Animacy, Salish, and Chinuk Wawa

salish cartoon

Salish animation! (Image credit: Youtube)

In a paper published in 2007, I initially speculated that grammatical “animacy” in Chinuk Wawa would turn out to have something to do with Salish…

…And since then, I’ve been lucky enough to do a bunch of work on Southwest Washington Salish, a.k.a. the Tsamosan languages including the previously little-known Lower Chehalis.

Lower Chehalis in particular has indeed turned out to be much more of a factor in the formation and growth of “the Jargon” than we used to realize.

Here’s a quick sketch of why that seems to be true in the case of animacy, i.e. the use of a language’s grammar to reflect human/living being status versus nonhuman/nonliving things.

The animacy/inanimacy distinction in the grammars in contact, ranked in descending order of prominence (anyone care to supply info on K’alapuyan, Molale, Pacific Coast Athabaskan, Sahaptian??):

  • Cree & Ojibwe — STRONG
    • (verbals;
    • nominals incl. demonstrative)
  • Michif (? — possibly present in PNW)
    • (verbals due to Algonquian;
    • nominals/articles/personal pronouns due to French [mainly; see below];
    • limited nominals/demonstratives due to Algonquian)
  • SW WA Salish
    • (on verbals, personal pronoun 3.OBJECT affixes -n vs. –Ø;
    • on nominals [which are 3rd person by definition], the optional +tiʔ PLURAL.ANIMATE(.SUBJECT);
    • articles, with FEMININE.ANIMATE pretty much optional & MASCULINE being the default for all nouns as elsewhere in Coast Salish and Quileute [Chimakuan family], cf. Gillon chapter)
  • Chinuk Wawa (Chinook Jargon)
    • (3rd-person pronouns
      • SUBJECT & OBJECT [SINGULAR yaka vs. Ø; optional łaska (if used rather than yaka) is PLURAL.ANIMATE only],
      • more marginally in POSSESSIVE [3.SINGULAR only, i.e. yaka vs. compounding/circumlocutions])
  • English
    • (throughout 3.SINGULAR personal pronouns)
  • French
    • (is it prominent beyond Topicalized/Extended-argument 3rd-person pronouns esp. Masc & Pl?)
  • Lower Chinookan
    • (3-way gender prefix system on nominals, humans strongly but not exclusively limited to M & F, all nominals gender-marked M / F / N)
  • [Nootka Jargon — NONE
    • we know little of this pidgin’s syntax, and not enough to infer an animacy distinction or indeed the existence of consistent grammatical structure]

So, a couple of evaluative comments on all that…

Chinuk Wawa is somewhere in the middle, in terms of how much its grammar concerns itself with expressing an entity’s humanity/living status.

The Jargon’s pattern and form of expressing ±animacy most closely resembles the one in SW WA Salish, because both use a “null” (Ø) 3.INANIMATE and an optional expression of 3.PLURAL.ANIMATE.

But, because CW differs from local Salish in lacking gendered articles*, we have to equally acknowledge that the distribution of the ±animacy distinction in Jargon most closely matches that of English! In both CW & English, we’re talking almost exclusively about 3rd person pronouns.

*CW does have articles. The Lower Columbia River or “southern” or “early-creolized” variety long ago evolved an optional uk or ok ‘the’ from the demonstrative úkuk ‘this; that; those’.

The telling detail, however, is that ±animacy extends to PLURALS in the Jargon as it does in Salish — whereas it’s limited to SINGULARS in English.

Ignoring for the moment certain favorite questions of “creolist” linguists (“Don’t we expect all pidgins to lack articles anyway?” would be one), and of “typologist” linguists (“Aren’t articles relatively rare in the world’s languages anyway?” would be one)…

It’s safe to say that ±animacy in Chinuk Wawa is yet another feature inherited from Salish.

What do you think?