A new/old name?

We propose a new/old name for Seward Park based upon historical documents, consultation with expert Lushootseed speakers, and the insights of field linguist and Lushootseed scholar David Beck. Our reasoning and research are offered below. Further scrutiny, alternative suggestions, and critique are welcome – indeed, they are eagerly sought from any who will assist. (This is an update, based on subsequent research and consultation, to an earlier proposal – sqəbəqsed – whose accuracy is now in doubt.)

Native speakers are the ultimate judge of all that is offered here. Discussions with elders are ongoing.

Our tentative proposal is that the historical Coast Salish Southern Lushootseed name for the Seward Park peninsula, as transcribed in 1919 from a native Southern Lushootseed speaker by the anthropologist T.T. Waterman, was


(phonetically, and approximately, for English speakers: spuhQUAWBS)

A key piece of evidence for this reconstruction comes from Northern Lushootseed speaker and scholar Vi Hilbert, who collected the name of an “unidentified place near Seattle” from a Lushootseed speaker, “WS” (a Skagit speaker, resident of Marblemount, but – signficantly for our purposes here – raised speaking Southern Lushootseed):


(phonetically, very approximately, for English speakers: us-buh-QUAWBS-kuhs)

The literal translation reported by Hilbert is “it has a fat nose”. No other geographic feature near historical Seattle fits this description as well as the Seward Park peninsula. The difference between Hilbert’s report, and TT Waterman’s transcription – Vi’s retention of unstressed schwas (ə) and thus four syllables, and their absence in the two-syllable form recorded by Waterman – might be explained by the difference between Hilbert’s expert ear, and Waterman’s lack of such discriminating perception.

To restate: we believe that the two-syllable sbəqʷábs captures the sounds heard and recorded by native English speaker Waterman from rapid informal Lushootseed speech during his 1919 placename research. Field linguist and Lushootseed scholar David Beck tells us that unstressed schwas are often dropped, and that Waterman could have easily mistaken q for k – entering sqəbáqs (in modern orthography) in his field notes. He used an archaic orthography, SkEba’kst, which – as David further explains – places the emphasis on the first syllable, following English rules of stress.

Allowing for these normal sound transformations, we propose sbəqʷábs (spuhQWAHBS) as a plausible reconstruction of the four-syllable Lushootseed  ʔəsbəqʷábqs: faithful to the original Southern Lushootseed, and more-or-less pronouncable by contemporary English speakers.

sbəqʷábs: ‘it has a fat nose’ – or perhaps ‘place having a fat nose‘: this is an apt and fitting name for this beautiful forested peninsula. History recovered, homage offered to the Salish peoples who have lived here for ten thousand years, contemporary imaginations inspired by association, observation and depths far richer than what the name “Seward” can ever provide.

Seward Park Created: 1911

Seattle’s Seward Park was created in 1911, named for William H. Seward, Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State and the architect of the 1867 purchase of Alaska. This took place shortly after the 1909 Alaska-Yukon Exposition – when Seattle was flush with prosperity due to being the primary supply center for the Klondike (Yukon) Gold Rush. Seward’s indirect role in this prosperity made him a hero to Seattle. A statue was erected. A public school was renamed in his honor. And the new city Olmsted park on the Bailey Peninsula was named after him.

From the Geologic Map of Seattle, 2005. Troost, Booth, Wisher, Shimel. (Mount Baker Park is mislabelled: that park is about a mile to the northeast.)

William Seward was not without virtues. He actively opposed slavery. He provided wise counsel and service to Lincoln during the Civil War.  But his only visit to the Puget Sound was in 1869, when he came to “encourage the development of Washington Territory”. He spent only a few hours in Seattle.  With irony, and with good luck, the peninsula which carries his name was mostly not developed.  And of course the development he promoted throughout the Washington Territory  brought much loss, pain and suffering to the existing inhabitants, the Native Americans of the Puget Sound region and beyond.  With all of these things in mind, perhaps it is time to consider alternate names for this city park?

