The Klamath language preserves Métis influence

Certain words are extremely important in M.A.R. Barker’s 1963 Klamath Dictionary.

klamath bull sale

(Image credit: Klamath Bull Sale)

I’d like to start by focusing on two nouns thought by Barker to have been loaned from Chinuk Wawa:

  • lidol ‘bull’
  • leswi ‘handkerchief’; also ‘silk’

Neither of these is known to us from the vast literature documenting CW.

Indeed, CW has its own well-known English-sourced word for ‘handkerchief’, which shows up as a synonym in the Klamath language of far southern Oregon and northern California, kikjam (cf. Grand Ronde híkchəm).

And it’s virtually universal in CW that a ‘bull’ is man-musmus, a ‘male cow’.

Yet here we have Klamath, one of the southernmost Indigenous languages to show Chinook Jargon influence, preserving French le taureau & l’essuie(-mains).

Mind you, leswi also reflects common CJ laswe ‘silk’. The 2012 Grand Ronde dictionary writes that word as lasway, based on

(1) Father St Onge’s spelling laswai in his religious texts (although in his 1892 dictionary manuscript he only writes laswe and, as in Demers-Blanchet-St Onge 1871, laswa),

and (2) a misinterpretation of the Turtle Mountain Michif Dictionary’s spelling < lasway >. A sound file at Norman Fleury’s online Michif dictionary shows that it’s [laswέ].

The majority of those documenting this Jargon word for ‘silk’ back in the day have it sounding like “laswei”.

In any case, it seems to me Klamath leswi‘s sense of ‘handkerchief’ was influenced by Métis French l’essuie(-mains) ‘hand towel’ at the expense of one-to-one identification with the material, ‘silk’…which was commonly present, perhaps, in handkerchief form in the past PNW.

Klamath’s pronunciation lidol is partly puzzling; where did the last vowel go? Compare Michif (French-Cree mixed language of the Métis people) li tooroo. On the other hand, Klamath has nativized quite a number of borrowed words, for example by extracting final -s from Chinook Jargon haws as if were a Klamath affix, resulting in a new stem haw. (This is in Diminutive formations based on that root.)

I mention Métis people as the providers of lidol & leswi to Klamath, because there is indeed a historic Métis settlement community stretching south from the Columbia River through the Willamette Valley to the old Fort Umpqua area of Oregon. That includes some Klamath traditional territory. Not too long ago on this site, I shared information about how folks still spoke Métis French in southwest Oregon’s Cow Creek area well into the 1940s.

And non-CJ French loanwords into Pacific NW Native languages are found only in regions that also hosted Métis settlement. The cognate of leswi is found in Dakelh (“Carrier” Dene/Athabaskan) of central British Columbia, for example. (There it’s lusooma ‘towel’.)

More words that bring Métis to mind:

  • lo•lomaq ‘wheat’ [I suspect this reflects a Chinuk Wawa *luʔluʔ-məkʰmək* ’round food’ patterned on a known Fort Vancouver-era CW luʔluʔ-saplel ‘whole wheat’, which in turn I’ve traced back to Métis French tout-rond blé.]
  • lebwin ‘frying pan’ (CW lapʰuwel), where the original final “L” changing to “N” may reflect the Plains Cree influence in Red River Métis speech
  • mide•ʔ(s) ‘leggings’ (CW mitas, originally from Plains Cree)
  • baLaˑ(s), i.e. baɬa(s) ‘bullets, shot’. Derivation unknown. (Perhaps cf. Michif/Métis French bal ‘pellet (of lead used in shotgun)’, CW lapal for the same.)
  • mič’o• ‘spoon’ “of bone or wood or woven of tule” (perhaps cf. CW mikwen ‘horn spoon’, a typical Métis word)

Here are the other, less Métis-specific loans that I’ve noticed in Barker’s modern Klamath dictionary. Some of them known only in nativized forms such as reduplications; some cited here as roots without the final -s that they were borrowed with. Barker often assigns an “English” etymology to a word when Chinuk Wawa is equally or more likely. I’m ignoring obvious borrowings of ethnonyms; if you’re doing your own research, know that there are several such in the dictionary. Words in this last having the phoneme /r/ must be among the most recent, taken straight from English; most of the more-recent loans are also known in BC Chinuk Wawa.

