To Dive, to sink, sunk in the water

Anyone who has ever studied another language realizes that it’s tricky translating from one language to another – there is so much variation between languages in terms of idioms, semantic domains of individual words (like in Russian they don’t have a separate word for foot and leg), syntax, and so on. Since I work on languages without fluent living speakers (though we have found some people who still recall some words) when I find a sentence or word collected by an earlier scholar that I am not sure of the exact meaning of, unfortunately I don’t have anyone to ask further questions. Today I was trying to figure out Hanis verbs for diving and sinking.

The usual verb for ‘dive, sink’ in both Hanis and Milluk is tk’wil. Below are some Hanisexamples,the first two from Frachtenberg’s Coos Texts, then a couple from Jacobs’ notebooks. I am going to give some context for each one so we can figure out the nuance of the verbs better.

This example comes from Jim Buchanan’s telling of the flood story, where the land ‘sinks’ (probably describing a quake) before a tsunmami/flood comes:

F.45.25: TEkwî´l lE xāapatc lE L!tā.

              Tk’wil lo xapach lo tl’ta

              Tk’wil lo xapach lo tl’ta

              sink/dive ART water.LOC ART earth

             The land sunk into the water.

This one describes a young man diving into the water (after he does so, his sneaky father in law makes ice to trap him, but fear not he escapes in the end):

F.26.27  TEk!wî´l lE xāapatc.

              Tk’wil lo xapach

              Tk’wil lo xapach

             sink/dive ART water.LOC

             (He) dove into the water.

Taking a quick peak at Milluk, the verb tk’wil-appears several times as ‘dive’. Here is one example from a compilation Dr. Larry Morgan made of Annie Peterson’s Milluk stories, this one from the Trickster cycle:


           and when you dive for it

Here is the story of Stone Hammer Boy as told by Annie Peterson. At the end of the story, he dives around the bay several times but never ‘sticks out’, as Annie described to Jacobs. Eventually he does stick out of the water, becoming one of the “Utter Rocks” that used to be in the bay:

J100:135 Gɛ´ndj-hɛ• dilmítsq’ɛm, in-hɛ´•’wi•yɛt.

                Qanch-he dilmitsqem, in hewiiyat.

               Qanch he dilmtsqem, in hewiiyat.

               Place Habitual sink-REFL NEG grow.CAUS

               He dived in everywhere but he stuck up out of the water (Jacobs translation)

               Every place he sunk himself (into the water), (but) he didn’t grow.

Notice how we suddenly switched from tk’wil-to dive, sink and now we have a new verb, dilm– which Annie and Jacobs translated as ‘dived’. But…does dilm– really mean ‘to dive’? Alas there are not very many examples of dilm– but I did find one interesting one. In a chief’s post-mortem personal name. You can read a bit about him here. In short he was a notorious Lower Umpqua chief who came to be known as “Sunk in the Water” after he was killed because he was shot in a canoe and fell into the water. “Sunk In The Water” was rendered as Dilmi in Hanis, Tl’muuwax in Siuslaw. The Siuslaw term was explained as coming from the word tl’muuxwa meaning heavy, waterlogged, a sunken log. These logs could be navigation hazards for canoes as one end could kind of stick up, or nearly so, and move a bit with the tide. As a tl’mu’waxw, it was something completely sunken to the bottom of river. Dilm– seems to be a Hanis equivalent.

So, it seems in the Annie’s “Qanch he dilmitsqem, in hewiiyat” an alternate translation could be “Every place he sunk himself (into the water), (but) he didn’t grow (above the water).” So here she was playing with the concept of ‘dive’ and instead of using the more common verb for that tk’wil– she decided to use sunk (dilm-) plus a reflexive suffixes (-tsqem). I also see for further fun she didn’t use the verb enik– to stick out, but instead used a construction of grow (hew-) plus the causative (-iiyat) to describe not sticking out of the water. Storytellers like Buchanan and Peterson could sometimes get very playful with their word choices, verbal constructions and idioms. Since they are no longer here to ask ‘well what is the difference between tk’wil– and dilm-?’ I am left with trying to chase down any appearances of each word I can find and their context. Sometimes that gives me enough information to puzzle out some deeper, more nuanced meanings.

About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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2 Responses to To Dive, to sink, sunk in the water

  1. sofia cisn says:

    you are a time sleuth using words 🙂

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