Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Salish Lesson

Last week, I took a small day trip to the mountains above Twin Lakes, Washington. My relatives and I enjoyed the clear, sunny day, surrounded by mountains, bright yellow flowers, and hucklberries.

I spent most of the day with my great aunt, who is fluent in the Spokane Language. At the beginning of the day, she gave me a spontaneous and somewhat humorous language lesson.

The lesson happened like this: 

We were packing the car with everything we needed for our trip to the mountains, and I had gathered quite an armload of assorted items - a cooler filled with food, a lawn chair, long pants for hiking in the underbrush, and bug spray. My aunt helped me organize the items in the car, and at the very end, when my hands were nearly empty, I stood there holding a single shoe. "How did this get here?" I asked, "I don't even remember packing it." Clearly, the shoe did not belong with the other items.

She looked at me for a moment and just laughed. Without any prompting, she reacted in Salish, "hayo... ha kʷec nqʷawqni?" Then I laughed with her.

It was interesting that I had never actually learned this particular word, but I knew enough about Salish grammar to understand her meaning. Later in the day, I asked about it and confirmed my theory.

So here's the grammar:

The root word of this phrase is qʷaw, meaning crazy.
The prefix is n-, which suggests that something is inside.
The suffix is -qn, which has reference to the head.
All together, we get the word nqʷawqn - literally "crazy in the head."

Her full statement was, "hayo... ha kʷec nqʷawqni?" or in other words, "My goodness.... are you crazy in the head?"

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