Orphan grammar: why “pi” is less used than you’d think

Little Orphan Annie

(Image credit: RedBubble.com)

The structure,


seems to me more common in Jargon than what an English-speaker like me would expect,

NOUN PHRASE[type X]     pi     NOUN PHRASE[type X]

Let me unpack that a sec, before we move on with this:

  • By NOUN PHRASE, I mean to include both individual noun words and nouns composed of multiple words — for instance, Adjective + Noun.
  • And by tacking [type X] onto both NOUN PHRASES in my formula, I want you to understand that I’m focusing on cases where both nouns occupy the same category. That category could be “age group”, “kin”, “diseases”, etc., as you’ll be seeing.

Look at the units that I’ve [bolded (and) bracketed] in the following quotation:

     <10o North Thomson.> Kopa Nort Tomson ilihi, iaka nim wiht
10. North Thompson.     At North Thompson village [Chu Chua], also known as 

SShB, kanawi tilikom mamuk kopa Chinuk pipa. [Skukum man, skukum kluchmin]
St John the Baptist [mission], everyone is practicing Chinook writing. [Grown men (and) grown women]

[tanas man, tanas kluchmin], wiht [ol man ol kluchmin], kanawi
[young men (and) young women], even [old men (and) old women], all 

komtaks Chinuk pipa. <75> iskom ukuk Kamlups Wawa kopa SShB.
know Chinook writing. Seventy-five take this Kamloops Wawa newspaper at St John the Baptist.

— Kamloops Wawa #123 (December 1894), page 200

Two comparable members of a semantic category get grouped together in fluent Chinook Jargon that I encounter, without the word pi ‘and’.

(Image credit: J.K. Gill’s “Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon with Examples of its Use in Conversation”)

So, in the Kamloops region we also find an expression for orphans, “[ilo iaka papa ilo iaka mama]” / “[ilo papa ilo mama]” — literally “none (his) father none (his) mother”.

And there’s the historically well-known “[kʰul sik wam sik]” — literally “cold illness hot illness” — rendering the 19th-century English “fever and ague” that rampaged through Native communities.

As these examples suggest, this structure gets used more to conjoin multi-word noun phrases than sets of single-word nouns.

Once you start noticing it…and it’s not pointed out in any existing grammars of Jargon, because it’d be easy to overlook…you might come to find it all over the place in Chinuk Wawa texts, as I have!

This kind of discovery makes me so happy to be a linguist researching the Jargon. This language has been called “simple” for so long, that otherwise serious researchers have let themselves miss important details about fluent speech in it.

Next: now that I’ve consciously noticed it, I’ll have my eyes peeled to figure out whether this orphaned bit of grammar comes from the Native languages…stay tuned 🙂