May 22, 2004

Beets and Bitch

The word in the Stony Creek dialect of Carrier for beets, which are not indigenous to the area, is [ɬits'e], obviously not borrowed from English or French. The other meaning of [ɬits'e] is "bitch", that is, "female dog". [ɬi] is "dog" and [-ts'e] is a suffix meaning "female". It turns out that this isn't a coincidence. Carrier doesn't contrast the vowels [i] (as in beets) and [ɪ] (as in bitch), nor does it allow the palatal affricate [ʧ] represented by the <ch> of "bitch" in syllable final position. From the point of view of Carrier speakers, the English word beets was the same as the word for "female dog", so they named beets "female dog" in Carrier. The Carrier word is based on an English pun!

This isn't the only word for beets in Carrier. The same dialect also has [bʌzkai naxwʌdleh] "it's blood flows out of its surface", a description of the way red color seeps out of beets. This appears to be the earlier term, with the newer one perhaps created when the children started to go to school and learned English. In the Stuart/Trembleur Lake dialect there is a disused term that also refers to the blood, [ʔʌzkaiɣih ] "blood root", but the current term is [lʌsuʧam dʌnʌlk'ʌn] "red turnip", where [lʌsuʧam] is a loan from French le chou de Siam, literally "Siamese cabbage".

Posted by Bill Poser at May 22, 2004 10:41 PM