With advice from Lushootseed speakers, drawing from Lushootseed references (primarily the work of T.T. Waterman) the Friends of Seward Park wish to learn and promote the historical Lushootseed name of the peninsula now called “Seward Park”. This posting attempts to collect all of the available evidence for evaluation and critique by Native Americans skilled in Lushootseed and knowledgeable about regional place names. We hope that in time a new/old name for this forested peninsula park will enter into common use.

We provisionally propose a reconstruction, explained below in considerable detail, derived from the Lushootseed Dictionary and the 1919 field notes of T.T. Waterman. We offer this up to the scrutiny of native speakers.

The Linguistic History

Unfortunately no spoken or recorded source for the name of the peninsula survives. But we do have ethnographer T.T. Waterman’s rough draft unpublished manuscript, typed and with hand written corrections, from c. 1919, when Waterman taught at the University of Washington, revised for an article published in the Geographical Review by Waterman in 1922.

Regarding placenames, Waterman’s says, in his 1922 The Geographical Names Used by Indians of the Pacific Coast:

Indians are extraordinarily industrious in applying and inventing names for places. On Puget Sound alone, there seem to have been in the neighborhood of ten thousand proper names. I have secured about half of this number, the remainder having passed out of memory. I am continually warned by Indians that they give me for my maps only a small part of the total number which once were used. The rest they have either forgotten or never heard. “The old people could have told you all” is the remark most commonly heard. The vast majority of these names were explained to me after a fashion, but in some cases the Indians themselves had no idea what the name meant, explaining oftentimes that it might be in some foreign or forgotten language… These names often refer to very minute places in the topography. Indeed, it may be stated as a rule that there is a large series of names for small places, with astonishingly few names for the large features of the region…

Of 718 names which I collected in the immediate neighborhood of Seattle … less than two dozen referred to the large features of the coast line and relief.

The Indians of Puget Sound have no names for the Sound, as a body of water, except xwaltc, “salt water” which term they also apply to the Pacific Ocean… One of the most conspicuous features of the Sound is a large expanse of land known as Bainbridge Island, lying opposite Seattle. The Indians of Bainbridge Island and of the adjacent shores had no name that I can discover for Bainbridge Island itself. They had, however, upward of three hundred names for different places on the island. If an Indian in a canoe were “headed”, as he would say, for Bainbridge Island and were asked where he was going, he would in reply name the spot where he proposed to land.

With that background in mind, we now present Waterman’s work.

Here is a photo of the two relevant entries in Waterman’s unpublished c.1919 manuscript, courtesy of Paul Talbert and UW Library Special Collections:

These three names are repeated almost verbatim in Waterman’s 1922 article, “Geographical Names Used by the Indians of the Pacific Coast” though note that the leading gamma (γ) in γbE’k:sId has been dropped.

Since Waterman does not include the token γ in the orthographical explanation he attaches to the 1922 article (see below), its status in the earlier unpublished manuscript is uncertain. (γ may be related to “voiced velar fricative” for which this symbol, or something very like it, is used in the IPA – very roughly, a “g” sound (?)). I am not sure what the parentheses signify in (γbE’k:sId). Etymology, derivation, a related word? An alternate name for the peninsula, or the name of a near by subordinate place? Could γ represent the nominalizing s- so common in Lushootseed?

We extract Waterman’s transcriptions, preserving his orthography, as follows:

  • Cka’lapsEB’
  • SkEba’kst, γbE’k:sId

Waterman explains that SkEba’kst refers to the peninsula (as a whole) and to the northern end (in particular). But he does not elaborate on the relationship between the two names he reports: SkEba’kst, bE’k:sId, nose and nostril. Were they used interchangeably? We observe that nostril is an anatomical component of a nose, suggesting – to contemporary (and quite probably irrelevant) sensibilities – that bE’k:sId place is a nested within the larger SkEba’kst. Given Waterman’s claim that names are often attached to geographic spots, perhaps “nostril” (bE’k:sId) refers to a spot on the peninsula, perhaps somewhere at a distance from the northern tip? And SkEba’kst may have had different meanings in context: sometimes it referred to the peninsula, sometimes just to its northern tip.

