‘Wait’, but don’t ‘wait for’, the origin of the Jargon quasi-Passive!

wait for it

(Image credit: Tenor.com)

Weit is the most common way to express ‘wait’ in British Columbia-style Chinook Wawa.

But there’s also an older expression, atá, which comes from a Canadian French command, attends! ‘wait!’.

With both of these words, notice that Chinook doesn’t say ‘wait for me’. That is, you wouldn’t say the hypothetical *weit kopa naika or *atá kʰapa náyka.

Rather, you literally just say ‘wait me’ (weit naika / atá náyka).

So the Jargon grammar for this expression differs from English.

But it follows both Canadian French (attends-moi!) and Indigenous grammar.

For examples of the latter, I can point you to Southwest Washington Salish languages, where the verb for ‘wait’ takes a Direct Object, literally saying ‘wait him’, ‘wait me’, etc. Lower Cowlitz, for instance, says

‘she waited for him’

(Fun bonus fact #1 — that verb stem ʔálm’q is related to Chinuk Wawa alím ‘to rest’!)

To the extent that I can analyze Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinookan grammar, it appears the following is similarly a simple transitive verb:

‘they wait for him’

(Fun bonus fact #2 — By the by, that’s Franz Boas’s translation, but I suspect it means more exactly ‘someone waited for it’, with ?Remote Past a-, Indefinite 3rd Person Subject q-, and Neuter/Indefinite 3rd Person Object ł- which is due to its referring to ‘a chief’, ł-kánax̣. And I’d hazard to say that ‘someone waited for it’ was used as the functional equivalent of a passive ‘he was waited (for)’. And we know that Boas’s Chinookan speaker-expert, Charles Q’lti (Cultee), explained everything to Boas in Chinuk Wawa, where as I’ve often pointed out, you get a “quasi-passive” construction just by using the 3rd Person Plural Subject pronoun. That is, I betcha Q’lti told Boas that a-q-ł-gə́młaitx̣ kákwa pus wáwa “łaska atá yaka” “, a-q-ł-gə́młaitx̣ is like saying “they waited for him” “.)

I hope you could follow that. It was a brilliant insight 🙂 Have you nominated me for a MacArthur Fellows “genius grant” yet?

It’s quite cool, in fact, that by parenthetically following a brief tangent here, we may have found the historical origin of the Chinuk Wawa quasi-passive expression! (Salish languages, in this case, are a poor prospect as a model for that structure, because unlike both Chinookan & the Jargon, Salish actually has a passive voice.)

(Fun bonus fact #3 — that Chinookan verb stem -gə́młaitx̣ is related to Chinuk Wawa míłayt ‘to exist, to be located; to sit, to lie; to have’.)

Long story short, that fact that we literally say ‘wait someone’ but not ‘wait for someone’ in Jargon probably traces back to both the Canadian French and lower Columbia River Indigenous ancestry of this language.

And Chinook Jargon’s closest equivalent to the passive voice probably traces back to Chinookan ancestry.

Well now, that’s all I know about that for now.

What do you think?