‘Know by voice’, a SW WA Salish-ism in Chinuk Wawa

My research work on Lower Chehalis Salish (ɬəẃáĺməš), the language traditionally spoken alongside old Lower Chinookan (Natítanui), steadily turns up gems of Chinuk Wawa.


Image credit: sascentre.com

Among my favorite experiences are the times when I spot an Indigenous metaphor that’s shared with CW.

Very often, we can tell that it was the Indigenous tribal language that supplied the idea to “the Jargon”.

Here’s an example of that. In Lower Chehalis we say:

k̓ʷap-l̓-áy̓ən ~ q̓ʷap-l-áy̓ən̓
‘understand; understand the language’

That’s literally ‘know/be.right – by – voice’.

Does that remind you of anything you’ve seen in the classic Chinook dictionaries?

How about this in the Jargon…

kə́mtəks kʰapa q’wəlán / < kumtuks kopa kwolan > (Shaw 1909) / < kum-tux ko-pa kwo-lón(Gill 1884)

…which is literally ‘know by ear’. I.e. ‘know by hearing someone’s voice’.

That would seem to be a relatively old expression in Chinook Jargon. It doesn’t show up in the main portion of the 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary, so it may have dropped out of use there by the time those elders were born around 1900. But I do see in the “regional Chinuk Wawa” section of that book the  parallel expression kə́mtəks kʰapa tə́mtəm ’emotion’ (literally ‘know with (the) heart’) from Father St Onge’s manuscript dictionary of 1892 (from circa 1870s knowledge). Dictionaries containing < cum’-tux co’-pa quo’-lon > in various spellings cluster in the 1850s-1860s; this spelling is from Granville Stuart 1865. (Note that SV Johnson’s 1978 dissertation tells us Gill 1884 traces to an 1852 dictionary by Blanchet, who was an early Fort Vancouver CW user.)

Among the reasons I believe Salish is the source of the Chinook Jargon expression, and not the other way around, is that a closely parallel expression is found in the sister SW Washington languages of Lower Chehalis:


Upper Chehalis:
‘understand (a language)’

Both of these are literally ‘know/be.right – in – mouth’ (i.e. in speaking).

A very nerdy side comment — skip it if you’re not up for some linguistics: 

These last two forms might be cases of typically Salish “metathesis”. I mean that the Cowlitz & U.C. words might have originally been ~ *k̓ʷp-l-áyn, identical with modern Lower Chehalis. Both of these languages do still have a suffix -áyn ‘hearing; voice’. Salish languages historically like to switch the positions of 2 consonants that are separated only by a vowel, so an original ~ *k̓ʷpláyn could have become ~ *k̓ʷpyáln. Now, that ~ *k̓ʷpyáln would tend to sound to SW Washington Salish ears like both (A) a viable verb because -y- is a common alternative form of -l- ‘Stem Extender’, and (B) an incomplete word because you’d still also have ál which is yet another allomorph of -l- (and sequences of -y-ál- are fine in these languages), making the final -n seem to be the ‘3rd Person Imperfective Aspect Subject’ suffix. The problem with (B) is that these languages don’t like to add pronoun suffixes onto stems that end in ‘Stem Extender’ (I mean, just look at that name!), which should always immediately be followed by a ‘Lexical Suffix’. (Such as -ucn ‘mouth’ above.) Oh, and a second problem is that Salish metathesis normally operates on roots, not on suffixes, another reason why our ~ *k̓ʷp-y-ál[-]n would’ve sounded weird to native speakers. So we can see that Upper Chehalis & Cowlitz folks would feel a sort of mental pressure to supply a “missing Lexical Suffix” relating to the meaning of the word, causing them to add -ucn ‘mouth’ here! (Which is followed by the silent -Ø ‘3rd Person Perfective Aspect Subject’.)

Compare also:

(the dictionary only uses it in a sentence about understanding the English language)

…which is ‘know/be.right – in – ???’ I mean that I don’t know yet what the final -ál̓ signifies. It’s unusual in Quinault. Potentially it’s another reflection of a historical metathesis from original ~ *k̓ʷpláyn to ~ *k̓ʷpyáln

At any rate, we’ve shown that the Lower Chehalis version of this regional Salish metaphor seems to be a preservation of the original expression, ‘know by voice’.

And for geographical reasons, Lower Chehalis would’ve been the Salish language that gave the earliest input to the young Chinuk Wawa language, which first took shape around “Chinook Town”, the L.C. and Lower Chinookan speaking village so prominent in early contacts with Euro-American ships.

The sister language, Cowlitz, would also have influenced Chinuk Wawa a generation or so later, when the Hudsons Bay Company’s western headquarters, Fort Vancouver, was the center of CW use, 1825+.

When I look at Lower Chinookan languages, such as in Franz Boas’s 1910 “Chinook: An Illustrative Sketch“, I see indications there, too, of a single stem being used for both ‘hear’ and ‘understand’. I also see a root for ‘ear’ being used in a verb for ‘hear’. But I’ve not yet found a structure like our Salish ‘know by ear’.

So for the time being, I’m attributing the Chinuk Wawa metaphor ‘know by ear’ (for ‘understand’) to the Southwest Washington Salish languages’ expression ‘know by voice’.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?