How did it come to happen that ‘happen’ came from ‘come’?


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Do you know how to say ‘happen’ in Chinuk Wawa?

It’s a concept not touched on in most dictionaries of the Jargon.

Possibly the one reference work to get into it is the 2012 Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde dictionary, which translates ‘happen’ as cháku.

That, of course, is literally ‘to come’.

So here, we’re dealing with yet another development of that fundamental Chinook Jargon word.

(See “More Early Chinuk Wawa Grammaticalization: chaku-“. There, I concluded that this Inchoative Aspect inflection in Jargon most resembles Salish in its syntax, and English in the use of ‘(be)come’ for a change of state.)

Chinookan … I’m not sure I’m seeing any sign of ‘to come’ for ‘happen’:

  • Shoalwater-Clatsop has ‘to be like that
  • Kathlamet only implieshappen‘ — I didn’t find any overt word at all corresponding to the concept
  • Clackamas seems to use an ideophone + the verb ‘to do’; in this case, ‘[a flash of] lightning happens’
  • Kiksht looks to be using ‘to do‘ as well

Nor do any of the Southwest Washington Salish expressions of ‘happen’ that we know of seem related to ‘come’:

  • Quinault łaʔín ‘what happens’, pám šúkʷs ‘what happened; what’s the matter?’ (for you linguists, I believe to be an šúkʷs Evidential; compare Lower Cowlitz), x̣ə́las ‘to happen’
  • Lower Chehalis — (no clear data yet)
  • Lower Cowlitz ʔit[-]’í ʔakʷu ‘what happened?; what’s the matter?’ (‘do.what-Interrogative Reportative.Evidential, literally something like ‘what does it seem to be doing?’)
  • Upper Chehalis wé:x̣- ‘happen’ (literally ~ ‘be’), ʔé:nm ‘happen’ (literally ~ ‘do what’), sáʔa- ‘make, do, happen’ (fundamentally ‘make’)

The (Indo-)European input languages to Chinuk Wawa may be better prospects.

  • English: besides the usual verb ‘happen’, colloquial English today often asks why something occurred with how come? + declarative clause. That expression is found in 1800s written representations of very informal North American speech — which makes it an appropriate comparison for a pidgin-creole such as CW — but strongly associated (to my amazement!) with African-Americans, which makes me less confident that it’s relevant. A more literary style, therefore also less relevant for us, uses related expressions such as how comes it that [+declarative clause]? and how come you to [+infinitive clause]?
  • French uses a variety of verbs, not all of them equally frequent or informal; if I’m not mistaken (and here I’d value the perspectives of my francophone readers), arriver & se passer are the most often used:
    • arriver
    • survenir
    • advenir
    • se passer
    • avoir lieu
    • se faire
    • se produire

Of these, arriver, sur[-]venir, and ad[-]venir are all built on roots meaning ‘to come, to arrive’, which makes them excellent candidates as sources of the Chinuk Wawa metaphor COME::HAPPEN.

I find via a cursory Google Books search that it was common in Canadian French (the written kind, anyhow) to use arriver for ‘happen’ in the 1800s.

On the basis of this first survey, I would call Canadian/Métis French the best prospect for explaining Chinuk Wawa’s way of saying ‘happen’. By implication, this could be a creole CW expression, one that arose out of the early 1800s lower Columbia River community, where the average non-tribal household was headed by a francophone man and an Indigenous woman, mostly speaking Jargon to each other and with the kids.

Of course, another possibility is that this expression is endogenous to CW — that it just plain happened, if you will, independent of any other language’s influence.

What do you think?