Waterman explains his orthography in the appendix to the journal article. Apparently this orthography was the standard among ethnographers at the time in which he worked. In subsequent years, and still today, the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) is used.

Following SkEba’kst Waterman records bE’k:sId parenthetically, and notes that it means “nose”. The Lushootseed Dictionary has this entry for the latter:

p 38

Teebone Ridge (as it is currently called) is about two miles south of the Skagit River, between Marblemount and Newhalem. “WS” who, with Vi Hilbert, is the source for this entry, was a Skagit speaker, a resident of Marblemount. He or she was, however, raised speaking Southern Lushootseed.

Please notice the “Compare =qs” item in this definition, a lexical suffix. Lushootseed speakers and scholars will need no introduction to this aspect of the language, but other readers may benefit from an explanation. M. Dale Kinkade (“Origins of Salishan Lexical Suffixes”) explains:

Lexical suffixes are a group of suffixes found in Salish, Chemakuan and Wakashan which have semantic content analogous to specific nouns, but lack phonological similarity to them. In this sense, they are unlike what is usually perceived as derivational affixes, which more often have little concrete meaning, rather serving to identify lexical classes. [English suffixes are by and large derivational, serving to modify or extend the root of a word, as in walk-ing, walk-ed, wonder-ful.] … Lexical suffixes have simple basic meanings (‘back’, ‘foot’, ‘house’, ‘water’). [And ‘nose’.]

The Lushootseed Dictionary (p 179-180) has a lengthy entry for this lexical suffix, attached at the bottom of this page.

The next three paragraphs discuss and try to discern a role for this lexical suffix. These ideas are speculative, exploratory, and may be ruled out by those who know Lushootseed language and phonology .

=qs is one such simple, body-part-associated lexical suffix. A possible relevance here is that this suffix, meaning “nose”, might have contributed to a longer Southern Lushootseed word expressing some variety or condition of a nose. This might explain the phonological distance between the (presumed) strong “AH” sound in Waterman’s transcribed SkEba’kst, and the absence of that sound in the Dictionary’s Northern Lushootseed bəqsəd. Could the actual spoken word have carried the strong presumed AH with “nose” added via the lexical suffix?

One imperfect example of this possibility is found, also, on p38 of the Lushootseed Dictionary, contributed by the same southern-raised, later Skagit resident WS, under the primary entry for beqʷ: fat, heavy set, big:

There are a few shreds of plausibility to this name: it refers to a place near Seattle with a big nose, apparently has the strong AH sound reported by Waterman, and perhaps an initial s- sound in some pronunciations. But there is no early q (“Indian k” sound, LD xiii), and there appear to be four syllables rather than the two Waterman recorded. So it is an imperfect candidate – but perhaps these imperfections reflect only the variability of spoken language, and the obstacles to understanding, and inaccuracies in transcription, intrinsic to field transcription – in this case, T.T. Waterman, and his Southern Lushootseed informant, long ago on the shores of Lake Washington.

The full Lushootseed Dictionary entry for the lexical suffix =qs, p 178-180:

Comments from David Beck, April 8th 2022:

University of Alberta linguist David Beck, whose interests include “fieldwork, typology, morphology, communicative/information structure, and American Indigenous languages, particularly Totonacan and Lushootseed (Salishan)” studied with Thom Hess. David has spent the last twenty years documenting Upper Necaxa Totonac, a threatened language with about 3000 speakers. His years of field work, and his long study and scholarship in Lushootseed, prepare him to be a useful assistant in this project. The ultimate judgement and selection of the reconstructed name will be made by native speakers.

