Guide to using the Siletz Dictionary by Amy Smolek

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Some Cultural Background

The Siletz, like most Pacific Northwest Native American tribes, were a primarily hunter-gatherer society; as such, they have very thorough taxonomies for plants and animals, as well as many terms for the hunting and gathering of food and supplies and for the means and manners of living in close interaction with nature. The semantic categories in the dictionary, explained more thoroughly below, strive to offer an insightful look into the important factors in Siletz culture and give you, the user, some ideas of the many and varied and fascinating contents of this dictionary.

Semantic domains

We have tried to include all of the terms that are tangentially related to the domain in question; this has led to things like leather being grouped under animal and handicrafts, since it is made from an animal and is used in the sewing of clothing and material constructions. If there are any groupings that you find confusing or inaccurate, please feel free to contact us at

Since terms can be related to more than one category (as leather is above), there are many that are doubly or triply tagged. There is no hierarchal organization among the semantic domains, though we may be able to add that function in a future version. Some terms are obviously more closely related to one category than another, but we have tried to include any salient connections, not just those that are most present.

For an extended discussion of the various domains and what they include and indicate, see below.

A note about notation: terms that have an entry in the dictionary are marked by italics, while terms referring to the semantic domains are in bold. Therefore, bird indicates the Siletz entry ch’ee-yash or ch’ash, whereas bird indicates the semantic domain.


Included in this category are:

Not included are fish and other sea life, with the exception of sea-dwelling (but land mobile) mammals like sea otter and sea lion (which are also tagged as fish and sea life), and bugs and insects. Some other domains that animal terms may be tagged with include clothing, food, and tools and implements.

Astronomy and the sky

A relatively small domain, astronomy includes terms for the celestial bodies (sun, moon, star) as well as the lights they emit (sunlight, moonlight).

Babies and childbirth

Children enable a culture to continue flourishing, and as such play a very important role in the lives and language of a people. Siletz is no exception; the following types of words are included in this category:

Among the terms tagged with babies and childbirth, some are also cross-tagged as death and dying, body parts and the body, and basketry.


While these entries could be cross-tagged with handicrafts, we decided it was a large enough category to have it stand on its own, and given the importance of basketry and baskets in the Siletz culture, it is a salient category to have. Included are:

Items under this domain may also be tagged as babies and childbirth or fishing.


All of the entries tagged with bird are also tagged with animal, so that they are included in a search for animals but also comprise their own group; as there are currently 86 terms in the bird category, it is a not insignificant portion of the animal group and a salient enough part of the folk taxonomy to warrant its own tag.


Since the Siletz historically lived along the coast, in an area with many rivers and lakes, they have a wide array of terms related to water transportation. Many of these terms are cross-tagged as fishing, though not all. Included here are:

Words tagged with boats may also fall under the domains of people, ocean, seas, and bodies of water, and modern things.

Body parts and the body

This domain refers to humans only, including words for:

The sheer variety and volume of terms relating to the body makes it clear that the Siletz had, and continue to have, a thorough understanding of human anatomy.

A few terms in this domain are also tagged as babies and childbirth or health and sickness.

Ceremonies and dances

This category, along with religion and beliefs, offers insight into the spiritual lives and practices of the Siletz people. Ceremonies and dances includes rituals and practices with more than one participant, as well as those that seem to have a particular way of being done. Whereas religion and beliefs is more about what people think, ceremonies and dances focuses on what they do. There are many terms that are tagged with both. Some example tokens are:

Besides being cross-tagged with religion and beliefs, terms in this domain may also be grouped with clothing.


This tag covers:

Words tagged with clothing may also appear under ceremonies and dances, body parts and the body, animal, handicrafts, and religion and beliefs.


This is a very straight-forward category. There are 11 terms relating to color descriptions in Siletz; from the morphology, it would seem as though only red, black, yellow, and white have distinct, independent roots, whereas orange, blue, green, gold, brown, yellowish, and gray are all derived from other words or descriptions. This makes Siletz a 4 color system, though it’s possible that blue is also a distinctive color (the fact that it is 2 syllables while the others are 1 is suggestive, but not definitive).

