kímtəks: not such a rarity, and not so new

One of the many delightful little mysteries of Chinook Jargon is a word that chup henli (Dr. Henry Zenk) turned up in his important research into Grand Ronde’s variety of Chinuk Wawa.

The 2012 Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde dictionary that resulted from his work includes this entry for that word: 

kimtəks ‘to feel deeply about, regard with respect’

The stress indicated in that entry is always on the 1st syllable, which has a “long” /i/ as in English “machine”, not a “short i” as in English “Kim”. These facts will come back into play below…

Here are all of the examples given in CTGR 2012 (pages 114-115):

  • nay kimtəks [Ø]
    ‘I’ve got it down in my heart (e.g., referring to what you just told me)’
    [DDR: I’ve added in my notation for the “silent IT” pronoun]
  • nay kimtəks mayka
    ‘I’ll be thinking of you; you’ll be in my thoughts’
  • kiiimtəks is called an “emphasis form” by the dictionary
    • na ɬatwa bət nay kiiimtəks mayka, kwansəm na kiiimtəks mayka 
      ‘I’m leaving but you will definitely be in my thoughts, I’ll always be thinking of you’
    • na kiiimtəks ɬaska 
      ‘I have great respect for them’

The etymological comment in that dictionary:

This obscure word was recorded only from WB [tribal elder and council chairman, Wilson Stephen Bobb Sr.]; possibly, it traces to kəmtəks ‘know, understand’ (from Nootka Jargon), amplified by an elsewhere unrecorded lengthening of the first syllable. 

The attribution of this word to the important NJ, and thus very early Chinook Jargon, form kə́mtəks has to be correct. But nothing in the Nuuchahnulth source language(s), nor in CJ, would suggest a shift to a front /i/ vowel. 

The missing clue is this: I’ve found in Lower Chehalis Salish a frequent vowel shift from stressed schwa /ə́/ to /í/. Common words using this shift in Low. Cheh. include qíʔx̣əč̓ ‘crab’ (‘many hands’, derived from qə́x̣ ‘many’), and ʔalíʔsiɬ ‘children of royalty’ (derived from ʔál̓əs ‘chief’). This shift to /í/ seems to have 2 functions, which overlap each other to some extent: (1) to build compound words, broadly defined, and (2) to impart an ‘Affective’, special emotional tinge to a word. 

And Lower Chehalis Salish was one of the first big contributors to the early Chinook Jargon, seeing as how Low. Cheh. was spoken by the same people who spoke Lower Chinookan in the far lower Columbia River villages where CJ originated. 

So I trace Chinuk Wawa’s kimtəks to early Lower Chehalis influence. (I haven’t found the /ə́/ to /í/ shift so prominently in the sister SW WA Salish languages, by the way.) 

It’s fascinating to see bits of Lower Chehalis grammar, such as this vowel shift, that got applied to a different language, CW. We see many hints of similar stuff going on in past centuries between Lower Chehalis and Lower Chinookan…

Anyway, it turns out that this form kimtəks indeed shows up earlier within CW. Here are a couple instances:


< caim-tux > / < kaim-tux > from Swan 1857 (Shoalwater Bay, Washington)


< káme-taks > from Gibbs 1863 (Fort Vancouver area of Washington and Oregon)

These spellings with English-style < ai > or “long” < a > indicate a phonetic [e], which is in fact an extremely common variant of /i/ in Lower Chehalis all the live-long day

There’s a small irony in Grand Ronde having that lengthened “emphasis form” kiiimtəks. That’s because the /ə́/ to /í/ shift in Lower Chehalis, at least in function (2), is already the same thing as Chinuk Wawa’s lengthening of a word’s stressed vowel — it’s one way of adding rhetorical importance to a word. 

Bonus fact:

Screenshot 2023-01-09 115759

The same word we’re talking about is used in a number of innovative ways by a speaker of revitalized southern Chinuk Wawa in a 2021 Indigenous People’s Day Proclamation from Multnomah County, Oregon.

For instance, it gets used in a causative form meaning ‘to honor’ someone, and also as a noun. That latter use is totally new to me, but the modern community has pretty firmly established kimtəks as ‘to honor’ someone, using it to make translations of ‘Mother’s Day’ and so forth. 

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?