Cayuse <=> "horses" in Spanish?

Sally Thomason thomason at UMICH.EDU
Sat Jan 29 13:37:44 UTC 2005

Dave and all,

   Caballos would fit cayuse pretty well phonetically,
assuming that the medial fricative allophone of /b/
wasn't very audible at the time and that the ll was
pronounced as a [y], or at least as a strongly palatalized
"ly".  But I've always wondered whether there might
(also?) be some connection between cayuse as a word
for horse and the Interior Salishan root *q'ey `make
marks on, write, draw'.  (Kuipers, in his recent
Salishan etymological dictionary, suggests that there
might be cognates of this root in non-Interior Salishan
languages, but the phonetics for such a connection is a
bit problematic.)

   The Interior Salishan word appears in derivatives
meaning spotted hoofed animals -- Montana Salish
q'ayic `elk calf (with spots)', etc.  There is of
course a k/q discrepancy here; but all uvular stops
are less common in CJ than they are in many or most
or maybe all of the contributing Native languages,
especially Salishan languages, so the likelihood of
a uvular-to-velar shift isn't remote.

   Chinook Jargon has a word lik'ay `piebald, spotted
fawn', which looks a lot like a version of (Interior)
Salish q'ey with the French article glommed onto it at
the beginning.  It looks even more like a version of
the French word caille `quail; piebald', which...not being
an expert on French at all, much less on Canadian French...
I assume is connected to French caille' (acute accent
on final vowel) `curdled' -- and therefore to the
masculine noun le caille' `curdled milk, curds'.
One French CJ source, Demers et al., has k'ay  `colt',
and two other French sources (Lionnet 1853, Pinart 1849/
1876) have kaye (with stress on the second syllable).
Stuart (1865:116) has an entry la kye `spotted', and
he adds the following comment, in n. 90, p. 127:
"This word is in use among the French mountaineers,
who apply it to all spotted animals."

   What's most interesting to me here is that Montana
Salish (and possibly this is found in some other Int. Sal.
languages too) has a word q'ay'e(lxw) `pinto' -- the
suffix -elxw means `skin, hide'.  The stress is on the e,
and in Montana Salish this word is usually truncated after
the stressed vowel, putting the pronunciation very
close to French caille'.

   I don't have a form for `spotted face' in my
files, but if it exists, it would be q'ay'us, again
with stress on the second vowel.  (And the y might
or might not be glottalized.)  The suffix -us
means (among other things) `face'.

   So you see why I keep wondering if this root
for `spotted' has anything to do with the etymology
of cayuse, either as the sole source or as one of
the sources; the French words would, I'd think, also
play a role.  Multiple sources are common in
etymologies, especially in contact situations, so
mushing together (to use a technical term!) a Salish
root and a French root wouldn't be peculiar, given
their phonetic similarity and their semantic overlap.
It also wouldn't be weird for a Spanish-origin word
to play a role but not the only role in the development
of such a word.  Many generic words for `horse' in the
Northwest are derived from words for `elk', so the
extension of a word that means`spotted elk calf/fawn'
in some of its derivatives would be unsurprising.

   Of course, maybe pintos weren't prominent in
the horse herds of the era, and maybe spotted horse
faces weren't more common than all-over spotted
horses.  My idea is a non-starter if spots on horses
weren't common in the 19th (or possibly late 18th?)
century.  Does anyone know?  *Can* one know?

   -- Sally

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