Crime and punishment

This is also pretty self-explanatory; included here are:

Death and dying

The ways that cultures deal with death varies greatly, and the Siletz terms related to death reflect their unique view on the subject. The terms can roughly be grouped into:

Terms in this domain are also included in people, money, handicrafts, and employment and education.

Employment and education

The course of employment is often intimately linked to education, hence the presence of this category. Among the terms are words for:

One particularly notable term is tokenism, defined as “the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, esp. by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce” (from Google’s definition of the term). The Siletz people, as a Native American tribe, have been subject to tokenistic efforts on the part of the dominant white society to (at least seem to) redress the historical inequalities brought about from pioneer times on, but the decline of their language(s) and culture should prove that tokenism in no way makes up for past wrongs.

Other tags these words may have include crime and punishment, health and sickness, people, and death and dying.

Fish and sea life

This includes:

One thing worth noting is the abundance of terms relating to salmon: 17 in all. Salmon were (and are) an important food source and cultural symbol, which one can tell just from the presence of such a wide array of terms.

Many fish and sea life words are also tagged as food.


Fishing was one of the primary ways of getting food for the Siletz, and as such there are a wide variety of terms related to the practice, including words for:

Items in this domain may also be tagged with hunting, basketry, landscape, times and seasons, and oceans, seas, and bodies of water.


This is an understandably large category; it encompasses pretty much anything that can be ingested. We have excluded animals for which English has a separate word for the meat versus the living animal (pork and pig, cow and beef). Besides that, the category contains, among others:

One term here of interest is the verb paradigm for apologizing for food wasting. The fact that this can be conveyed by a single word (and a rather short word, at that) speaks to the concern of the Siletz toward having enough to eat. Even living in an area rich with varied and abundant food sources, the issue of there being enough food for everyone is clearly still present.

Food may also be cross-tagged with animal, plants and trees, insects and bugs, fish and sea life, and bird.


The Siletz, like most every culture, have many ways of blowing off steam and having some fun. Some of the terms relating to this are words for:

The exact rules of the stick game aren’t clear, but the entry for lacrosse was tagged with “see stick game”, which suggests that they must have something in common.

Some of these entries also appear under vices and people.


This includes all manner of crafty and artsy things, with the exception of everything related to basketry. Some examples are:

Just from these terms, we can see that beads were an important part of Siletz handiwork, as were things related to the creation of materials used in clothing, blankets, and home décor.

Terms under handicrafts may also be included in tools and implements, clothing, plants and trees, animal, employment and education, death and dying, money, and health and sickness.

Health and sickness

Besides specific illnesses, included here are both modern and traditional approaches towards health and sickness. This category encompasses:

These terms may be cross-tagged with people, vices, plants and trees, employment and education, and insects and bugs.


Here are houses and parts of houses; while not a very big category, it seems nonetheless to be relevant given the importance of shelter for the survival of a people.


Besides fishing, hunting was the primary way of getting meat for the Siletz. It should come as no surprise that they have a very extensive vocabulary for related things, such as:

Other domains these words may fall under are fishing and tools and implements.

Insects and bugs

This category is self-explanatory; it contains all those creatures we call bugs/insects, as well as the products of bees (hive, honey). insects and bugs may also be tagged with food or health and sickness.

Interaction with nature

While many of the other categories could also be considered forms of interaction with nature (such as hunting, fishing, and food), this category deals mainly with the ways the Siletz harness and control nature, including terms relating to:


This tag marks all family-related terms, both blood and marriage, as well as the processes that lead to family terms, including:

These words may also fall under people, death and dying, and animal.


These terms include words for:

These are all also tagged with ocean, seas, and bodies of water, but are included with landscape because they are notable enough features to be able to navigate on land by.

Modern things

Included here are only very modern inventions, so things like rifle and bullet are excluded. Some examples are dryer, movie, car, technology, telephone, supermarket, vacuum cleaner, submarine, and outboard motor. The existence of such words should speak to the vast adaptive and creative powers of language, even when they are dying.

Numbers and counting

This category contains number words (like ten, two, three) and quantitative descriptions of nouns (like twenty times, six individuals, last one, pair of two individuals, three of them, two people).

