Boas 1892: Many discoveries in a short article (Part 6: ‘to give food’)

chehalis food not bombs

(Image credit: Chehalis River Mutual Aid)

< ō’ma > is how Franz Boas’s really lovely 1892 article “The Chinook Jargon”, published in Science, writes úmaʔ (the modern Grand Ronde spelling).

to give food

Boas was not always great at detecting glottal stops. Plus, the Science editors were probably mystified by a lot of the strange marks he made in writing Indigenous words.

Anyway, upon discovering this word in Shoalwater Bay and (as he himself called it) lower Columbia River Chinook Jargon, Professor Boas defined it in print as ‘to give food’.

That right there’s super interesting, do you know?

That wording is yet another definition in southern-dialect Chinuk Wawa by fluent speaker Q’ltí, a.k.a. Charles Cultee —

It must have been pá(t)lach mə́kʰmək, which is exactly how you say ‘to feed’ someone in the northern dialect. (In both dialects, that expression would also encode the Indigenous value, ‘to share’ food with others.)

Up north we don’t know úmaʔ, which in any case didn’t show up in any of the old published dictionaries of the language.

Boas accurately says the source of this word is the “Chihalish” language, which historically always meant the Lower Chehalis Salish spoken by Q’lti.

But Boas didn’t know enough about Lower Chehalis (which is called ɬəw’ál’məš by its speakers) to go any deeper. So I will.

This Jargon word comes from the Lower Chehalis root /ʔúm/ ‘to feed’, plus the imperative singular suffix -aʔ. So in Salish it means ‘feed!’ or ‘give food!’

That’s a fairly simple word structure, for that language. For example, the only command form of this same verb that I know (so far) to be documented in Lower Chehalis is the much more complex ʔumsqʷúʔəcaʔ ‘give me water!’

One wonders if a significant part of the Chinook Jargon vocabulary from this language reflects simplified ways of speaking it.

The ɬəw’ál’məš words in the Jargon are indeed, as a rule, fairly simple. (By ɬəw’ál’məš standards.) They typically show a minimum of inflection.

But they’re not pidginized. They’re grammatically correct in Lower Chehalis.

(This is a somewhat different pattern from the Lower Chinookan words that came into the Jargon, many of which are ungrammatical from the standpoint of Lower Chinookan grammar.)

So I ponder whether the Low. Cheh. to Chin. Wa. loans reflect styles such as:

  1. talk directed to children,
  2. talk directed to non-Lower Chehalis people,
  3. the kind of Lower Chehalis spoken to Lower Chehalis folks by Lower Chinookans (who we know to have spoken this language, and to have been in the Grand Ronde reservation population).

Let me make clear: these Lower Chehalis words became pidgin, and creole, words upon being used in Chinook Jargon. Their meanings and inflections became radically different then, of course. But they were 100% normal words within Lower Chehalis.

Bonus fact:

Lower Chinookan may have borrowed this Lower Chehalis root long ago.

In another publication, “Chinook: An Illustrative Sketch“, Boas reports that the verb root for ‘give food’ (notice that English-from-CW translation again!) is the quite similar < ᵋēm >, that is /ʔim/. That same root is used in Kathlamet Chinookan.

Upriver, Clackamas Chinookan appears to use the similar but longer, and therefore probably native Chinookan root qʷim, which exists as a variant in Lower Chinookan.

Kiksht/Wishram Chinookan, the farthest up the Columbia River, appears to use still another verb.

This is the distribution that we keep on finding for the Salish-looking words in Chinookan languages: they’re typically most strongly concentrated in Lower Chinookan, and marginal or absent in Upper Chinookan.

There was a lot of (Lower Chehalis and some Cowlitz) Salish bilingualism with Lower Chinookan in traditional times — and that’s why “Chinook Jargon” would be more accurately called “Chinook-Chehalis Jargon”.

Bonus bonus fact: yesterday, by utter chance, I met a Cultee family member.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?