Rory M Larson rlarson at unlnotes.unl.edu
Tue Aug 29 03:33:36 UTC 2006

> The etymon in question means 'spoon' in every Algonquian language that
> it. Except for Miami. There it means 'squash, pumpkin'.
> However, it apparently can have the latter meaning occasionally when it
> appears as a final, as in Menominee /wi:nE:mEhkwan/ 'squash'.

By "final", you mean that it appears as the head or base noun of a
compound?  So Menominee /wi:nE:mEhkwan/ means that a 'squash' is a wi:n
type of spoon?  What does the wi:n part mean here?

> It's simplest to assume it meant 'spoon' in Proto-Algonquian and simply
> that meaning everywhere except Miami, where it shifted to 'squash,
> I assume this is simply because in some places and at some times the most
> common spoons were gourds. (Tho there's also evidence that the Miami used
> make spoons out of shells.) It's an easy semantic jump to make.

>>From the historical perspective, that would be simplest, because it would
relieve us of the need to tie Proto-Algonquian to squashes.  The latter, if
I recall correctly off the top of my head, are supposed to have been widely
adopted as cultigens in eastern temperate North America about the middle or
later part of the first millennium AD (somebody correct me if I'm wildly
off here!), which would tend to bring Proto-Algonquian down to about that
time if the 'squash' meaning is primary.

>>From the pragmatic semantic perspective, however, it seems much simpler to
jump from 'squash' to 'spoon' than from 'spoon' to 'squash'.  To extend the
meaning of a natural item to apply to a technical implement made from it is
sensible.  Extending an implement term to refer to the natural item seems
shakier.  If we didn't have to worry about squash cultivation being too
recent, I think the simplest explanation for the pattern you have described
would be that proto-Algonquians cultivated squashes and used them for
spoons.  The squash term was immediately extended to include the 'spoon'
implement.  Later, they spread widely, especially into northern lands where
squashes could not be grown.  They substituted other materials for making
spoons, but kept the 'squash' term to designate the functional implement.
At this stage, the Algonquians still spoke nearly the same language and
were still talking to one another all across their territory.  The
universal 'spoon' meaning became primary, and suppressed the original
'squash' meaning even where squashes were still grown.  In most dialects
where squashes were topics of conversation, other terms were coined to
designate 'squash', but in a few such as Miami and Menominee the original
meaning was retained, at least in fossil constructions.

In the Siouan languages I've looked at, the terms for 'spoon' are all over
the map.  Many are semantic extensions or compound constructions meaning
either "buffalo horn" or "mussel shell".  That is, the implement term is
apparently based on a prior natural object term, not the other way around.

> It's interesting to ask whether ANY Proto-Siouan word for 'squash' can be
> reconstructed on the basis of Siouan languages that weren't next to
> Algonquians -- like, say, Crow, Mandan, Biloxi, Tutelo. If not, maybe it
> a new concept.

I wouldn't expect to find a genuine Proto-Siouan word for 'squash', because
I think that Proto-Siouan is considerably older than the widespread
adoption of squash cultivation.  However, the Dorsey-Swanton dictionaries
of Biloxi and Ofo give /taN/ for 'pumpkin' or 'squash' in Biloxi, and
/o^Ntha^N/ for 'pumpkin' in Ofo.  In Osage and Omaha, the term is something
like /wat(H)aN'/ (not sure about aspiration here).  So we do seem to have a
basic agreement between Biloxi and Ofo in Southeastern, and Dhegihan in
MVS.  I don't know how much farther these /t(H)aN/ terms extend.  On a
quick dictionary scan, I couldn't find any evidence of them in Dakotan.  I
wouldn't be surprised if they were borrowed into Dhegihan after it had
diverged from other MVS languages.

> > So there is nothing preventing it from being a loan into
> > whenever that was.  That's an important piece to know.
> True, but that'd be at a *very* deep level, and who knows where they
> have been geographically that far back.

It would be about as deep as Algonquian itself is, or deeper.  But exactly
how deep that is in years, and the geographical and chronological
constraints placed on Algonquian by the technology indicated by the term,
is the big question here.

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