Moi, je shrug.


(Image credit: Magnet America)

I’m indebted to this one correspondent of mine who’s constantly asking really good questions:

Could the “pleonastic pronouns” in Chinook Jargon come from French influence? Some call ’em “resumptive pronouns” but I’ll still have to do some explaining:

“Pleonastic” or “resumptive” pronouns, that’s the way researchers have referrred to the pattern of the underlined words that’s so typical in Chinuk Wawa. (I suspect these labels got transferred over from traditional French grammatical terminology, eh?)  It’s what you see in the following examples:

  • Andrea yaka hayu-mə́kʰmək.
    Andrea she PROGRESSIVE-eat
    ‘Andrea is eating.’
  • múlak łaska kúri sayá.
    elk they run far
    ‘The elks ran away.’

So what you have going on is a noun (“Andrea”, “elk”) that’s the subject in a sentence, which is then followed by the pronoun corresponding to it (“she”, “they”), plus all the verb stuff and so on.

Looking into the four main source languages of Chinook Jargon — English, Métis/Canadian French, Lower Chinookan, and SW Washington Salish — we can reach some preliminary conclusions about how CJ came to have this structure.

First, you might be thinking either “Proper English doesn’t have resumptive pronouns”, or 🙂 “English, it works that way for sure!” 🙂 I’m saying here that you shouldn’t be fooled by the standards of the written language. Plenty of dialects in this language use pleonastic pronouns all the time:

  • “And Suetana she‘ll sit there…” (source)
  • “Me and my dad, we would toss the ball” (source)

It’s also famously a feature of at least standard/European French that speakers say similar things to this. Like these (again underlining the resumptive pronouns):

  • “Moi, je pense que tu as tort” (source)
    “Me (personally), I think you’re wrong.”
  • “Et toi tu as toujours été ma force…” (source)
    “And you, you have always been my strength…”

(Does Métis French have this tendency quite so strongly?…)

What I find interesting about these two Indo-European languages’ resumptive pronouns is how freely they can be used. Specifically I’m noticing that the examples above are in the grammatical first person (“I”, “we”), second person (“you”), and third person (“she”). (There are only three persons in human languages, by the way!)

These are great illustrations showing how resumptive pronouns are common in the newcomers’ languages (as they are worldwide). But I’m skeptical about just how much credit English and French should get for this Chinook Jargon structure. Why?…

Well, contrast these English and French sentences with Chinuk Wawa, where normally it’s only the third person (“she / he / it / they”) that can have resumptive pronouns.

(The Kamloops, BC dialect of Jargon is divergent, preferring to double up its 1st-person singular pronouns (“I”) more often than others…but we can ignore that for now, as it’s a reflection of more recent local Salish influence.)

We can narrow things down even more, because in CW, the resumptive pronoun yaka or łaska can typically only come after an actual noun (like the name “Andrea” or the word for “elk”) — not after another third-person pronoun, which at least in French is the typical approach.

You might think a special exception to this CW specification might be made when the first word is a highly emphatic form. Grand Ronde, Oregon’s creole CW dialect is unique in actually having a special word yáx̣ka ‘he, she, it, etc.’ that their dictionary defines as an “emphasis form”. However, from the examples there, this looks to be a “Topicalizing” form, one that you use if and only if you’re putting special attention on “him”, “her”, or “it”. And that is different from Chinuk Wawa’s plain vanilla pleonastic pronouns, which don’t add any special emphasis at all. They’re optional, but they’re real real frequent.

And this observation leads to why my dissertation (pages 94-96) takes a different view. Instead of calling this stuff “resumptive” or “pleonastic”, I wound up seeing them as “(third-)person agreement“. It’s a simple intuition: in the Jargon, every first-person and second-person verb/predicate already has that person explicitly marked — by its pronoun nayka, nsayka, mayka, or msayka. But third-persons aren’t necessarily marked in such an automatic way; it’s common to see pronounless versions like Andrea hayu-mə́kʰmək and múlak kúri sayá.

What is gained by adding the resumptive pronouns yaka, łaska to such sentences? Symmetry. They have the effect of regularizing Chinuk Wawa’s inflectional system, so that every verb/predicate then has a subject pronoun on it.

So, if I say I’m skeptical about Indo-European inspiration for Chinook Jargon’s resumptive pronouns, are Chinookan or Salish likely sources?

