nawítka & drét


It’s hard to illustrate a metaphor. (Image credit: Pinterest)

nawítka: I have a more detailed etymology, and a newly discovered Native metaphor, to propose for an extremely well-known word of Chinuk Wawa.

Looking in Franz Boas’s “Chinook: An Illustrative Sketch” from 1910, in the first line of a Wishram Upper Chinookan (a.k.a. Kiksht a.k.a. Wasco) text about Coyote, we see nāʹ2wit ʹstraightwayʹ in a clause that’s glossed as ‘straightway he arrived going’. Footnote 7 comments that this word is a

[r]hetorically lengthened form of nuʹit IMMEDIATELY, RIGHT AWAY. When thus lengthened to nāʹwit, it seems to imply direct, unswerving motion without interference of other action; it may then be rendered as STRAIGHT ON or ON AND ON.
(page 674)

Thus, a metaphor: TIME ~ SPACE. And SOON ~ STRAIGHT.

And this nāʹwit reminds me of Chinuk Wawa’s nawítka, defined in the Grand Ronde Dictionary as ‘right! that’s right!; sure enough, indeed’; they additionally note that it means ‘yes’ in other dialects of the Jargon. The etymology that the dictionary points to is a particle of the same shape in Chinookan, but I would like to push the investigation a bit further.

If there really were some kind of connection going on between nawítka and nāʹwit, the -ka part should “be something” in the supposedly original Chinookan. Well, let’s direct our gaze to page 626, where Boas identifies a common element -ka in the Lower Chinookan “independent” [predicative] personal pronouns (which you also know from Chinook Jargon: náyka, máyka, yáka, nsáyka, msáyka, ɬáska), defining it as ONLY. Boas glosses this suffix in Kiksht another way on page 677, as JUST, ONLY, telling more about its distribution: “found also suffixed to numerals”. I think I see it in certain adverbs too, like kawaʹtka ‘soon’.

Besides this suffix, there are a number of freestanding Chinookan words whose meaning is given as ‘only’, such as kaʹltas (recognize that from Chinuk Wawa?), ʟāʹema, and iāʹma. In Chinookan languages, you often notice this kind of redundancy; there’ll be an affix and a full word that both mean the same thing. For examples, you need look no further than that set of pronouns in the previous paragraph; they’re paralleled by sets of subject, object, and possessive prefixes that go onto other full words. Which is all to say, yes, -ka does mean ‘only’.

I find it plausible that nawítka has an etymology in Lower Chinookan as ‘just straight, just direct(ly)’. This exact word is in fact found in Boasʹs “Sketch” as nau’itka ‘indeed!’, grouped with the “exhortative particles” (page 635). As Boas paints these words on that page, “They are applied so regularly and seem to be so weak, that I do not quite like to class them with interjections.” He goes on to admit he’s just lumping nau’itka in that category for convenience; it “hardly belong[s] here” because it’s not a particle but a “derivative…perhaps from nau’i AT ONCE”. That word is one of the “temporal and modal adverbs” (page 634); its similarity of meaning and form with nau’it above could suggest that these are variants of a single word. Regardless of the precise shape of the base being suffixed, Boas and I agree in seeing nawítka as analyzable.

So, the web of metaphors expands to SOON ~ STRAIGHT ~ TRUE.

Having proposed a novel understanding of nawítka, let me draw a connection with a definitely non-Native-sourced Chinuk Wawa word. Drét (the delate of many older dictionaries) is defined in the Grand Ronde Dictionary with such senses as ‘right! OK!; straight (in direction); truly, rightly; direct’. This word quite certainly comes from the Canadian French for ‘straight; right(-hand)’. The notable point here is that it participates in a portion of the same spectrum of metaphorical relations as nawítka: STRAIGHT ~ TRUE.

Notice that drét lost its Canadian French sense of ‘right-hand’ when it came into Chinook Jargon; that concept is rendered with ɬúsh-limá or qʰink̓iyam(-lima) at Grand Ronde, or rait hand in the Kamloops region. And I’m unaware of the Canadian French original having had anything to do with ‘true’. It seems as if the semantics of drét shifted, when it was taken into the Jargon, to reflect Native metaphors, paralleling nawítka.

Wal kata maika tomtom ukuk naika wawa? (Well, what do do you think of what I’m saying?)

I feel that it’s interesting if relatively easy to make an etymological discovery, but quite rewarding and challenging to spot a Native metaphor. I love this work…