Definite article was also early in Chinuk Wawa…from Salish

definite article

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Yet another grammatical operator that crystallized early in Chinuk Wawa: the definite article.

We find definite articles being used in the same mid-1800s time window and geographical setting where kids were being reported as speaking the Jargon from birth. (Creolization on the lower Columbia; we don’t find the Def Art in the pidgin dialects.) That’s where & when Jargon grammar was evidencing an explosion of complexity and expressiveness. (Thus prefixes and reduplication, etc., were also coming into play.)

The form of the article is uk, as you can see in your Grand Ronde Tribes 2012 dictionary of the creole dialect. Authorities seem to agree that it’s shortened from the very old Chinuk Wawa demonstrative pronoun/determiner úkuk ‘this; that; these; those; it’.  The ultimate etymology of that is said to lie in Lower Chinookan, where it’s one of a plethora of deictic (“pointing-at”) words.

Father St. Onge’s dictionary manuscript (1892), remembering his circa-1870 usage of Chinuk Wawa in the lower Columbia region, spells the article < ok’ >, commenting in addition that  

The was rendered by the expression ok’ which is an abbrev. of okuk. Bishops Blanchet & Demers [St. Onge’s superiors, who worked in the same region starting circa 1840] always used it.

[Edited to add:] And indeed you’ll find plenty of < ok > in the Demers / Blanchet / St. Onge 1871 ‘J.M.J. Chinook Dictionary, Catechism [etc.]’, composed circa 1838.

I think the earliest published use of uk is by James G. Swan (1857:419), who gives < oke > for ‘those or that’ vs. < oʹkoke > ‘this’. George Gibbs’s 1863 dictionary backs this up, with a spelling < oke >.

We’ve already seen the etymology of this form, but what was its source, its inspiration, its model? In other words, why did Chinuk Wawa speakers reduce ukuk to uk and use this for an article?

I think the answer is simple. Out of the known important source languages for the formation and solidification of the Jargon, we know that the Indo-European ones happened to have definite article. (Not all such do; I refer you to most of Slavic, Hindi, et al.) We find fossilized remnants of the French definite articles — never the indefinite ones — fused with a large number of Chinuk Wawa nouns:

  • límá ‘hand’
  • lahásh ‘axe’
  • libló ‘sorrel-colored, brown’ (horse-color words come from French expressions meaning ‘the brown one‘ etc.)
  • lapóm ‘apple’, and so on.

And English of course uses its little the constantly.

However, we can slow down right there and realize that if French la, le had been going to invade Chinuk Wawa’s grammar, they would have become freely used with all nouns, not just the big-but-limited selection of French ones that carry them. It’s clear that, instead, the la‘s and le‘s got imported into the Jargon as part and parcel of pre-established units; these articles never were in what a linguist would call “productive” use within the Jargon.

Nor do we find the English-sourced the in anything approaching regular use in CW; its occurrence in documented speech is scant, unpredictable, and only known among people who also spoke fluent English.

You can see that I’m shooting down the notion that Indo-European languages supplied much beyond moral support for creating a Chinuk Wawa definite article. So, what else do I have in mind?

Yes, the Native languages that parented the Jargon.

Lower Chinookan, of which we have pretty enormous amounts of textual data, shows no sign at all of articles. (Go skim through Franz Boas’s “Sketch” of and “Texts” in that language.)

This pretty much leaves Salish. And in fact, the southwest Washington Salish (“Tsamosan” as only a few linguists call ’em) languages have articles in abundance. This includes, once again, the Lower Chehalis language that most Shoalwater Bay Lower Chinookans were bilingual in — and which, I continue to demonstrate, played a hitherto unacknowledged large role in forming early Chinuk Wawa.

Just a sampling will do to make this point. Off the top of my head, in Lower Chehalis we find definite articles attached before nouns: ti and ta, which seem to be shortened from/contrast with tit and tat. (For those that have taken LING 101: no, that variation is not phonologically conditioned; it’s got some semantic basis that we’re still researching.)

Hey now, does this SHORT:LONG shape-relationship look familiar? 🙂

Only in SW WA Salish do we easily find this very specific phenomenon that parallels the relationship between ukuk and uk.

Making the match even tighter, as far as I can make things out, it’s only Lower Chehalis that has this formal pattern; Quinault articles look like what we linguists call a crazy explosion (sorry), while Cowlitz & Upper Chehalis ones seem to only have the longer forms. Lower Chehalis again!

Well now, what do you think of my claims? It keeps on seeming like Lower Chehalis Salish exerted all kinds of influence in the crucial formative stages of Chinuk Wawa & the creolization of CW.