Sakakawea - Charbonneau

Rory M Larson rlarson at
Tue Nov 9 00:11:20 UTC 2004

Alan wrote:
> It has been suggested that the name reflects the Shoshone word bambi
> (sometimes written pampi) ‘head.’ This hypothesis is weakened, however,
> by the fact that though modern Shoshone has -mb- in bambi, the dialect
> encountered by Lewis and Clark had only  b  (written  p ): Clark’s
> record of the Shoshone name for BEAVERHEAD ROCK, for instance, has pap,
> not pamp, and he writes Year-pah for YAMPA. (Given that he writes pap
> for the head of a beaver, it seems unlikely that Clark would in another
> situation write Pomp for ‘head’ as a personal name.)

What is the Shoshone phonemic system like?  If this question were coming
up in Siouan, we'd probably be writing it paNpi or baNbi.  Depending on
the degree of nasalization at the end of the first syllable, an English
speaker might write it either with or without an [m].

In any case, I don't see that the two possible explanations are mutually
exclusive.  Supposing the man was named 'Head', Pa(m)pi in Shoshone, the
commonness of the name Pomp(ey) in American society at that time would
naturally predispose Lewis and Clark to interpret the name that way, even
if they wouldn't have put the [m] in for a word that to them was


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