David writes: I’ve been thinking about the naming problem and have spent some time looking over the post on the website and leafing through the Lushootseed dictionary and some of Thom’s notes on lexical suffixes. I’m not sure I have much to say that is going to be helpful, but here are a few observations:

I am doubtful that the squiggle that looks like a gamma is intended as a phonological symbol, and wouldn’t interpret it that way unless Waterman uses it in other places like that. One reason for this is that Waterman isn’t using IPA for the rest of his transcriptions (and may not have known it), the other is that there really isn’t anything in Lushootseed phonology that sounds like the voiced velar fricative (like the Spanish j or the German ch in ich, but vibrating the vocal chords at the same time), the closest you might get is the subjunctive clitic gʷə=, but I wouldn’t expect to see that on a noun outside of very special contexts. My first impression was that it was that proof-reader’s mark that means “insert”, so maybe he was going to add something or was indicating that he thinks that he missed something when we wrote it down (?). Someone who knows W’s work and how the rest of manuscript was handled would have to decide on that.

In terms of the two words provided by Waterman, I think that I would not interpret them as alternate or even related forms. My impression is that it is more likely that the placename does indeed contain the lexical suffix =qs, and the consultant W was working with probably added some sort of explanation that included the word bəqsəd ‘nose’. So the /a/ in the placename is independent of the presence/absence of an /a/ in bəqsəd .  bəqsəd means ’nose’, not ‘nostril’, so clearly there was a bit of confusion here (again, suggestive of the kind of thing that happens when you elicit something and get a long explanation with it that you don’t quite follow).

I rather like ʔəsbəqʷábqs for the placename, even if Waterman’s transcription is telescoped, because unstressed schwas are often “dropped”, so [ʔsbqʷábqs] or [sbx̌ʷábqs] wouldn’t be an unreasonable pronunciation in rapid speech. I don’t know how good Waterman’s ear really was, but these complex consonant clusters are, as you know, a challenge even to the experienced English transcriber, and Waterman wouldn’t have had the luxury of recording and listening over and over (or using Praat) to sort it out. Since this form has a slightly amusing literal gloss that includes =qs ‘nose’ in it, you could see why that might elicit an explanatory comment that would lead to Waterman also getting the term bəqsəd ‘nose’. I guess a drawback of this form is that coming up with a reasonable approximation that is going to be pronounceable by English speakers is a tall order. But the translation “Fat-nose Point” is catchy.

Provisionally Proposed: sbəqʷábs (spuhQWABS)

We start with   ʔəsbəqʷábqs  from the Lushootseed Dictionary. This word translates literally as “it has a fat nose” – an unidentified place near Seattle. This fits the geography: the general location, and the shape of the Seward peninsula.

We also start with our only direct report, from TT Waterman’s 1919 field notes: SkEba’kst (sqəbáqs in IPA orthography).

Can we blend these two sources together? Do native speakers find this plausible?

Our proposed reconstruction has a prominent initial “sp” or “sb” sound. Lushootseed and Totonac linguist David Beck, speaking of phonetic proximity, and knowing from direct experience how complex field transcription can be when the collector is not fluent in the target language, suggests that “Waterman gets the ‘k’ from the second part of the ‘bq’ consonant cluster”. Regarding Waterman’s choice of ‘k’ not ‘q’”, David adds: “ ‘q’ symbolizes a sound much like ‘k’ but is pronounced farther back in the mouth, a distinction English-speakers often have a hard time hearing.” David also notes that unstressed schwas are often dropped in normal rapid speech, which here would telescope four syllables into two.

Thus the possible original four-syllable  ʔəsbəqʷábqs may have been heard by Waterman as skəbaʔkst and written down as SkEba’kst. We interpolate between the dictionary entry and Waterman’s transcription and suggest sbəqʷábs (spuhQUABS): a telescoped form, faithful to the original, simplified (via dropped unstressed schwas) and with k replacing q – minor transformations of the spoken word familiar to field linguists transcribing an unfamiliar language.