Quite a number of words directly from speakers of SW WA (and a tiny bit of Tillamook) Salish into the Jargon just about 200 years ago, of varied categories, usually staying close to their Salish meanings and functions.

Bonus fact:

Among the words for quantities discussed in Franz Boas’s 1910 “Chinook: An Illustrative Sketch” is kapə́t ‘enough’, which became ChW kʰəpít.

This word appears to be the native Chinookan preposition go- ~ ko- (which also shows up in Chinuk Wawa’s preposition kʰapa ~ kʰupa)…

…plus what I’ve suggested is another old borrowing from Salish, ~ pat ~‘just so’.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?