More (mis?)adventures in word reconstruction…

So, in my preceding post I wrote about the trickiness of reconstructing vocabulary words from 19th century sources. In the 1934, there was a then-grad student named Philip Drucker who interviewed several Oregon coast Indians, including Frank Drew, Annie Miner Peterson, Spencer Scott (Lower Umpqua), Hank Johnson (Lower Umpqua) and Agnes Johnson (Hanis Coos). He mostly wrote his information in English, covering some general ethnographic topics, and by and large wrote just a few native words. There are few native words which are ‘new’. By comparing his forms to those from Jacobs and Harrington, I’ve noticed he did not have a good ear for the language. (To be fair, it takes time to get familiar with the language before one can write it down well, and I am sure he did not have time to acquaint himself with it).

Still, I have found some interesting things. Jacobs covered a fair amount of information about dancing, and Drucker covered some of the same ground. Both got the word gwatskwi or gwatskwii for dance pole, which is a decorated pole used to ‘drum’ on the roof of the house (in lieu of a hand drum or log). Then Drucker noted that the man drumming with the pole was called, rather straightforwardly, gwatskwii demihl (pole man), or tsúgugwīawa which I interpret to be tsukukwiiyawa, or tsugugwiiyawa. That is a word I’ve not seen anywhere else.

I noticed it could be broken down, however. Per Frachtenberg’s grammar of Hanis, the affix -iiyawa (also -ayawa or -eyewe, depending on the vowels of the stem the suffix attaches to) is a ‘noun of agency’. In other words, add this suffix and it means ‘verber’, or ‘one who does verb’, ‘go and do ‘verb’. So tal– is to dance, taliiyawa is dancer; tl’xiin– is ‘to examine’, tl’xiiniiyawa is examiner.

More fun, though, this suffix can affix to nouns as well. For example nik’in is wood, nik’ineyewe is wood-getter.

So clearly the -īawa Drucker wrote on tsúgugwīawa is this particular noun-of-agency suffix. It means, a poler, one who pole-drums. So, the tsúgugw– part must refer to drumming with a pole.

Then Drucker wrote a bit about singing. The leader of songs was gwlīdīawa and stood next to the man with the pole. Someone started a song, the leader picked it up, the rest of the people followed him. Drucker cryptically noted ‘women could do’. Whether that means women could pick up and follow in the singing, or could also be a song leader, is not made clear in the context.

But, on to analyzing the word… again the -īawa Drucker wrote is this noun-of-agency suffix –iiyawa. Poking around the dictionary I’ve been building, there are several instances of the verb root k’wlii– for ‘to sing’. So, I think his gwlī- is k’wlii, to sing (he misinterpreted the voiceless, glottalized k’w phoneme for the voiced gw). The question is, what is the d in the middle of the word? One possibility is that it is the transitive and general verbal affix t. However, in other examples of –iiyawa the transitive t never shows up – it attaches directly to the verbal (or nominal) root.

In other words, if we added –iiyawa to k’wlii- “sing” I would expect the word to come out as *k’wliiyawa. Or, possibly an h or glottal stop could be added between the root and suffix, making *k’wliihiiyawa or *k’wlii’iiyawa. But no, per Drucker we have something like k’wliidiiyawa or k’wliitiiyawa.

Either Drucker misheard, or the word for ‘lead singer’ has this quirk of a d/t in the middle.

Indeed, as I got to thinking about it, Drucker’s notes specify that k’wliitiiawa is ‘lead singer’ rather than just singer.  It’s possible k’wliitiiyawa refers specifically to the lead singer, and a form like k’wliiyawa meant just ‘singer’.   Unfortunately I have not yet found the term ‘singer’ pop up in any texts.  So this remains a just a speculation.

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About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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