Little old hayas-

hyas kloshe

(Image credit: the author [personal collection])

The other day, I mentioned some 1890’s quoted Chinuk Wawa:

…we see here the old intensifier prefix hayash- ‘very’, which quite early in Chinook Jargon’s history grammaticalized out of the adjective for ‘big’. This structure was found just about everywhere the Jargon was spoken, for a while, but interestingly enough it looks to have disappeared in one specific area: Grand Ronde (and I imagine the nearby and closely associated Siletz). The 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary lacks any trace of it; there, I’m seeing háyásh as always an adjective. 

(“Always an adjective” = always followed by, and dependent on, a noun.)

Now I’d like to go into the background of that long-neglected hayas- prefix some more.

Note 1: As you’ll see, I gloss this form as INTENSIFIER. Read on to see why I don’t translate it with the literal meaning of the adjective it developed out of, ‘big’.

Note 2: The spelling hayas- strikes me as more appropriate than hayash-, because the old sources pretty much all have it with a plain “S”, and they occur before we have documentation of the “SH” version at Grand Ronde, where this prefix is rare or unknown.

Note 3: Also, for consistency with the other affixy things in the Jargon, I’m writing this one without any stress marks, although suffixes can sometimes be stressed and further data might argue for such a notation.

I suspect this hayas- is a hitherto unrecognized window into very early Chinook Jargon grammar. Pretty early on, and recurring often in the historical record, we find expressions (here phonologized by me) like:

  • hayas-tíki
    (which means not the literal ‘big-want’, but instead…)
    ‘love, adore’
  • hayas-ɬúsh
    (not the literal ‘big-good’ but instead…)
    ‘excellent, beautiful’
  • hayas-háyú
    (not literally ‘big-much’ but instead…)
    ‘an abundance of, a multitude of’

My analysis is that with its nonliteral meaning and its acquired grammatical function, this hayas- is indeed a prefix, being quite closely “bound” with whatever head word it modifies. Affixes are thought to be an infrequent phenomenon in pidgin languages such as CJ, which may circularly explain why this one hasn’t been noticed in previous literature.

(And, to be tedious, I reiterate that the best-documented dialect, that of Grand Ronde reservation, is not a pidgin but a creole language. No one is surprised when creoles have some affixal units.)

Long story short, I find it plausible that this hayas- prefix is non-Indo-European in its inspiration. I know of no English variety that says stuff like “big want”, “big good”, or “big much”. French being the other big Whitefolks language on the scene, you might suggest gros, literally ‘big’ and known to be used as an adverb in Métis varieties like BC’s French of the Mountains: gros il aime… ‘He loves…’ But again, I’ve never encountered Canadian use of *gros-vouloir, *gros-bon, or *gros-beaucoup!

Instead I claim it owes its origin to twin sources:

  1. the grammars of local Native languages, with SW Washington Salish and particularly Lower Chehalis being prime candidates…intensifier inflections…
  2. and the lexicon of Nootka Jargon (the pidginized version of Vancouver Island, Canada’s, Nuučaan̓uɬ language that was imported from the north by non-Native trading-ship crews)

Let me unpack that idea.

Part A: lower Columbia grammar

This is the harder part.

Certain Aboriginal languages of the lower Columbia River region that was the homeland of Chinuk Wawa express the concept of ‘very’ via what I analyze as Intensification morphology. What I’m claiming there is just this: they typically turn Word X into “very X” by tacking an extra affix onto it.

(Here I’m going to ignore the area-wide iconic habit of emphasizing a word by holding its stressed vowel for a loooong time, which occurs in CW dialects that also have hayas-. I see no reason to think that the one gave rise to the other.)

Always important to check on when you’re dealing with a supposed pidgin Chinookan, let’s look at the “old Chinook” tribal language. The 2 closest things to Intensification-via-affixation that I’ve yet found are:

(A) …the extended use of the gender (yes, gender!) prefixes to secondarily imply size (as in masculine í-pqunx̣ ‘large round spruce-root basket’ versus feminine ú-pqunx̣ ‘small round spruce-root basket’).

(B) …the famous Chinookan system of consonant mutations that symbolize physical size, where e.g. cikcik ‘wagon’ can be turned into djikdjik ‘heavy truck’.

The reason for any skepticism I have about (A) or (B) influencing the invention of hayas- in the Jargon is that Chinookan seems to use these processes only on nouns (which includes adjectives, not as odd a thing in the world’s languages as you might have thought). By contrast, the Jargon affixes its hayas- to just about any potentially predicative word except nouns, as in the above examples of a verb, an adjective (which is a separate class from nouns in the pidgin!), and a quantifier. Still, all sorts of grammatical changes can happen in pidginization, so let’s keep gendered djikdjiks in mind.

Boas’s “Sketch” & “Texts” in that same language do reveal quite a few other ways to express Intensification, but they’re all (written by Boas as) free words — uninflected particles really — that are glossed as ‘very’, but they have no connection with ‘big’ (qaiɬ):

  • the most commonly occurring is pāt/pᴇt (also translated as ‘really’, and possibly a loan from Lower Chehalis Salish)
  • but we also find qanaʹxL,
  • tᴇXuʹl,
  • and katēʹ.
  • There are two more forms given as ‘really’: tc¡pāk
  • and wuk¡ (which I think is literally ‘strong(ly)’; compare wuq¡ ‘strong’).

