How to say ‘porcupine’

Not many people eat porcupines.

can a porcupine

Not the reason people seldom deal with them… (image credit: Youtube)

Not very often, anyhow. They’re good meat, but you don’t subsist on it. Have you tried it?

And porcupines were never much of an item of fur-trade era merchandise.

Their quills are probably the most useful product that we humans get from porcupines.

But you don’t need to go to a Hudsons Bay Company trading post to get “porky” quills for your beadwork. You ask a relative who has some. One porcupine has an enormous amount of quills on it…enough for several people to use for quite a while.

These reasons, my friends, explain why there aren’t any standard words for ‘porcupine’ in the Chinuk Wawa language. The very fine 2012 CW dictionary from the Grand Ronde Tribes — an excellent, representative sampling of well-documented Jargon vocabulary — has no entry for it.

It boils down to how seldom anybody human interacts with Erethizon dorsatum.

Don’t go assuming there’s no word at all for this critter in Jargon, though. Folks have been busy at work in the Grand Ronde language teaching program. They’ve come up with:

  • t’ɬə́mxwən-yaqsu
    literally ‘spear-hair’
    (2011 Chinuk Wawa Reference Lexicon)
  • k’ípʰwat-yaqsu
    literally ‘needle-hair’
    (2012 Chinuk Wawa Reference Lexicon)

These work really well, especially in the “southern dialect” of Chinook Jargon that Grand Ronde represents.

However, in the “northern dialect”, folks might not have historically understood the nouns t’ɬə́mxwən and k’ípʰwat. So what might porcupines be called in, say, British Columbia CJ?

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?