The descent of Lower Chehalis ‘testicles’, and Chinuk Wawa (plus Proto-Salish discoveries)

Adding to one of the odder New Years Eve posts I’ve written…


Image credit: Youtube

While working on making a Lower Chehalis Salish (ɬəw̓ál̓məš) dictionary, I did a double take when I came to this word: 


…because this word has an obvious literal meaning: qáys is ‘stone’ and -n̓əč is ‘buttocks; tail; ass’.

Thus: this word is ‘stone-buttocks’ or ‘down-there stones’.

Why was this remarkable to me?

Well now, Proto-Coast-Salish (which was a later stage than Proto-Salish) had *makn ‘testicles’, which gave the word for said body part in practically all modern Coast Salish languages. For instance, Upper Chehalis and Cowlitz have ‘testicle’ words that descended from that source. As for the other SW Washington (“Tsamosan”) Salish languages, as my old linguistics professor Joe Malone from Brooklyn might say, we don’t know from Quinault. This is because the only dictionary of Qn was made by a missionary who left out lots of the good stuff. 

And, aside from ‘down-there stones’, we don’t know from Lower Chehalis either. The only other thing translated as ‘testicles’ in that language is actually the word for ‘salmon milt’, in a story by Q’ltí a.k.a. Charles Cultee. — Which yet again shows you something about how that gentleman translated things into Chinook Jargon for anthropological researcher, Dr. Franz Boas. 

But the point here is, among Salish languages, it’s only Lower Chehalis that expresses ‘testicles’ with a word for ‘stone’. What a funny co-inky-dink that Lower Chehalis is the co-Indigenous-parent, with Lower Chinookan, of Chinuk Wawa. (And therefore has had an unusually long period of contact with CW!) 

You see, Chinuk Wawa calls ‘testicles’ stón, ‘stones’. That’s due to influence from sailors’ and/or fur-trade workers’ informal English, perhaps specifically British. The metaphor doesn’t seem to exist in Chinookan, or Salish, or Métis French, etc. (I checked a Southern/Heritage Michif dictionary — the Cree-French hybrid language — and the words for ‘testicles’ appear to come from French terms for ‘pockets’, ‘sleigh bells’, and ‘kids’!) 

Assuming as I do that the Lower Chehalis word qáysn̓əč, in its totality, is a loan-translation from Chinook Jargon, the CJ phrase — otherwise unknown to us in the historical record! — was a hypothetical *stón-ùpʰuch* (literally ‘stone-buttocks’) or *úpʰuch-stòn* (literally ‘down.there-stones’). More likely that second version, due to the rules of CJ grammar. 

(I’m trying hard to highlight every form that I hypothesize, as opposed to those already found in other linguists’ published work, by placing it *between asterisks*.)

You, my sharp-eyed reader, are saying “Wait, what? Why does Dave say Jargon had ‘down.there-stones’, but Lower Chehalis has ‘stone-down.there’?”

Wow, great question! It’s easy to answer.

Salish languages just plain love using their suffix that means ‘butt’, more than they love using a suffix that they also have that means ‘stone’.

It’s well-nigh predictable that Lower Chehalis would reorder the Jargon phrase that I’ve reconstructed, to put the ‘butt’ part last. Salish loves to play with words, and it loves to make ‘butt’ words, which very very often have joking overtones in that family of languages. 

So no matter what, qáys-n̓əč means exactly the same thing as our hypothetical Chinook Jargon *úpʰuch-stòn*

And only in Lower Chehalis (and its sister SW Washington [“Tsamosan”] Salish languages) do we routinely find this type of inter-calquing with Chinuk Wawa that we’ve examined today with ‘testicles’ words.

We’ve seen this exact interplay of Jargon & Salish loan translations…

Bonus fact:

As a scholar of Salish historical linguistics, I hypothesize that the Lower Chehalis lexical suffix -n̓əč (which goes back to the Proto-Salish (super old) *-anak, ‘buttocks etc.’) is in fact related etymologically to Proto-Coast-Salish (less old) *makn ‘testicles’, and also to Proto-Salish (super old) *mnak ‘poop’.

How? The late and revered linguist of Salish, M. Dale Kinkade, once pointed out that many Salish words beginning in m- look like they’re just using that consonant as a prop, to enable “lexical suffixes” to stand as viable noun words.

My hypothesis, building on Dale’s, is that this *m-*, which we reconstruct all the way back to Proto-Salish (super old), was a Noun Classifier / Noun Class Marker in those long-ago days. Very similar to K’alapuyan languages with their *a(N)- ‘Noun’ prefix, going all the way back to the proto-language. Also compare, at a similar depth of antiquity, Chinookan with its *i-, *u-, *ɬ-, etc. gendered ‘Noun’ prefixes, and of course the well-known Proto- [and modern] Salish *s- ‘Noun’ prefix. So Noun-Class-Marking prefixes are a very old “areal feature” in the central Pacific Norhwest Coast. 

Well then, we’re looking at ancient Salish *m-akn* ‘Noun-testicles’ and *m-nak* ‘Noun-poop’.

We can easily understand the second word there to be a variant of *m-anak* ‘Noun-buttocks etc.’, can’t we? So let’s say there was a single ancient Salish suffix *-(a)nak* ‘poop, buttocks, etc.’

Now consider: both defecation and sexuality are connected with your rear end in Salish culture, and in Chinook Jargon-speaking culture, and a zillion other people’s cultures. Just think of the Chinook Jargon phrase tíki úpʰuch for ‘being horny’: it’s literally ‘wanting some tail/ass/etc.’ (No surprise, there are exact calques of that phrase in SW WA Salish, too!) 

Fine, fine, you see the semantic link. But how dare I say ancient Salish *-akn* & *-(a)nak* are fundamentally the same thing? They sound different.

Thank you for asking this. It’s all about another thing that also goes way way way back to Proto-Salish:


Salish speakers have always played with their words in this way, too: “metathesis” = doing a switcheroo with any pair of consonants inside of a word’s root.

It’s like if we all understood that, well, “butt” and “tub” are different ways to say kinda the same thing. Maybe “tub” is a more acceptable, less naughty way to say “butt”. Or maybe it’s more humorous. None of this is the case in English. But in every Salish language, there are actually dozens and dozens of these metathesized root pairs. 

I’m going to slow things even further, waaaaaay down, right now. Nobody except that linguist in the back row of the room spotted what I just claimed.

Here it is, straight out: If I’m saying that the ancient Salish suffixes *-(a)nak* & *-akn* are simply metatheses of each other, I’m saying they used to be, not suffixes, but roots! Because, only roots get metathesized in this language family. 

So basically, the inference is that Proto-Salish had a Noun Class marker *m-*, and a single root shaped like *nak*.

(Salish roots prototypically have this consonant-vowel-consonant “CVC” form. And by the way, vowels just aren’t very important in your average reconstruction of earlier stages of Salish, which is why I’m sometimes putting them into parentheses as though they were optional.)

A bit later, Proto-Coast-Salish speakers messed with that root, separating it from *m-nak* ‘poop, butt, etc.’ long enough to make it into the silly inside-out root in *m-(a)k(a)n* that they used to say ‘testicles’. 

qʰata mayka təmtəm? 
What do you think?