Quinault ‘free’ < CW 'wash(ed)'

Are you as fascinated as I am that Christian hymns are the key to understanding a Quinault Salish word?


(Image credit: Quinault Indian Nation)

To me, this stuff is quite cool to figure out.

The only dictionary I know of the Quinault language — kʷinayɬəq — was data mainly from Mrs. Hannah Bowechop, typed up by Ruth Modrow in 1971.

Modrow was a Summer Institute of Linguistics worker, i.e. a(n evangelical Protestant) Christian missionary.

Textual analysis of the dictionary shows that the two women’s interests overlapped. But the nature of that intersection might surprise you.

There are plenty of generically Christian concepts in this dictionary, such as ‘God’, ‘prophet’, and ‘bless’. I imagine that documenting these was both pleasing and validating to Modrow.

In many instances, however, Mrs. Bowchop seems to have preferred to translate Christianisms by referring to the locally well-established Indian Shaker Church. That’s pretty far from a mainline Protestant church; in fact I understand the ISC as reflecting some Catholic influences.

I wonder what Modrow made of the Quinault word for a ‘church’ also being specified as meaning a ‘Shaker church’. Or of ‘son (Jesus)’ being títanas, a typical instance of Shakers’ use of Chinuk Wawa. (Non-feminine definite article ti + CW tənás ‘child’.) Whole phrases of Shaker ritual language, which look Lushootseed-influenced to me, are quoted in the dictionary.

I would hazard a guess that Mrs. Bowchop and Modrow sometimes thought they understood each other even when they didn’t. I know this happens in linguistic field work. Been there!

A case where these factors might have been in play is the dictionary’s entries involving the root spelled as

< ts’óx >

and translated as ‘wash; to free’.

No overt comment is provided about this spectacular semantic range.

But I’ve noted in a study of the closely related Upper Chehalis Salish language that M. Dale Kinkade’s 1991 dictionary shows a word written in antique phonetics as < sx ttᶜ >, translated as ‘ “wash” a woman from slavery’. The root here is common to all SW Washington Salish languages, *c̓ə́x̣ʷ (‘wash’).

That’s the same root as Quinault’s < ts’óx >. Both go all the way back to ancient Proto-Salish *c̓aʕʷ / *c̓aw ‘to wash, clean’.

Now, I’m not confident in extrapolating that ‘wash’, as a word for ‘freeing’, is some kind of ancient regional Coast Salish metaphor. In SENĆOŦEN of Vancouver Island, for instance, I see that ‘to be freed’ is literally ‘to be loosened’, based on a different root. Klallam uses what I think is an inheritance of Proto-Salish ‘open, bright, having spaces in between’.

But, at the very least, we can say with great confidence that the Quinault and Upper Chehalis usage matches frontier-era Chinuk Wawa. As early as the 1838+ data of Demers, Blanchet, and St Onge, we find CW wash as both ‘wash’ and ‘baptize’, with the latter connoting being “freed” from sin.

(I’ve long suspected that in earlyish CW times among Chinookan speakers, mash ‘throw away’ also influenced the semantics. “M” and “W” sounds alternate with each other to some extent in Lower Chinookan.)

A metaphor that’s similar to both, also found in Demers-Blanchet-St Onge’s book, is mamuk-stux̣ ‘to absolve sins’ — literally ‘to make-untied’.

Long story short, we can show that Quinault and Upper Chehalis use their shared word for ‘wash’ in an extended sense ‘to free’ someone, in this or that sense.

And that usage very likely is related to Chinook Jargon’s WASH :: BAPTIZE metaphor, although we don’t know which is the chicken & which is the egg…

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?