=na “Yes/No Question” from Proto-Salish *nə

No or Yes

(Image credit: Thoughtco.com)

A new etymological discovery:

I literally woke up thinking this. So I hopped out of bed with a smile. Nice to start the day productively.
I’m thinking that the “Yes/No (we linguists also call ’em Polar, because they’re so cool) Question Particle” =na, which Lower Chehalis (& other SW WA Salish) + Lower Chinookan + Chinuk Wawa place more-or-less second in a sentence, comes from none other than…
…Proto-Salish.
Which would make it ancient.
Which is new news.
The reason =na can be Proto-Salish, that I just realized, is there are matching forms in all of the daughter branches of the Salish family. Thus it’s more likely to have been inherited jointly from old times, than innovated separately or simultaneously borrowed from elsewhere.
Now, Salish is roughly divided into Interior and Coast, and the latter is so diverse that we should look at the Tillamook, Central, and Nuxalk (“Bella Coola”) divisions. So let’s peek:
  • Interior Salish: (Norther IS) Shuswap has =as a clitic after the word, like we see on the coast. (Southern IS) Spokane has ha= as a clitic before the word.
  • Tillamook: =i directly after a predicate makes it a Yes/No question.
  • Central: Sechelt puts =a just after the first element (clitic or stem) in a predicate string
  • Nuxalk: here too, =a or, after a vowel, =ya, is the second-position element that turns a statement into a Yes/No question
You ask, how the heck are forms as different-sounding as =n and ha= and =i from the same source? Easy.
#1, Clitics being so loosely connected to the words that they modify, they have a strong tendency to move positions. (Thus the after/before variation above.)
#2, Throughout Salish languages, there’s quite a historical tendency for /n/ to “vocalize”, turning into a vowel. In modern Spokane, lots of N’s turn into /i/, just as we’re seeing a Yes/No form =i in Tillamook. Even more relevant to what I’m talking about today, Proto-Salish */n/ often turned into /a/, like in the 2.SG.POSV (“your”) *ʔn-, which became ʔa- in Lower Chehalis & other daughter languages. 
 
(The h at the start of Spokane ha= is something that’s predictably inserted if there’s no glottal stop /ʔ/ before the vowel at the start of the word.)

Why hasn’t anyone pointed this connection out before? Also simple. It’s because practically all of the work on Proto-Salish has focused on two things: roots, and the inflectional affixes (of person/transitivity/etc.). Little ol’ particles haven’t been systematically compared among the daughter languages.

But now that I’ve thought to make that comparison, I claim that we have a Proto-Salish clitic *nə “Yes/No Question”.
 

(I’m not reconstructing a position for it yet, due to the variation in the modern languages. And I’m reconstructing it with a schwa since that would be easily dropped, leaving just & easily generating the Spokane version.)

And this, in turn, implies that Lower Chehalis is the donor of this question marker into Shoalwater Lower Chinookan & Chinuk Wawa. Glancing at Kathlamet & Wishram Chinookan, I find a different question marker used, =či. Sure looks like =na is borrowed into Shoalwater, yep.
Incidentally, my proposed Proto-Salish etymology for the unstressed particle =na does not answer where the stressed Chinook Jargon interjection ná ‘hey!/here!/yo!/gimme!’ comes from. I will write about that next.
(As always, please don’t confuse those 2 forms with a third one that’s only found at Grand Ronde, na ‘I, me, my (First Person Singular Pronoun)’. That one obviously is just shortened from nayka.)
What do you think?
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