Hidden Whales and morphological conundrums

In our tribal legends, there are many strange beings and creatures that make an appearance.

One odd story is that of an ‘inland whale’.  According to Frank Drew, once there were some women who went to dig camas bulbs up in the mountains.  While digging they hit something hard with their digging sticks.  They tried digging a few feet away, and hit something hard again.  They found out it was a live whale buried there on the mountain.  They left that place then.

If there had been a landslide that goes down to a river, it was caused by one of these inland whales.The whales came from the ocean during a great flood.  Sometimes trapped whales were seen in lakes.

According to Jim Buchanan, these inland whales were called stltsáwaq (or slatsáwaq).   This word appeared again in a story Annie Peterson told about Fossil Point, where people were turned into stone there long ago, and stuck there in the rocks, by some sort of ‘poison fish’ she called sltlsawaq, or stlatsawaq.  Annie thought this word was based on the verb stl’i- to be stuck, to stick. So that would make the stltsawaq ‘stuck thing, it is stuck there’.  That definition would fit either inland whales stuck in mountains, or ‘poison fishes’ causing themselves and others to be stuck in stone at Fossil Point.

The suffix –waq on sltlsawaq is somewhat mysterious.  Frachtenberg mentions it in his grammar.  He only saw it come up a few time, usually on verbs (to play, to drag) and on two nouns – this one and the one for ferryman, qaliitawaq (the same word also turns up once as qaliitawas, where -s is the usual marker for a noun).  Applied to verbs, Frachtenberg thought it had the meaning of a continual action, an action that happened for a long time.  That meaning could work for both nouns; sltlsawaq for a whale stuck for a long time.  Ferryman, qaliitawaq is based on the verb qal-, to cross a river. So this construction works for, one who crosses a river frequently.


About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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One Response to Hidden Whales and morphological conundrums

  1. Pingback: Fossil Point | Shichils's Blog

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