Boas 1892: Many discoveries in a short article (Part 10: ‘to make’)

In his short but punchy 1892 article reporting newly noticed Chinuk Wawa words in the lower Columbia River region, Franz Boas says as basic an idea as ‘make’ has new expression…


Image credit: ‘Making Do and Getting By’ at the Lisson Gallery

This is apparently the first occurrence in print of the Lower Chehalis Salish-derived x̣íləməɬ.

Its etymology is:

  • A root x̣íl’ that goes back to ancient Proto-Salish *x̣il / *ʔax̣il ‘thus, like, similar’. (A.H. Kuipers 2002.) The idea would be of ‘doing like that’. The same root shows up in slightly different forms and meanings in other SW Washington Salish languages such as Cowlitz, but only in Lower Chehalis (ɬəw’ál’məš) does it sound like this and mean ‘make; do’.
  • A suffix -m̓əɬ that’s been called an “Implied Transitive”. Long story short, I often translate it as ‘do some ___-ing’.
  • Plus, technically, a “silent 3rd Person Perfective Subject” suffix ().
  • So the whole shebang in Lower Chehalis = ‘(s)he/they did some making/doing; (s)he/they made/did something’. We have lots & lots of 3rd person verbs from Lower Chehalis in Chinuk Wawa, which tells you something about how Salish got used in a pidgin-language-forming environment.

The second published occurrence of x̣íləməɬ may have been over a hundred years later, in the 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary of CW.

Screenshot 2023-03-21 222120

Why on earth would a language change words for such a fundamental notion as ‘make’?

I have thoughts.

They boil down to a need to replace the firmly established Nuuchahnulth and Nootka Jargon word mamuk…which is featured in our next installment of this mini-series. Stay tuned!

Bonus fact:

x̣íləməɬ is mostly reserved for the specific meaning, ‘to work’, in modern Grand Ronde Chinuk Wawa.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?