Deeper into the linguistic archaeology of ánqati ‘PAST’


This ought to be the official motto of historical linguistics! (image source; Quoteswave)

Here’s one of those Jargon words that we definitely know the source of…so why am I writing about it today?

Well, because there’s more to this ‘once upon a time’ tale.

Chinuk Wawa ánqati means ‘long ago; in the past’.

In other words, it’s an adverb, and one having pretty specific meaning at that.

So it’s not a past-tense marker, as so many old-school publications have wrongly said about this word.

  • For one thing, it’s not mandatory. Verbs carry the same tense whether you add a word like this one or not.
  • For another, you can’t say in CW *ánqati nayka gitə́p úkuk-sán for ‘I woke up today’.
  • For another, you’d have to specify ánqati as a “remote past” marker, since we also have chxí ‘just a moment ago, just recently, newly’ in CW, which’d be your “recent past” marker. Better to skip that can of worms.
  • And of course, you can place adverbs, including ánqati, in various spots in a sentence without making any change of meaning or grammatical correctness. Try it sometime!

The source of ánqati is definitely what the Grand Ronde Tribes 2012 dictionary tells you (and please, for the love of ducks, go to that dictionary first whenever you have questions) —

From a Chinookan particle ánqati [in Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinookan; compare:] ánGadix [in Kiksht Upper Chinookan; both meaning] ‘before, formerly, long ago’

I’m just going to add that we can probably excavate even earlier layers in this word, with a bit of linguistic archaeology.

Let’s look at the distribution of the word we’re talking about today. From the Pacific coast going up the Columbia, we have the following in 4 Chinookan languages:

  • Lower Chinookan:
    • In Shoalwater-Clatsop, Franz Boas notes ánqa(ti) ‘already, before’ (1910:634); that is, the -ti is optional.
    • In Kathlamet Lower Chinookan, Boas (1894:95) document an adverbial particle ánqa ‘already’.
  • Upper Chinookan:
    • Contrast Clackamas aqa ~ aGa ‘already’ (Jacobs 1959:333)
    • And in Kiksht, I seem to find just the aforementioned ánGadix (Sapir 1909:216)

So our ánqa appears likely to be specific to Lower Chinookan.

And to my trained linguistic thinking, the meanings above are within the ballpark of adverbial reference to situations already begun or completed, as well as perfectly corresponding to the first 4 phonemic segments of ánqati.

Hmm, perhaps we could segment this ánqa even further. What if, for example, it might be related to the Chinookan source of CW kʰá ‘still, yet, while’?

Or even to x̣áwqał ‘cannot’? …I’ll leave that complicated idea for a separate post.

Another point: we can infer that the -ti of ánqati is a meaningful suffix. Just what is the meaning of it, though?

  • I’ve previously mentioned a Chinookan suffix -ti (or maybe it’s a root in compounds), which seems to mean ‘bark’. (See “Chinuk Wawa Tree Names in -stik (A Salish Idea) … & A New Etymology for ‘100’ (A Chinookan Idea)“.) But I don’t think that’s a good lead 🙂
  • However, what about the Lower Chinookan derivational suffix -ti ‘like’ (resembling; as if) (Boas 1910:648)? He gives examples of it in words meaning ‘like a chief’ and ‘like the moon’. Thus…ánqati = ‘already-like’.
  • Or the Lower Chinookan verb root -ti ‘to come’? (Boas 1910:670.) Speculating: could it have grammaticalized into an adverbial suffix? Such things are known to happen in human languages. Or could ‘come’ have meant ‘happen’ in Chinookan, just as we find with Chinuk Wawa’s chaku? (Did you know — it’s often hard to find out how a language says ‘happen’?) Thus…ánqati = ‘already-came’ or ‘already happened’.

My colleagues in linguistics call this kind of investigation “historical linguistics”. But I like to show that it really goes earlier than anything we directly know from written history. That’s why I’ve already come to use the term “linguistic archaeology” for a whole lot of the etymology work that I show my readers here.

What do you think?