Are Chinuk Wawa’s prepositions due to Salish & not Chinookan????

Chinuk Wawa has prepositions — why?

The reason I ask such a plainly dumb question is, we really have to start thinking about where not only the words of Chinook Jargon, but its grammar, came from.

We can usually tell with ease which language gave us this or that word of Jargon. As I’ve continued to write about on this site, though, it’s often more complicated — and more revealing — to study where different Jargon grammar features trace back to.

In a large number of instances, I’ve been showing that the pidgin-creole we traditionally call “Chinook” Jargon is in many respect equally a “Salish” Jargon. Many of its traits seem likeliest to be due to Southwest Washington Salish (“Tsamosan”) languages…usually to one specifically, Lower Chehalis.

I’m not aware of previous Chinuk Wawa researchers having gotten into the history of the language’s prepositions, the most famous of them being the multi-purpose kopa (kʰapa in Grand Ronde’s modern spelling).

There are others, depending on the dialect you’re looking at, for instance kíkwəli ‘below’ and kimt’á ‘behind; after’. Typically these words etymologically trace back to the old Chinookan tribal languages. But in Chinookan, these “extras” were not prepositions! Although Boas doesn’t seem to comment on this, they were morphologically complex adverbs; just think of the resemblance among such Jargon words (I’m putting in hyphens to highlight it):

  • kíkwə-li ‘below’
  • sáx̣a-li ‘above’
  • máłx̣wə-li ‘inland; other side’
  • łáx̣a-ni ‘outside’
  • máłi-ni ‘seaward; this side’

In the Grand Ronde Tribes’ 2012 dictionary entries for those last 2 words, you’ll find they point to Dell Hymes’s 1955 dissertation on Kathlamet Chinookan, which notes a suffix -ni ‘locative, directive’. I go farther, claiming that -ni and -li are the same suffix, since we’re well-acquainted with the frequent alternation between and in these languages. (See Boas’s remark, 1910:566.)

So anyway, how did these old Chinookan words become prepositions, then? Whose influence are we to credit?

As always when seeking historical sources for Jargon traits, we can focus on the main input languages: French and English (members of the Indo-European family), Lower Chehalis (Salish family), and Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinookan (Chinookan family).

We know exceedingly well that French and English are preposition-using languages. I’ll make no further comment here.

Salish languages are prepositional too, without a doubt. I haven’t seen anyone yet reconstruct the preposition inventory of Proto-Salish, but Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins and M. Dale Kinkade authoritatively generalize about pan-Salish-family prepositional traits  (1998:34).

What about Chinookan, then? Ah! This is where some uncertainty emerges!

Franz Boas’s grammar “Sketch” says little except this: “Lower Chinook prepositional elements are practically absent, but we find the demonstrative , which is used almost like a preposition.” (1910:648; my emphasis.) The usage of  in his 1894 “Chinook Texts” in Lower Chinook seem to bear these remarks out. A well-known article by Michael Silverstein on Chinuk Wawa origins (1971:386-387) confidently treats this same morpheme, which he spells phonemically as ku, as a preposition. And an influential book on contact languages by Sarah Thomason and Terrence Kaufman (1988:346) points out that, based on typological observations about what’s found in the world’s languages, we should expect prepositions (not postpositions) in VSO languages, such as they consider the Chinookan family to be.

However, there’s a complication: Boas’s 1910 “Sketch” additionally notes some postposition/suffix-looking uses of this  (which is etymologically related to Chinuk Wawa’s preposition kopa/kʰapa) in forming “demonstrative adverbs” such as x·ī-gō ~ ‘here’, qō-gō ~ ‘there’, etc. I would contribute a speculation that the sporadic “post-pronominal g” (1910:581-582) might trace its origin back to a postpositional .

Even more complicated: note that Lower Chinookan  in many instances seems equally interpretable as an adverb instead of a preposition. For example, with the main elements set off from each other by vertical bars:

  • atcᴌâʹtkᴌam        |  gō  |   wēʹwuᴌē
    ‘they brought it | into |  the house’ (Boas’s translation)
  • naxalguʹᴌitck | gō  | ōgōʹx̣ō
    ‘she told          |       | her daughter’ (Boas’s translation)

These two examples look to me as if they might more literally mean, respectively, ‘they brought it | there | inside the house’ (cf. Boas 1910:580: wēʹwuᴌē ‘INTERIOR OF HOUSE’) and ‘she told (it) | there | (to) her daughter’. (Note that in Chinuk Wawa too, it’s common for a verb of speech to not use a preposition on its indirect object.)

In this light, we observe that Chinuk Wawa’s kopa/kwapa/kʰapa most closely corresponds with the next upriver Chinookan relative’s (Kathlamet’s) gō-pāʹ ‘there’, which itself contains a postpositive locative element -pa! Dell Hymes’s dissertation speaks of Kathlamet particles in “subclass 6.2.4.2, defined as occurring with suffixation, or as initial member of compound stem, but not as non-initial member” and including [ku-] ‘locative, there’ (1955:280-281). Boiling that down, Hymes is most closely matching my observations of Lower Chinookan gō as an adverb word.

Evidently all Chinookan languages spoken upriver use postpositions instead, including Kathlamet and Kiksht (Cascades-Wasco-Wishram), where according to Edward Sapir’s contribution to Boas’s 1910 study, this feature and many of the individual postpositions are thought to be a borrowing from neighboring but unrelated Sahaptin. To the extent that postpositional elements are detected in Lower Chinook, they are thought to have been, in turn, borrowed from upriver Chinookan.

All in all, I get a sense that Chinookan might be fundamentally postpositional, and at most weakly prepositional — to the extent that it even makes sense to speak of any adpositions in that language family.

(You could argue instead, for instance, that the “postpositions” in Upper Chinookan are really grammatical “case” markers. It appears to me that in the original Sahaptin, the forms loaned into Chinookan are part of a large set of case markers that also includes ergative, absolutive, and such.)

Note that (all) Chinookan languages also have the prefixal locative n(a)-, but that seems not to be a preposition; instead I take it as a prefix that builds place names and such, similarly to some Southwest Washington Salish languages’ núʔ-. Chinookan languages can also have a range of “directional prefixes” (1910:590-591) inside their verbs, functioning much like other language’s prepositions/postpositions, so that that grammatical category is scarcely needed.

What I arrive at, after this much careful checking, is that Chinuk Wawa’s syntactic trait of having prepositions is not so likely to be due to any of the old Chinookan languages’ influence. It’s more plausibly due to either or both of two other factors:

  1. French/English, which haven’t left much demonstrable trace otherwise on the Jargon’s grammar.
  2. Southwest Washington Salish; Lower Chehalis was traditionally spoken by the Chinookans in dealing with non-Chinookans, even before contact with Europeans.

What do you think?

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