More about pátlach-hàws

When I originally wrote up the “discovery” of potlatch house (pátlach-hàws) as a Chinuk Wawa compound noun, I left out a couple of details of interest.

potlatch house eells

Image credit: “Ten Years of Missionary Work among the Indians at Skokomish, Washington Territory” by Myron Eells, 1886, page 56

First, I should specify that this is a northern-dialect CW phrase. I haven’t noticed it anywhere in the lower Columbia River-centred southern dialect. It’s found from northern Puget Sound and northwards along the BC coast and Vancouver Island.

Second, I can give you an idea of how old this expression is. Being northern, we can expect it’s going to be no older than the 1858 Fraser River gold rushes that first brought the Chinook Jargon into widespread use north of Puget Sound. Yes indeed, I first detect potlatch house in 1874. And although this is a fictional use by famous writer Bret Harte, I’m going to count it as a worthwhile data point.

The first written occurrence of potlatch house in a factual context comes soon thereafter, on page 68 of an 1877 US government report on the Skokomish Reservation in Washington:

potlatch house eells 1877

Here are those “tamanamus-posts” of the potlatch house at Skokomish (also numbered as page 68):

Screenshot 2022-12-27 131806

Third, this phrase potlatch house always occurs in reference to Native people, reinforcing our understanding that it’s not English (which was still not widely known in those communities) but instead is a Chinuk Wawa expression.

Fourth, there are quite a lot of old written occurrences of this phrase — so it was well known and widely used.

It just never got written in any of the old “Chinook” dictionaries!

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?