More puzzling meanings of words from context

I’ve written before about how tricky it can be to figure out some of the specific definitions of words when they only appear once or twice.  Sometimes I have to go back and take a careful look at a word in its context to see if there are enough clues to puzzle out the meanings of a word that makes it distinct from words with perhaps similar meanings – such as, in that example from 6 years ago, what the different words for feather mean.

In the course of building a Hanis wordlist, I found two words that have (at least in part) the meaning ‘to hide’. The usual word for ‘to hide’ is stln– or stlon-. This word is used in ways similar to the English word ‘hide’ – it can refer to hiding objects, or hiding people (such as hiding from an enemy or hide-and-seek). There is a second word that has a sense of the meaning to hide, hemes– that appears only twice in the same short paragraph. It’s rare use makes it difficult to be sure of its meanings as distinct from stln-, but in this case Annie did seem to give a fair bit of background to the meaning. I first put demes in the word list as ‘to hide’ but going back and looking at it in context it seems to have a very different meaning than ‘to hide’ in the sense of hiding objects or a person hiding from others.

The context the word came up during a comment from Annie Miner Peterson talking about people who are always looking down, never look others in the eye, and are always of a ‘dark humor’. She said those kind of people are assumed to be thinking dark, mean thoughts, with a mind of hidden thoughts like a river channel. They have dark and unpleasant things hidden in their mind – a condition she called demes. She began the conversation (at least based on Jacobs’ notes) in English then switched into Hanis, which I am including below (note on orthography; first line is as Jacobs wrote it down, 2nd in our current tribal orthography, 3rd is a linguistic breakdown, 4th is a free translation into English):

í•kⱭx* ínta hú•’mis í•gú•s milɛtc kmɛnɛ´’ɛt

iikax inta huumis i-guus milech kmene’et

? mean/bad woman as/if-all time to.have.head.down=CAUSPASS

A bad woman all the time has her head down


hén•ík’is q’aimis ná•ntƏnɛ’ɛdjƏs di•łǝ´d•ɛmɛs,

henik’is q’aimis nant-u-ne’echos diihl-u-demes, like channel/mouth many=POSS=tricks.meannesses

it is just like a (river) mouth many tricky things hidden in her mind,


tsí•di•ł dǝ´misi•wat

tsii-diihl demisiiwat


She just keeps hiding things in her mind.

Note that the word demes has the common Hanis nominal suffix -s (this is just a fancy way of saying because of the –s on the end it looks like a noun, which if people recall from grammar school or Madlibs games is ‘person, place or thing’). The second time it is used it has a verbal suffix on it, –iiwat, which is described in Frachtenberg’s grammar as a frequentative (often called today iterative). Basically this just means “Kept on doing something”. It’s not unusual for words in Hanis to be used freely as a noun or a verb – it just depends on what affixes are on it and context (English also often does this, but some languages really don’t like to let words switch easily between noun and verb).

I also just find it interesting that demes has such a specific meaning of ‘hide’ – it is hiding (presumably dark or secretive) thoughts in the mind. So, I am definitely going to need to update the wordlist with this interesting and specific word, as it is definitely not interchangeable with stln-.

*iikax was not translated at all by Jacobs, and I can’t find other examples of it in Hanis. Since Hanis and Milluk often overlap with identical or very similar words, I asked Troy Anderson if he was familiar with it. He wasn’t, but breaking it down into Milluk particles it may mean something like “whereas”.


About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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