Yeah, yeah, pour some more!


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Today’s essay takes a memorable Archie Bunker moment as its theme.

In the 1970s American TV sitcom “All in the Family“, a Spanish-speaking employee of the lead character is sitting in the latter’s dining room, wanting to discuss his firing. Archie keeps (conveniently?) getting called to the other room to deal with a separate issue, so he asks Emanuel to have a drink and wait. As delays mount, this man puts his head out the door pleading, “Archie, ¡por favor!” The monolingual (and distracted) Archie waves him off with “Yeah, pour some more!”

Today I want to look at a different “pour” and a distinct kind of reinterpreted meaning…

Chinook Jargon’s word pus, a.k.a. spose. Both forms trace back to a single source, I think, as does the Grand Ronde Tribes 2012 dictionary.  The spose variant seems to be a reinterpretation by English speakers, influenced by “suppose”, which not entirely coincidentally is the word for “if” in various pidgin Englishes of the world.

The pus version is what I’m focusing on today, though. We know the source of it. Referring again to the Grand Ronde dictionary, it comes from a Shoalwater Lower Chinookan “if”-word. The comparable word seems to have had a different form, pu, in other Chinookan dialects, so we can tell that Chinuk Wawa got its “if” from the farthest downriver dialect, which I’m calling Shoalwater but which I imagine includes Clatsop.

This pus was used specifically in counterfactuals.

(Chinookan distinguished various kinds of “if”, as many languages do. For example, there were other words for “if/whenever” and for “if it’s the case that___”.)

Thus, old Chinookan pus meant “if (only) it had happened that ___”; with a negated verb, you got a meaning like “if it hadn’t been for ___” (then such-and-such would’ve occurred).

So just right there, it’s obvious that Chinuk Wawa changed the meaning of pus, broadening its use to cover just about any “conditional” or “hypothetical” situation. (Making it what we linguists would call an “irrealis” marker.) A nice example of what happens in pidginization.

I don’t believe anyone’s previously pointed out that one dialect of Chinuk Wawa went even further, adding yet another new function to pus. 

That dialect is — would’nt you know it by now, if you’ve been a reader of mine for any length of time — the lower Columbia River dialect that all evidence shows was “creolizing” by about 1830.

“Creolizing”, I remind you, basically means “being spoken from infancy”. As a first language. In contrast to the earliest known uses of Chinuk Wawa, as a pidgin (a foreign language to all of its speakers). Creolization often implies additional changes taking the language farther and farther away from how its ancestor languages did things.

Such as starting to use pus to also mean “for (the purpose of/benefit of), in order to”.

We can see this pus pretty early on. We find it in a hymn quoted by Xavier MacLeod in 1866 as having been taught to local Indian kids by the Belgian Soeurs de Notre Dame (nuns) who worked in the area from mid-1844:

Ayas skokoum maïka,
Kwanissom tlosh Marie 
Kopa Sahalé Tayé. 
Wawa pous naïka 
Pous ka kwa yaka temtom 
Naïka memmeloucht, 
Ayak yaka eskam naïka sahalé. 

In thee I place my confidence,
Oh, Virgin, strong and fair;
Be thy protection my defence,
Be all my life thy care!
And when I draw my latest breath,
And seek my endless lot,
Obtain for me a holy death,
And then forsake me not.

— page 665

(Wawa pous naïka = ‘Speak for me’.)

It’s also in Father Lionnet’s lexicon published in 1853 but written a while earlier. The same extension of meaning is found, interestingly, in George Gibbs’s widely-known 1863 dictionary (based mostly on 1850’s experience) — even in the Englishy form, spose!

The location where all this creolization stuff really took off was at the Grand Ronde Reservation, following its formation in the mid-1850’s. The intense cultural mix that gave us Chinuk Wawa in the first place got way more intense as dozens of not-necessarily-related ethnicities were thrown together in a limited rez space. And it’s at Grand Ronde where you find the most copious evidence of pus being used to mean ‘for’.

A tip of the hat to Sam for asking a very good question — does this pus have anything to do with French pour, which means ‘for’?

I think a case can be made for that idea. Because it’s precisely in the lower Columbia region that there was a significantly concentrated French-speaking population. Those fur-trade employees demonstrably influenced Chinuk Wawa some time after the pidgin first appears in the historical record, for instance by donating dozens of nouns.

And even more precisely, Grand Ronde’s population included French-speaking Métis (mixed-blood) families from the Willamette River, where fur-trade fellas went to retire.

There’s every reason to believe that French pour was present and having an impact on the development of Chinuk Wawa, right through the decades of creolization.