A tribal linguist has determined the translation used for the past century for the town of Sequim, long believed by many to mean "quiet waters," is wrong.
SEQUIM — A tribal linguist has determined the translation used for the past century for the town of Sequim, long believed by many to mean “quiet waters,” is wrong.
The correct translation, it turns out, is a “place for going to shoot,” a reference to the Sequim-Dungeness Valley’s once-great elk and waterfowl hunting, said Timothy Montler, an expert in the study of dying languages.
Since 1992, Montler has studied the Klallam language and interviewed elders in the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe in Blynn. The tribe announced the new, more accurate translation last week after the culture committee decided it should be publicized, said Betty Oppenheimer, the tribe’s publications specialist.
“I think it just quietly rippled out of the ether,” Oppenheimer said of how the wrong translation spread.
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When asked where the “quiet waters” translation came from, Montler said “that’s something that somebody made up.”
The “quiet waters” reference is ingrained in Sequim history, with references in regional visitor guides and historical publications and on websites.
The executive director of the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce said there are plans to update brochures and a website to reflect the change as soon as time and budgets allow.
“We think it’s very exciting,” Vickie Maples said. “It’s kind of like finding out a little more about your family history.”
Montler, a distinguished research professor in linguistics at the University of North Texas, has created a Klallam language website with help from the last few native speakers on the North Olympic Peninsula.
Klallam is one language in a larger family of Native American languages called Salishan or Salish spoken in what is now Washington, British Columbia, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
A speaker of Lummi, for example, could learn Klallam very easily, and vice versa. The Klallam language, itself, has several dialects.
The Klallam word for Sequim can be broken down into parts that mean “reason, thing or place for” and “shoot (with gun or bow and arrow)” and the ending means “go to.”
“So literally it means ‘place for going to shoot,’ ” Montler said. He said the analysis leaves no doubt.
“It is clear to Native speakers and has been confirmed by elders,” Montler said.
Pat McCauley, a businesswoman in Sequim for much of the past 25 years, said the “quiet waters” reference was cited in the late Clallam County historian Harriet Fish’s findings and books as coming from tribal members.
“That blows me away,” McCauley said about the new translation. “But in some ways it makes sense. Sequim is not a waterfront town.”