“iaka siahus NOUN”

It’s a while since I shared a little grammar lesson, so start your egg timer:


(Image credit: Orthodox Christian Network.)

aias tlus iaka siahus Barbara
very good her face Barbara
“Barbara’s face was beautiful”

This is from a Kamloops Wawa “Lives of the Saints” installment. Why am I making it the centerpiece today?

All of you that have taken Chinuk Wawa lessons, or read about the language, have been told that the way to form a possessive expression meaning “X’s (thing) / (thing) of X” is

X yaka (thing)

…Is the quote above formed that way? Does it say Barbara iaka siahus?

No. Hmm.

Instead, we have here “her face Barbara”. It’s backwards!

And it works fine. If you think about — it’s equally sensible either way, because both are clear about saying “whose thing” is meant.

This “backwards version” is actually a common alternative in certain environments.

The long tradition of Catholic missionaries, all the way back to Fort Vancouver and forwards to BC and the Kamloops Wawa newspaper, are the prime example.

They use the “backwards version” particularly in what I think of as Chinook Jargon’s literary style: preaching, explaining Bible passages, and generally when they’re not writing as if speaking spontaneously.

For what it’s worth, up in BC there was another pidgin, known as French of the Mountains (yes, it was a pidgin French), where “normal” for possessives was just like the “normal” of Chinuk Wawa: le bon Dieu son parole “God’s word” (the good God his word).

Also FWIW, in Chinuk Wawa you can obviously do the “backwards” style with X being a plural possessor: klaska (thing) X.

All of this is strictly a 3rd-person thing of course — it’s only possible where you have a separate, overt noun specifying who the possessor is. That doesn’t happen in 1st or 2nd persons! (Regardless of going forwards or backwards, it would be odd to say “my blog Dave” or “Dave my blog”!)

Now you know. And now you can read Kamloops Wawa‘s literature with less confusion.