Does Hanis have a diminutive?

2018-03-26 13.48.58

Above: a kawol (pack basket) from Coos County (Phoebe Hearst museum collection, UC Berkeley)

A diminutive is an affix that modifies a word to add the meaning ‘little’ or ‘cute’ or associated meanings like that. Siuslaw has a diminutive suffix –isk’in, so it can change a word like puus, cat, to puusisk’in, kitten (‘little cat’). No diminutives appear in the grammar written of Hanis a century ago, but it looks like Hanis may have a rarely used affix, k’, that also has a diminutive feel to it. I am calling it an ‘affix’ at the moment because while it almost always appears at the end of a word, I know of one example where it is at the beginning of the word. It’s also hard to be sure that this k’ is some kind of diminutive, because so far I have only seen a very scant number of examples, so it is hard to be sure if it was a once commonly used but dying affix, or perhaps a productive one that by chance few linguists happened to capture examples of.

Here are the small number of contrastive pairs I have noted so far for Hanis:

child: ala

doll: alak’


woman: huumis

old woman: huumik’


cat:  puus

kitten: puuk’, puuk’ii


pack basket:  kawol

smaller pack basket: k’awol

There are some other possible examples but let’s discuss this small number of pairs (or possible pairs). The pack basket versus smaller sized pack basket is an interesting one, as it is the only one in this group where a the k’ is not added as a word-final consonant or replacing another word final consonant. I first noticed it in J.P. Harrington’s interview with Lottie Evanoff. She described the kawol/k’awol distinction (the k’awol has a slightly smaller diameter than the usual kawol). This subtle difference appears to have caught his attention, as he kept circling back to it and asked Lottie about it a few more times. (I am glad he did so, as it solidifies that the kawol/k’awol minimal pair is indeed ‘a thing’). Later I noticed it appearing in Jacobs’ interview with Lottie’s aunt Annie Peterson. I had not noticed it in earlier readings, in part because Jacobs’ handwriting is very small and the distinction is so subtle it initially escaped my notice.

The puus (cat) versus puuk’/puuk’ii (“pussy cat”, kitten) points to the diminutive aspect of k’ being productive in Hanis because the word puus (but not puuk’) is borrowed from Chinook Jargon, with the puuk’ form being distinctly Hanis (and possibly Milluk as well, as I have not yet tried to run to ground any examples in that language although alak’ is also doll in that language although child is k’ilka or k’ilika). The puuk’/puuk’ii examples come from a 1964 interview with Martha Harney Johnson, where she used it as an affectionate sort of word for cat (as she put it ‘pussy cat’). I do not know what the further –ii is unless it is perhaps an Anglicization Martha added on, but I am not sure.

In coining nicknames, the names were often (although not always) changed from the regular word. For instance Chief Jackson was often referred to as Daloos, which is a play off of diiluutl, meaning a youth or young man. Another man was nicknamed Tlapt’a, from the verb tlopats ‘to flap the arms’ (like babies do). Yet another man was named Q’ele’es, apparently from q’le’es, black. Annie said there was a Milluk woman nicknamed Hemik’ which she said meant ‘tiny’. This word never appears elsewhere as a word for small, tiny – but it very much looks like hemis which is the word for big, large, loud with the word final -s replaced with k’.

There are a couple of other words that contain a k’ that might fit in with the ‘diminutive’  meaning but as I don’t have a record of a word the diminutive was derived from, I am just speculating: pu’uuk’ for fawn (the usual word for deer is xwitsxuut and the Milluk equivalent is very similar, xwutsxu) and k’iyas for small sticks.

I’d love to find more examples of this, although at this point I am not sure there are more (beyond what might be one or two more iffy-examples). So, as I said above, it’s hard to feel really solid as labelling the k’ as a productive diminutive in Hanis (much less Milluk) – but there are just enough examples to catch my attention and make me think. It also makes me wonder if there are other patterns hiding in plain sight in the texts or vocabulary we haven’t noticed yet…

EDITED TO ADD: I think I found another pair. In Hanis gweis (sometimes kweis; same in Milluk) means a girl from around puberty to 18-20. Hanis gweik’ (Milluk gwe’ek’) means a girl up to age 10. So again here the k’ in Hanis, and possibly Milluk, points to some kind of diminutive type function.

About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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5 Responses to Does Hanis have a diminutive?

  1. sofia cisn says:

    ahh how wonderful of a read ~! Thank you so much for sharing this research. Love Annie’s hemik and hemis most of all. I wish you had more materials to work from.

    • shichils says:

      I think I found another k’ name – Annie Peterson said one of her childhood nicknames was xwǝ´ntik’, “snotty” for dirty nose from xwǝ´ntłis for mucus, snot. The tl/t change is likely from the ‘playfulness’ of altering sounds generally like the Daloos/diiluuhl kind of changes, with the k’ thrown on the end.

  2. Definitely. e’k is little in Miluk. Could have easily morphed to -k in Hanis from Kusan. Great find!

  3. Pingback: A pattern in plant terms? | Shichils' Blog

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