Métis grammar? (NEITHER) this (AND/(N)OR) that)

nor gate

Image credit: Wikipedia

Symbolic logic was never my fortissimo 🙂

My crazy headline above is a way of representing a very general & very productive pattern in Chinuk Wawa.

Particularly in the “Northern” of the 2 broad dialects. — “Southern” is basically anything associated with the Columbia River, so that’d mean Grand Ronde also.

I believe this particular structure would be perfectly understandable to a Southern speaker, especially with a certain intonation and tempo.

What is the thing I’m talking about?

I’ve mentioned it before — it’s a strong tendency for speakers to often leave out any words for “and”, “or”, “neither”, or “nor”.

All of which, if you think about it, are the Jargon word pi! (Originally from Canadian/Métis French puis.) I admit, you can use pi in such situations; it’s just that elegant and fluent speakers have the trick of leaving it out, when the meaning is already obvious.

Instead, you just throw your paired or alternative choices right next to each other in the sentence. Call it the “silent pi” if you like. Or think of it as a syntactic strategy, being used as an alternative to a conjunction word.

In the Southern dialect, you also have access to a word əbə, for ‘or’. (From Canadian/Métis French ou bien originally.) So, as with quite a number of function words, there’s a nice set of forms contrasting in meaning with each other in that dialect, leading to folks relying more on those vocabulary items than on sheer word-order.

Take heed: you only do this pi-dropping under certain conditions! The paired alternatives need to be logically members of the same category, whether that’s “your parents” or “natural outcomes of bad behaviour”.

Over the course of a few days working with an old BC Chinook Wawa book, I casually collected several nice examples of what we’re talking about.

It was easy, which backs up my claim about this being a frequent structure.

Incidentally, this word pattern appears to me to be totally bizarre by French and English standards, so it’s a very fine candidate to be traceable to Indigenous influence:

  • either from the old tribal languages,
  • or invented within Chinuk Wawa,
  • or a bit of both.

We need to do a bit more research to get some sort of answer to that question.

In these examples I’ll underline the structure that we’re looking at:

Tlus wiht msaika ilo iktas tumtum,
good also you.folks not thing-s-heart, 
‘You folks also should not be materialistic, 

ilo kaltash wawa, ihi wawa
not worthless-talk, fun-talk
nor gossip or joke around…’

Chinook Book of Devotions page 86*

Klaksta wawa masachi kopa iaka
who talk evil about his
ʹ[God said,] Whoever insults hisʹ

papa iaka mama, tlus iaka mimlus.
father his mother, good he die. 

ʹfather (or) his mother, should die.ʹ

Pi msaika wawa:
and you.folks say:

ʹBut you folks say:ʹ

Klaksta wawa kopa iaka papa iaka
who say to his father his
‘ “Whoever tells his father (or) his” ‘

: kanawi ikta naika patlach kopa

mother: all thing I give to
‘ “mother: ‘I gave everything to’ ” ‘

styuil haws, iaka hilp maika kakwa
prayer-house, it help you as
‘ “the church, it will help you as” ‘

naika; pi wik iaka mamuk aias iaka papa
I; but not he make-big his father
‘ “I do”, but he doesn’t honor his father” ‘

iaka mama…
his mother
‘ “(or) his mother“…’

C.B. of D. page 89

Klaksta man tiki iskom iaka wawa,
whichever man want take his word,
‘Any man who wants to take his word (for it)’

iaka aiak komtaks pus ukuk siisim
he quickly know if this story
‘will soon know whether this story

chako kopa ST, pus ilo.
come from God, if not.
came from God (or) not.

C.B. of D. page 95

= Taii, klaksta man mamuk
chief, which man make-
‘Lord, which person has’

masachi, pus iaka pus iaka papa
evil, if he if his father 

‘sinned, be it him (or) be it his father

iaka mama, pi iaka chako kopa ilihi
his mother, and he come to earth 

(or) his mother, that he was born’

ukuk man, mimlus siahush?
this man, dead-eye?
‘blind, this man?’

C.B. of D. page 95*

The two examples marked with asterisks above will probably seem “recursive” or “embedded” to many of my linguist pals. Make of that what you will 🙂

All of the these instances are perfectly understandable and grammatical if you put in pi everywhere that I show a parenthesized ‘(or)’ or ‘(and)’.

The point, though, is that you need not say pi in these situations, and — as with the “silent IT” that I so often tell you about — you’ll paradoxically wind up sounding more fluent by saying less words!

My parting words to you today are these:

Once again, Chinook Jargon grammar has much much much more goin’ on than you’d think, if you believed all the old chestnuts about this language being “primitive”…

You just need to decolonize your ears, and notice all the Aboriginal-style complexity of this language.

One of the best ways to describe the Jargon is as a Métis language, where (in the case of the conjunction strategies we’ve looked at today) you find both Canadian French and Native-language stuff comfortably entwined in a single highly functional system!

(Very much like the Michif language, which has more recent Eastern roots whereas Chinook has a more Pacific Northwest flavour…)

What do you think?