The other major set of Indigenous languages in Chinuk Wawa’s old lower-Columbia homeland are the 4 Southwest Washington Salish sisters. Each of these too has particles/words for Intensification (spoiler alert, none has a meaning ‘big’, so also read Part B below):

  • Upper Chehalis: k̓ʷə́p (literally ‘straight’), waláš, laws (which may literally mean ‘it seems full’), húwi / hóy (which I take as old Salish emphasizers that are known throughout that language family)
  • Cowlitz: ʔáytk– (it would be fun if this were really an adverb AND somehow a loan form of hayash…however I suspect it is based on the Salish root ʔə́y ‘good, well’)
  • Quinault: ~cə́sšəɬ (~’straight’) and ~x̣ʷáɬ (~’hot’?)
  • Lower Chehalis: wáwi ‘very’ (probably related to Upper Chehalis húwi / hóy), xʷə́ƛ̓ (maybe cf. the second Quinault word)

(You’ll notice that words for ‘very’ get formed out a range of metaphors. My mentor at Columbia University’s linguistics department, the late Dr. Robert Austerlitz, once published a fun paper mapping the distributions of European words for ‘very’, showing where it comes from ‘strong’ versus ‘painful’ versus ‘true’, etc.)

But one and only one of these languages, to my knowledge, also has affixal Intensification: Lower Chehalis. There,, which started life as an Intransitive marker directly following a word’s root, therefore appearing on plenty of adjectival predicates, developed into what modern native speakers consistently translated as ‘very’+ Adjective.

So you see, it’s two specific languages, unrelated to each other but both spoken around Shoalwater Bay (Willapa Bay), Washington, that provide the strongest case for having inspired our Chinuk Wawa hayas-. Both Shoalwater Lower Chinookan and Lower Chehalis Salish have strategies of affixal Intensification.

It would make a great deal of sense for Chinuk Wawa, as it was being created primarily via the interactions of SLC & LCS speakers with Whites, to have developed an analog of that morphological structure.

Chinook Jargon was a typical pidgin from the outset — totally lacking affixes — so there was no obvious material to get repurposed into our Intensifier affix. And the pidgin didn’t readily borrow affixes from anywhere, either. (English -s and Chinookan -i being the scant exceptional proof.) Therefore, it had to recruit an existing full word and turn it into an affix. The item that thus lost its independent identity (i.e. its primary stress) was…

Part B: a Nootka Jargon word

This is the easier part. We already know a fair bit about the word háyás(h), as you can see in the Grand Ronde tribes’ 2012 dictionary. They point out that this adjectival root is “of obscure origin”, but diligently report that there are reasonable matches for it in the Southern Wakashan (“Nootkan”) languages, as well as way up the Columbia River in Wasco-Wishram Chinookan.

From that, I will infer that háyás(h) may have been a Nootka Jargon word, an attribution that I feel provides the more likely reason for it to appear in Chinuk Wawa. NJ, an import from hundreds of miles’ distance, played a bigger role in forming the Jargon, as far as I can see, than the upstream Chinookan languages did.

Another of my parenthetical observations: we need to gather all the known Nootka Jargon documents into a readily available dictionary. It will make research on Chinuk Wawa way easier. 

This word appears quite early in Chinuk Wawa’s known history, as we’d expect of a Nootka Jargon loan; that pidgin died out by maybe 1830.

And its early entrance into CW left ample time for it to grammaticalize into our Intensifier prefix.

I hurry to remind you, the original word remained as an adjective. You could even argue that we have documentation of the prefix and the adjective occurring together, as in Father St. Onge’s 1890’s manuscript dictionary: < aias-aias > meaning something like ‘enormous’.

However, that’s not the best analysis of such a form, because we have hayásh-hayash for ‘big ones’ in Grand Ronde creole CW, where you recall I’ve said there is no prefix hayas-. Instead, this demonstrates a separate morphological process: a “full-word productively reduplicated” form. That is to say, the doubling of the word signals the adding of a Distributive meaning to the root sense of ‘big’, thus, roughly ‘big ones all over the place’.

Such grammaticalized reduplication dates back quite far as well; we see it applied to quite a few root words in Fort Vancouver-associated Chinook Jargon as far back as circa 1840! So it was contemporary with the prefix I’m talking about today.

It’s enormously fascinating that, of these two innovated morphemes in CJ (hayas- and Reduplication), the former was readily observed, imitated, and incorporated into Chinuk Wawa speech by Whites. The latter was not; it’s really only in the Chinuk Wawa of communities having a political balance of power in favor of Native people that Reduplication was understood and maintained.

Summarizing today’s main point, we have here a previously unacknowledged rare bird: an affix in Chinuk Wawa. This morpheme’s most plausible sources are Indigenous.

Further reading: Hyas Klose & Hyas Kloser 🙂