Boas 1892: Many discoveries in a short article (Part 9: ‘last’, and German influence?)

Here’s our latest installment in a mini-series on a remarkable if tiny article, “The Chinook Jargon” by Franz Boas in Science XIX(474):129 (March 4, 1892).

Another of the many words Boas had noticed in use at Bay Center, Washington — and thus became the first to publicly mention as Chinuk Wawa vocabulary — was this one:

last 1

last 2

last, ubō′t ( = French au bout?)

This is the word we otherwise only know from Grand Ronde, Oregon, as ubut.

That distribution in the lower Columbia River to Willamette Valley drainage tends to support Boas’s idea about its etymology. It probably is Métis/fur-trade Canadian French in origin, from local speakers who had married into the tribes.

Ubut is etymologically a prepositional phrase au bout ‘at/to the end’. It’s the only instance, or one of exceedingly few, of prepositions from another language besides the Chinookan kʰapa/kopa coming into Chinook Jargon. At the moment when I’m writing this, I can only think of the CJ shit(-)inəpʰu for ‘nits’ (louse eggs), which is odd if we take it by the rules of compound words in Jargon —  it’d mean ‘poop lice’, a rather hard to comprehend expression. If we could attach this phrase to Métis French influence, though, it’s imaginable that it was originally said and/or understood as using the French preposition d’, thus, shit d’inəpʰu ‘poop of lice’, a somewhat easier concept for me to grasp. (But we’d expect such an idea to be inəpʰu-shit or inəpʰu yaka shit in normal Chinuk Wawa grammar.)

Anyway, the final “T” in ubut is pronounced, rather than being silent in the European French fashion. This is a North American French type of variation that we see in a number of other Jargon words, e.g. in kapú ‘coat’ from capot. 

Boas’s translation of ubut as ‘last’ is mildly puzzling! We know this word in Chinuk Wawa as a noun, ‘the end’, so it’s used in phrases like chándi-ùbut ‘weekend’. As a lifelong English speaker, I automatically take ‘last’ as an adjective. Now, Franz Boas was a native speaker of German, not of English or of Jargon. Was he maybe meaning ‘the last’ bit of a thing, thus a noun? Would this have to do with a German expression like das letzte ‘the last thing; the limit; the utmost’? It’s unfortunate that he didn’t note down any examples of how ubut was used in sentences at Bay Center.

I’ve long supposed that fluent creolized-CW speakers associated ubut ‘end’ with the Chinookan-sourced noun úpʰuch ‘tail; buttocks; back end of thing e.g. of a canoe’. We don’t have any direct evidence for this proposal, but there are many instances where we’ve seen people “folk-etymologizing” Jargon words. Among the examples of that that you can find discussed here on my site are “high”/hayas(h) tayi for ‘great chief’, having a “pottle of lum” for being ‘drunk’, “hump puss” for ‘skunk’, and on and on. The difference would be that those puns — if I may call them that — involve a knowledge of English, whereas ubut ~ úpʰuch would depend on knowing Chinuk Wawa and, optionally, Métis French. In the latter case, seeing as how ubut is local to the old Fort Vancouver zone, the pun might conceivably partake of the old Salish tradition of verbal humor that I’ve written of several times.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?