Some curious “family” words

There are several words in Hanis and Milluk that can mean family, relatives. Some have other meanings beyond that – estis can also mean any crowd or group of people (in addition to ‘extended family’). Qahlalis also seems to mean extended family, while ma’aniyas(H), máni’yas(M) seems to refer specifically to parents.

Perusing the vocabulary, there are a couple of other words translated loosely as family that caught my interest. Humsiniiwas is a word only appears twice – recorded by Leo Frachtenberg in his work with Hanis speakers Jim Buchanan and Tom Hollis (a cousin of Lottie Evanoff’s). Really, it appears, Frachtenberg wrote it down once, in a vocabulary list he got from Tom Hollis. There, he noted humsíniiwas means ‘man and wife’. Then he included it in his word list (published at the back of his “Coos Texts” meaning ‘family’ and referred to page 363 of his grammar for the structure of the word. Because clearly – and this is what caught my interest – is that the word is formed around the root word huu’mis, which means both woman and wife. (It’s masculine counterpart, demihl, means both man and husband). Now at first I was puzzled about Frachtenberg’s reference in his grammar because huu’mis is clearly a noun (it ends with the Hanis nominal suffix -s) but the suffix –niiwas is a nominal affix that is added to verb stems to make them into a noun. For example, the verb stem hey-to gamble becomes hayanawas, the hand game. So why would a suffix normally attached to a verb to make it into a noun be attached to a word that is already a noun? Then it dawned on me…sometimes huu’mis (and demihl) is used as a verb on occasion. In Hanis and Milluk there is not an equivalent verb root to the English ‘marry’. Sometimes there is a phrase about “buying a wife” or “taking a husband” (as weddings were in part arranged by an exchange of gifts, but the bride’s family got much more in terms of goods than the groom’s family). Another way of saying ‘to marry’ though was just to treat the words for ‘man/husband’ and ‘woman/wife’ as a verb. So in Hanis we see phrases like ehúmistsúwiitami “I marry you (a woman)”, and edemhltsuuwitami “I marry you (a man)”. So perhaps in the case of humsíniiwas, the root word huu’miswoman, is being treated as a verb here.

Another oddity, to my mind anyway, is the apparent use of ‘thing’ as a word that can stand in to mean ‘relative(s)’. Now of course a word like ‘thing’ is broad and can stand in for any noun anyway. It’s just that in English, we wouldn’t expect to normally see the use of ‘thing’ to stand in for family unless it’s perhaps used in a derogatory way. But it looks like ‘thing’ in Hanis (diihl), Milluk (dich), and Siuslawan (tohq) is used in a non-derogatory way as a word for relative, kin, family.

At first that wasn’t easily apparent in Hanis. Thing, diihl, appears all over the place. However, twice in one story (Spider Woman), Frachtenberg used tiihl for relative in his published version of the story in “Coos Texts”. However, in his notebooks, he wrote diihl. It appears nowhere else, and in no other Hanis sources (to date anyway).So on page 11 of notebook 3 he wrote:

        hínii tluuwákats le diihl lo me xqat tiláqaiyich.

        There lived the ‘relative’ (with) the people that lived below [downriver].

And a few pages later:

       hínii tluuwákats ho diihl lo winqas huumik.

      There lived the relatives (of) the Spider Old Woman.

I can only guess Frachtenberg changed diihl from his notebooks to tiihl in the published version because it seemed to weird to me that diihl could mean ‘thing’ as well as ‘relative(s)’ (or was an obnoxious homophone).

Now maybe ‘relative’ and ‘thing’ are homophones in Hanis. Except…there appears to be a similar pattern in Milluk and Siuslaw!

In Milluk, dich is the equivalent of diihl. Going through the numerous Milluk texts Annie Peterson dictated to Melville Jacobs, there are several instances of dich being used to mean ‘relative(s)’. Here is one example:

     náim-tle-x-Mélsin tlǝ-dǝ-dič

     because-the-ERG-Melsin the-POSS-thing/relative

     “Because Melsin was his relative.”

And in Siuslaw there is the word tohq which Frachtenberg glossed as ‘something, relative’. For example:

       námhliinx tohq = You’re my relative.

So this pattern of meaning appears in three contiguous languages (I did check to see if it was the same for Alsea as well, but in what I could find in the word list, I didn’t see it). I don’t know why this pattern of usage exists in these three languages, but there it is.

The deeper we dive into the vocabularies and grammar of these language, the more curious quirks of usage and structure I find!

About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
This entry was posted in Vocabulary comparisons, vocabulary words and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Some curious “family” words

  1. Yoram says:

    Could ‘thing’ be a semantic extension of ‘relative’, rather than the othe way around? If I had to make something up, I’d come up with ‘relative’ > ‘thing related to X’ > ‘thing’.

    • shichils says:

      It’s an interesting thought. Maybe? “Thing”/diihl/dich/tohq does seem to be used much more frequently as ‘thing’ rather than relative but…who knows! It is an interesting mystery.

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