These entries may also belong to the domain of people.

Ocean, seas, and bodies of water

This category includes the many terms cross-tagged with landscape, such as lake, shore, lagoon, shoreline, coast, as well as a number of other terms that:


While most of the terms in kinship could be included here as well, we chose to leave those in their own category, devoting this one to terms involving:

Some other domains that may be shared by terms under this domain are vices, money, health and sickness, death and dying, and crime and punishment.

Place names

Much like with insects and bugs, there’s not a whole lot to explain about this domain. The list of places that have Siletz names does reflect their traditional living space, including places in Oregon (Oregon, Chetco Village, Mount Emily, Pistol River) and California (Nelechundun/Henry Ranch, Wilson Creek, Achulet Village).

Plants and trees

As with animal and fish and sea life, plants and trees shows a remarkable breadth and depth of knowledge of the plants and trees in the Siletz area. Included are terms for:

Terms that fall under this domain may also be cross-tagged with food, landscape, fish and sea life, health and sickness, ocean, seas, and bodies of water, and times and seasons.

Religion and beliefs

This is the more mental counterpart to the ritualistic ceremonies and dances, though there are many cases that fall into both categories. Included are terms for:

We can see an interesting combination of traditional beliefs (ghost, myth time people) and Christian beliefs (Christ, Holy Spirit, pastor), reflecting the cultural interaction between the traditional religion of the Siletz and the Christianity brought by white people.

Times and seasons

This domain encompasses all manner of terms relating to times and seasons, including:

Entries under this domain may also fall into astronomy and the sky, food, plants and trees, and fishing.

Tools and implements

This is one of the more difficult domains to clearly define; it doesn’t include tools and implements used in hunting or fishing, but it does include items that fall under:

These terms may be cross-tagged with handicrafts, interaction with nature, vices, fish and sea life, clothing, and hunting.


This is a somewhat controversial category; we would like to make clear that we are not trying to condemn or condone the activities herein, merely that we think it is a new and interesting way of looking at the data. The materials included here are terms related to:

Tobacco and its use has long had a spiritual and ritual role in Native American cultures, and the Siletz seem to be no exception, given the abundance of terms related to the practice. The CTSI also run a casino, as allowed for displaced Native American tribes by Oregon law, which helps explain the number of terms related to gambling.

The terms grouped under vices may also belong to the domains of people, clothing, and tools and implements.


While also pretty self-explanatory, this domain does have a truly remarkable range of terms related to rain (including, but not limited to, sleet, fine rain, heavy rain, fog raining, fell like rain, torrential rains, it is sprinkling, it is raining hard). As anyone who has spent a winter in Oregon knows, rain is a very constant presence, so the wide variety of Siletz terms should come as no surprise. Besides the rain words, weather also includes terms for:

Other Interesting Things to Note

Object Incorporation

Object incorporation means there are many different ways of saying verbs for which we have only one word, depending on what is being talked about; fundamental contrast is based on animacy

Present in: person/individual vs. object
both of them (individuals, people) nanlh-dee-yu
both of them (objects) naa-xee-t’i
Further distinctions within inanimate objects:
liquid (including milk, water, juice, whiskey, etc.) tuu-’i’
a lot is there lhan slhek
lend me, you sh-ghaa~-ch’ii~-lhe
pass me shghaa~-lhe
material (fabric, paper, clothes, leather, coat, check, material objects, cloth, garment) trvlh-xvs or chvtlh-xvs
came, it nvt-lhchvm’s
brought, I nii-lhchvm’s
lend me, you sh-ghaa~-ch’ii~-lhchvm’s

Others: food, crunchy/crisp, single long or large object, object/money/long object, multiple long objects, multiple objects, multiples in bundles, net/beads/rope, blankets, lighted objects, like objects


Distinctions for down, outward (or into), through for creek(s), road(s), trail, water, floated

Dual person

Make a distinction between singular, plural, and dual (we two, you two, those two):

Sometimes distinction is only made for some of the “person”s, as for paddling(1st and 2nd only), ate (1st and 3rd only), came back (2nd only)

We hope this guide helps you get to know the dictionary a little better, and that you have fun exploring the many fascinating things it holds!

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