The Shetimasha Language

Although my chief purpose in going south was to study the Shetimasha language, I cannot give here a full account of it, for it would fill not less than one hundred pages.

This language, of which no other dialects are known to exist now, is vocalic, and nasalizes its vowels to a small degree only. It has a profusion of declensional and conjugational endings, suffixes the personal pronouns to the finite verb, forms a passive voice, and seems to be extremely polysynthetic as far as derivation by suffixes is concerned. Ternary and quaternary compounds are not uncommon. The numerals show the decimal system of numeration, not the quinary one, which is the most common in the Indian languages spoken within the United States. For the pronoun thou they have one form to address common people, and another reverential one to address superiors, etc. Something of the kind is found also in the southern dialects of the Dakota family, as Ponka and Omaha.

I will present here a list of derivatives added to the words of which they form compounds. This list is very instructive for showing the mental processes which these Indians have followed in forming their ideas—the concrete as well as the abstract ones.

akstegi′, (1), purchased, bought; (2), wretched, miserable. Quite similar is the connection traceable between Ital. cattivo, French, che′tif, which mean miserable, but formerly meant captive, prisoner of war; the English caitiff, also derived from Latin captivus, has even assumed the moral signification of wicked, mischievous, like the Italian term.

ga′mpa, ka′mpa, heavy, weighty; from this: ga′mpata metal, as tin, lead, ball, bullet.

hu′ lake; from this, hu′ta, pirogue, canoe; shu′sh-hu′ta, shushu′ta box; lit. “wooden canoe;” t′ep-hu′ta, steamboat, lit. “fire-pirogue;” te′p-hu′ta-ne′gsh-apshtchu′ma, locomotive and railroad train; lit. “steamboat traveling on the ground.”

ka′meki, ka′mkish, long, elongated; also means wolf; wa′shka′mkin na′kspu, jackass, lit. “the small mule,” “the small long animal.” Cf.-ō′sh, ku′t.

ka′nush, a Frenchman, or French Creole, of Louisiana, because the early French colonists of Louisiana came from the Canadian lakes, the countries inhabited by ” Kanucks.” Ka′nush is not a Shetimasha term.

ka′tchti, to drink; Ka′tchmish, conjurer, Shaman, is derived from this term, because he drinks the infusion of Cassine leaves, (nuait, in Shetimasha,) to put himself in a stupor, and awakening from it predicts what he has seen.

ki′sh, dog; kish-átin, horse, lit. “great dog.” Kish-kushma′msh, Canadian; lit. “dog-eater.”

ki′pi, (1) flesh; (2) body of man, animal; (3) abbr. into -kip, -ki, a suffix equivalent to our –like, in womanlike, warlike, and also abbreviated into -ly (friendly, surly, for friendlike, sour-like); it also answers to the German suffix -lich and the Greek -ειδης, -ώδης. All of these originally meant body, flesh, kind, form, like the Shetimasha term kipi; εὶδος in Greek, leik in Gothic, lîc in Anglo-Saxon.

kú, liquid, water; when nasalized, ku′ⁿ, river, or ku′ⁿ atinsh, great river; mi-ku′, milk; lit. “liquid of the breast or udder;” kútep, fire water, the interpretation of the Spanish aguardiente; “to be drunk” is, to the Shetimasha Indian, to die of fire water; and in Aztec to die is often used for “to suffer;” ku′-yuks (1) panther, lit. “water-tiger;” (2) domestic cat. Cf. ni′ku, under nē.

kút, head; from this are derived ku′tku, hair, kuti′, roof, “head (of house?)” ku′t ma′kte ka′minsh, dolichocephalic skull; lit. “head long behind;” Kut-nä′hä, the name of the chief national Deity, “half round,” or “half head,” as explained above.

nánu, persimmon; in Creole French, plaquemine; nánuati′nsh, apple; lit. ” large persimmon.”

na′kshi, one who is in a hurry; and also warrior, brave; na′ksh means war. In the Klamath of S. W. Oregon ki′lōsh means, one who makes bold gestures, one wrathful, and also a bold warrior.

núp, sweet potato, batate; núp mestekán, lit. “batate altogether white,” for turnip.

ne′, ni, earth, mud, land, country; nē′gsh, on the ground; nēt, tobacco, because its leaves grow near the ground; ne-witi, butte, mound; lit. “thrown upearth;” nē häshpa′tchpa, brick; lit. “mud pulverized (and) baked;” ne′ tsa′χtsa, salt, lit. “sour earth;” tsa′χtsa, meaning here sour and sweet, because in both sensations a biting of the tongue is experienced; ni′-ku, island, lit. “river land;” ni′msh, portage; contr. from nē-mish land road (of the canoes).

ō′sh, ū′sh, turkey buzzard; ō′sh nĕka′mki, bat; lit. “long turkey buzzard.” The men placed in charge of sepultures one year after death bore the name of turkey buzzards; in Creole, hommes carancros; in Shetimasha, ō′sh-hätchna, the last term being equivalent to picking up.

pe′kua, upper, superior; pe′kup, above, upland; pe′kuampa, slave, lit. “upland person,” because the slaves or captives taken from the tribe were usually sold to the upland tribes. With us, the term slave embodies the name of the people which at one time furnished a number of slaves to the Germans, viz., the Slavic nations.

pu′p, rabbit; means also one hundred. In some Polynesian languages, hair is used to designate the same idea; in Chinese, many or a great many is expressed by ten; pu′p-ati′nsh sheep, lit. “large rabbit.”

sít, sea, ocean; sítup ke′tangi, on the sea-shore. I am induced to derive sít from si′htgi, to smell, emit odor, through the analogy of Winnipeg, Winnebago, two Ojibwē terms referring to nauseous exhalation of lake shores, produced by putrescent organisms. From this verb is also síti, locust-tree (Robinia pseudacacia), a tree very fragrant in its blossoming season.

te′p, fire; te′p she′sht, smoke; lit. “smoke of fire,” as opposed to te′p nēt,” smoke of tobacco.” Cf. ku′-tep and te′p-huta under kúe, hu′ta. Te′p is probably derived from the radix of te′pigsi, to place (wood) upon; in the same manner as we say to build a fire; Cf. kum-tepa′, cover; shu′sh-kum-tepa′, wooden cover, lit. “wood placed upon;” te′p-shi, ashes; lit. “ashes of fire.”

yaχ, yá′h, ya′, (1) strong in body, corpulent, stout; (2) grown up, adult; (3) German, from their stout exterior. An Irishman is to them a “stout man digging in the ground.”

shu′sh, wood, tree, plant; a′k-shush, cypress tree; shu′sh-tchī′sh, leaf; su′sēks odshi′bu, opossum; lit. “wood hog; shusheya′, fence, fenced enclosure; shush′-amu, cotton; shush-wa′e, barrel.

St. Mary Parish LA,


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