On the possible origin of the word ‘knife’ (walwal)

Recently, I was looking at a paper that (as a bit of an aside) mentioned the Hanis Coos word wálwal as possibly being related to a Salish word for iron. I immediately doubted that, since in Hanis syllable reduplication (either partial or whole) is commonly used in Hanis in both verbs and nouns.

Sometimes Hanis used reduplication of verb stems to create words for new objects, like háxhax for wagon from the verb haix– to drag. (And a more elaborate version of this for ‘train’, nchuuhle haxhax which when broken down literally means by/with-its-nose dragged-thing/wagon).

But it’s not just new things. We have cháxchax or chuuxchuux for rabbit from the verb chuux- to jump, to hop. We have gimgímis, rain, from gim- to rain.

So, then, I wondered what verb stem is related to wálwal, knife? First, I want to say there are several words for knife. Wálwal seems to be the generic word for knife. From there, it is more specialized vocabulary for certain kinds of knives. One related word might be wólok, which Jim Buchanan said was an arm-length war knife made from a whale’s rib bones. He said he had never seen one himself but had heard of them. The roots wal- and wol- [wəl-] look pretty similar to me, & I suspect shared roots there.

And there is a verb match! Actually 2 of them. But I think they are related. Anyway, there is the verb wul-/wel-, to fight. As in le nchahahl ta ntlpinediihl ihl wele’ni=The animals and birds fought. This verb turns up several times. However, once it turns up glossed as ‘to hunt’, in the opening line of Annie’s story “Crow and Thunder trade languages”:

guus milech he lau k’wonyau wu’lúuwat=All time habitually that.one food hunted=Every day he hunted for food.

This is kind of curious because every other time the verb ‘hunt’ comes up, it is hln(t)- (same word in Milluk). So why wu’lúuwat here? There is nothing in the context of the story to make me thing Crow was fighting to get food. Unless, maybe Annie chose this word deliberately to really play up that Crow was struggling every day to find food. Crow was really fighting to get fed and dearly longing to get to the food in the sea (which Thunderbird eventually provides). Hmm. So maybe a better translation is ‘Every day he fought/struggled for food’. Hmmmm. Maybe so!! There is a lot of subtle storyline conveyed, I think, by looking at the native language version. And how tricky it is to translate this things into English now that we no longer have fluent living speakers. (Darn it)

Anyway, this is all a long winded way to say that the general word for knife, wálwal, is probably derived from the verb wul-/wel-, “to fight”.  And so I think these words are part of the Hanis language and not borrowed from elsewhere.


About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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5 Responses to On the possible origin of the word ‘knife’ (walwal)

  1. Anthony Grant says:

    Hi! Thw wordlist John Milhau got in the other Hanis dialect has for knife. I suspect it was *wlaawal, with penultimate stress. Anthony

    • shichils says:

      woops I tried to reply, computer ate it. Oops. The other dialect Milhau recorded might’ve been pretty different. Too bad it seemed to have disappeared so early. Quite mysterious!!

      The word wálwal, or wál’wal for ‘knife’ was recorded by Frachtenberg and St Clair both from Buchanan, Jacobs got that same form in his notes (from Drew & Peterson), Harrington (Drew again).

      Even turns up in Bissell’s notes as wâl´we.

      Per Annie it was same accent in Milluk (wál’wal) in Jacobs notebook 93 page 103, but I don’t know how heavily influenced her Milluk was by Hanis. Sometimes stress-accents are different for Milluk versus Hanis words in Jacobs’ notes.

    • shichils says:

      OH – our scanner is having software issues, but when I can I will scan that image of ‘scissors’ from Sokolow’s notes.

  2. Ene says:

    What is the difference of the sound between an a w/ the accent mark over the top versus just the letter a?

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