  • bambam ‘drum’ said by speakers to be borrowed from Warm Springs (Sahaptin?) (compare CW pumpum)
  • basdin ‘white man’ (CW bástən)
  • so•l[-]čoq ‘ocean’, soˑlčoqkniˑ’Lower Rogue River people’ (CW sáltsəqw and longstanding expressions about coastal tribes being sáltsəqw tílixam ‘ocean people’)
  • dindan ‘bell’ (CW tíntin)
  • gabo ‘coat’ (CW kʰapú)
  • goso ‘pig’ (CW kúshu)
  • čeč[-]haws ‘church’ (CW -haws ‘building’; northern CW ~ chə́ch-haws)
  • si•l[-]haws ‘tent’ (CW síl-haws)
  • jigmin ‘iron; nail’ also used in a man’s personal name (CW chíkʰəmin ‘iron, metal, money’)
  • (s)k’oly’a• ‘coyote’ (thought by speakers to be from Chinuk Wawa; I’ll write a separate article about this word)
  • la•m ‘liquor’ (CW lám)
  • libwa ‘peas’ (CW lipʰwá)
  • ligal ‘playing cards’ (noun) (CW likárt)
  • limi•l ‘mule’ (CW lamíl)
  • ma•wič ‘deer’ (CW máwich)
  • mo•smos ‘cow’ (cf. mosmas ‘black-tailed deer’, apparently a native Klamath word) (CW músmus)
  • si•l ‘cloth’ (CW síl)
  • so•l ‘salt’ (CW sólt)
  • so•lj(is) ‘soldier(s)’ (CW shúlchast)
  • walkoy ‘seal’ (the animal) (CW úlx̣ayu)
  • wayha ‘negro’ (CW wayhi ‘Pacific Islander’, from nautical English (O)wyhee, from Hawai’ian; we’ve seen elsewhere in PNW languages that a single word can mean either ‘African-American’ or ‘Pacific Islander’.)
  • seʔe•ts ‘Saturday’ (Barker says this is an “interlingual pun” between the Klamath term for ‘distribute’ e.g. food, and the English ‘Saturday’, due to Saturday’s known history as food-distribution day as early as Hudson Bay Company times; thus there’s an indirect Chinuk Wawa influence here. Compare CW muckamuck sun.)
  • be(•)t ‘bed’ (CW pít)
  • beyba ‘paper’. Sometimes given as biba. (CW pípa)
  • bit ‘a “bit” (unit of money)’, used in Klamath expressions ‘one bit’ (10 cents), ‘two bits’ (25 cents), ‘four bits’ (50 cents); CW bít. Also note the Klamath term hesnbeˑmbems ‘five cent piece’ (“Confusing-each-other”; the reason for this kenning word is unknown.)
  • bok ‘book’ (CW búk)
  • da•kda(s) ‘doctor’ (CW dákta)
  • da•la ‘money; dollar’ (CW dála)
  • ja•nama ‘Chinese person’ (older CW cháyna-man, from Chinese Pidgin English)
  • ko•bi ‘coffee’ (CW kʰófi etc.)
  • kwa•da ‘quarter’ (25 cents) (CW kʰwáta)
  • yawGs-me•n ‘doctor (white man’s doctor)’, i.e. Klamath ‘[traditional] medicine’ + CW/English –man ‘habitual doer’
  • mpetʼkangsSpaniard(s)’. Named by the people of the Oregon coast, who saw the early Spanish ships offshore. This term was introduced as a loan translation into Klamath by slaves captured in raids, according to LK. [Cf. mpetʼkanga ‘floats around here and there’, and Salish and Nuuchahnulth words for ‘white people’ that mean literally ‘drifting’ or ‘houses on the sea’.]
  • pʼoˑs ‘cat’. Cf. also pʼisʔ ‘cat’, which was said to be obsolete. (Grand Ronde CW p’us, whose ejective first consonant has always been a source of questions)
  • sandi ‘Sunday’ (CW sánti)
  • sdeˑgin ‘stocking; wear stocking(s)’ (CW stákin)
  • sdiksoˑy ‘shoe; to put on, wear shoes’. Said to be from English “stick-shoe,” an English-Klamath kenning term for the heavy boots worn by early white settlers. (CW stík-shush ‘shoes (Euro-American style); boots’)
  • sisoˑ ‘scissors’ (CW sisu)
  • skoˑl ‘school’ (CW skul)
  • stoˑp ‘stove’ (CW stuv etc.)
  • tawn ‘town’ (CW tʰawn)
  • tiˑ ‘tea’ (CW tʰí)
  • treyn ‘railroad train’. Cf. the earlier kenning term /loloqs weˑgạn/ “fire wagon” (under lolog̣) (CW páya-ts’ikts’tik)
  • sdeybal ‘stable’ (the building)
  • taˑnab ‘turnip’
  • taˑsnaˑk ‘rutebaga(s)’. Not Klamath, but derivation unknown.

Words that I suppose are the most recently borrowed:

  • teybal ‘table’
  • weˑgan ‘wagon’
  • Wiˑl (i.e. xwil) ‘wheel’
  • ʔalyan(s) ‘onion(s)’
  • ʔawtomobi•l ‘automobile’
  • ʔe•pal(s) ‘apple(s)’
  • ʔinjil ‘angel’
  • ʔink ‘ink’
  • ʔi•jan(s) ‘Agency’ (headquarters of the Klamath Indian Reservation)
  • ʔi•jant ‘Indian Agent’ (government official in charge of the Reservation)
  • ba•dal ‘bottle’
  • ba•g(s) ‘box’
  • be•nk ‘bank’
  • bo•l ‘ball’ (probably recent and meaning a ball used in sports/games; CW lapal ‘ball’ as in lead shot used in old-style guns)
  • the term for ‘skunk cabbage’ is said to be a Klamath “loan construction” (calque) on English for a recent introduction to the area
  • go•t ‘goat’
  • ja• ‘jar’
  • jeyl ‘jail’
  • jigin ‘chicken’
  • kap ‘cup’
  • ke•p ‘calf’ (animal)
  • lo•di•n ‘rodeo’
  • maji•s ‘matches’
  • moli•n ‘mow (grass)’. Possibly English “mow” plus {oliˑn} “off the edge, off,” but no further forms were obtained.
  • pikča ‘picture’
  • pleya ‘prayer’
  • poliˑ(s) ‘police’
  • priˑča ‘preacher’. No form was elicited from the oldest informants.

My impression of the loan words I’ve managed to find in Klamath is that there are several distinct “layers” of them, including one that indicates the known presence of Métis people among the first settlers in the area.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?