In the Chinookan languages, every verb/predicate already has a prefix that indicates its subject, so the “independent pronouns”, which are separate freestanding words for “I, you, he, etc.”, are optional and supply some kind of extra contextual information. In Franz Boas’s 1910 grammar “Sketch” of Lower Chinookan, you don’t get much of a picture from pages 626-627 of how these “independent pronouns” were used in sentences. Therefore I went looking through his 1894 book “Chinook Texts”, where I found some sentences given rough glosses as follows:

  1. “A monster he carried her away your younger sister and he [iaʹXka] he killed them all your elder brothers.” (page 11:lines 5-6)
  2. [Entsx calls for an elk to appear; a rabbit appears instead:] “Him [iaʹXka] I called him, his ears just as spoons with long handles.” (page 113: line 6-7)
  3. “When they sing the shamans, when he says: ‘I [naiʹka] a great one my guardian spirit,’ then he is tried one shaman.” (page 203: lines 12-13)

In each of these randomly selected cases, the “independent pronoun” appears to be contrastive focus markers. In example 1, the speaker is specifying that it was the monster, and not someone else, who did the killing. In example 2, Entsx is dismissive of the rabbit, explaining that he was summoning someone else who has long ears. In example 3, the shaman is singling out his own powers as strong as opposed to other guys’s.

So, on the one hand Lower Chinookan “independent pronouns” are positioned like “resumptive pronouns”, in that they are extra/redundant person markers beyond what’s already in the verb. On the other hand, though, their function seems to be the same as Grand Ronde Chinuk Wawa’s yax̣ka (which came from Lower Chinookan) — the topicalizing of a subject/object/etc., not simple subject marking.  If Lower Chinookan is to be called a source, or the source, of CW’s resumptive yaka/łaska, we’ll have to credit the broader structure of

[independent subject pronoun] + [subject-inflected verb]

as a relevant model. I say the broader structure — not the independent pronoun — is the thing to pay attention to, because (from one viewpoint) it’s the subject affix in the verb word that corresponds to the CW resumptive pronoun. (This is if you’re thinking of “word order” and of verb inflection.) In other words, and probably needlessly confusing to non-linguist readers, the “independent subject pronoun” in the tribal languages functions like the nouns in CW that are receiving the resumptive-pronoun treatment.)

This would be interesting, because the Chinookan structure is optional (as is the CW one), but it is the kind of thing you might expect to be especially common in situations of pidgin use. where maximal clarity might be favored.

Southwest Washington Salish works pretty much the same way, with the “independent pronouns” (I’ve actually analyzed them as “predicative” ones) not necessary to form an understandable sentence, but useful for contrastive focus.

New contact between cultures, which is the defining use of Chinook Jargon, could make such emphatic, highly contrasty speech more frequent than it would be in any situation of traditional tribal language use.

I also draw your attention to a parallel, and much more frequent, structure within Chinuk Wawa itself (which is essentially identical with how Lower Chinookan and SW Washington Salish work). Overt nouns as possessors get what looks like the resumptive-pronoun treatment in CW: you say “Coyote his son”, “pine tree its bark”, “America its president”, etc.

So maybe it’s the more general template of the region’s old Indigenous languages that we should credit for Chinook Jargon’s resumptive pronoun usage. They have more than one structure that redundantly reflects some prominent paticipant in a situation, be it subject or possessor.

This is not to rule out French or English input to this part of Jargon grammar. But as I noted, French seems like the worst match with Jargon’s restriction to third-person resumptive pronouns. My sense of vernacular English is similar; my dialect doesn’t use the strategy much, but “Me, I’m a patriotic socialist” and “You, you need to register to vote” feel vaguely more natural than “Her, she’s running for office.”

(Both French and maybe English also have varietiess where possessives can use a similar strategy. From folksy BC Métis French, I know “Le bon Dieu son fils” (~ God his son) for “the son of God”, and such 3rd-person expressions seem quite common in the Métis usage that influenced the Jargon. In English I think the structure is rarer, and scholars have pointed out that antique phrasings like “John his book” are an artificial written-language overcorrection from “John’s book”.)

Boiling it all down, my sense is that the strongest model for Chinuk Wawa’s resumptive pronouns is Indigenous, with perhaps some Métis / Canadian French reinforcement.

The early mixed-culture fur trade families that natively spoke Chinuk Wawa were mostly Native/French-speaking Métis…

Hmmm…have I proved anything beyond doubt here?

What do you think?