There’s more than one way for a cat to be skinned: Multiple CW quasi-passives, plus metatypy?

(Image credit: Teachers Pay Teachers:

Hayu masi to Beth for commenting in chinuk-wawa

…at my recent post (“Found: The Quasi-Passive, Also in 1st-Person Plural“), that another passive-voice-like strategy is to use the chaku- form of the verb.

Beth gave an example, ya chaku-t’łáp [‘(s)he got found; (s)he was found’ would be my translation, depending on the context of use].

In my chinuk-wawa response to Beth’s comment, I wrote that I sort of agree.

At the same time, she got my mind into gear — there’s nothing like a conversation to make you see your thinking more clearly — so I added that I should write a full post here about the subject.

So let’s lay this out more methodically.

Fundamental observation:

I’ve claimed, in my dissertation for example, that there is no Passive Voice in the Jargon. No grammatical structure that I’ve found unambiguously needs to be interpreted like English ‘it is known’, ‘she’s beloved’, or ‘mistakes were made’.

Secondary observation:

Humans do like to foreground and background the ‘participants’ in a situation that we’re talking about, so our languages find ways to at least imply a Passive sense. In BC Chinuk Wawa, my dissertation found a common workaround of putting a situation as an Active phrase ‘they do such-&-such’, where the ‘they’ isn’t an identifiable entity — it’s so vague that you’re forced to see the situation as ‘such-&-such is doneʹ, with a Passive-like highlighting of the object of the verb. This same strategy is known in all dialects of Chinuk Wawa from the earliest documentation of full phrases & sentences. (My recent post added a tiny detail, showing that some speakers could also phrase the “quasi-Passive” workaround as ‘we do’ rather than ‘they do’.)

And now, about using the chaku- strategy.

My dissertation analyzed the chaku- form as something else, also different from a Passive: I see it as a Verbal Aspect marker, call it an Inchoative or Inceptive, that shows the start of a new state of being or situation. A handy way to translate this usage is with the English ‘become’ (or, in many oldtime users’ phrasing, ‘get’).

Chaku-, then, is one of a set of Aspect markers that we see in CW way back to early creolized days. (That set also includes, for example, the Progressive (ongoing action) hayu-.) In the Kamloops-area letters written by Native people, the data showed a consistent distinction between the chaku- usage and the ‘they do it’ usage.

This being said (notice the Passive voice there), Beth’s point is spot-on.

In current sháwásh-íliʔi usage, that is, in the Grand Ronde variety of Chinuk Wawa which the majority of people currently speak. I do notice folks writing, and sometimes saying, things like chaku-t’łáp sometimes nowadays.

We can look through the 2012 Grand Ronde dictionary’s thoughtfully provided list, on page 66 and following, of known chaku- forms spoken by fluent tribal elders, all of whom I believe have walked on.

The first example there is chaku-budí ‘get pouty’, and that’s illuminating. Instances like this are predicates that aren’t transitive in the first place. (The root *budí — it’s not documented outside of the chaku- construction — would seem to be a stative verb. I’ve written this year about how Chinuk Wawa is a Stative-Active language, specifically a Fluid-S one.) Not being transitive, such predicates don’t have a logical object that could become the subject of chaku-, thus failing the classic test for Passive Voice.

The entire rest of the list of chaku- forms is likewise built from intransitive, stative predicates. This includes simple single-word roots:

chxə́p ‘extinguished, out [like a light]’
lúʔluʔ ‘piled up, accumulated’
skukúm ‘a monstrous being’

Inflected forms of such simple roots are also found with chaku-, including reduplications (Distributive forms), Diminutives, and Phrasal Negations:

q’áyʔwa(-q’ayʔwa) ‘twisted, crooked’
shóx̣-shox̣ ‘trouble, embroiled in conflict’
tənəs-… ‘a little [to a small degree]…’
wík-łúsh ‘in a bad state’

It also includes the chaku- forms of complex, multi-word stative predicate stems, including:

háyásh-łúchmən ‘a grown woman’
míłayt-tənás ‘pregnant’
sáx̣ali-tə́mtəm ‘high spirits; awake’
sík-k’wətʰín ‘sick to the stomach’
sík-tə́mtəm ‘sad, depressed, regretful’

What do you don’t find are any Passive-like chaku- forms built on roots that are non-Stative, i.e. Active, which includes transitive roots:

*chaku-nánich *’be seen, get seen’ [updating to specify, per Henry Zenk’s comment, that this form does occur in the 2012 Grand Ronde dictionary, but with a meaning ‘get to see, realize’; please read the Comments below]
*chaku-mə́kʰmək *’be eaten, get eaten’
*chaku-tíki *’be wanted, be loved’

Likewise not found are Active intransitive roots in chaku- constructions, e.g.;

*chaku-kúri *'[of a marathon, perhaps] be run’
*chaku-łátwa *’be gone’
*chaku-wáwa *’be spoken, be said’

What I conclude from all of this is that it shows chaku- is not a Passive construction by any stretch of imagination.

It’s Passive-like, insofar as both Passives and this Inceptive Aspect marking highlight the outcome rather than the process of a situation. But the similarities end there, because in the chaku- Inceptive, the focus remains on the same grammatical subject as in the non-chaku-form of the same predicate — Whereas a Passive would remove the focus from a transitive logical subject and place it newly onto the logical object.

What the chaku- form has more in common with is what I’ve long called the łaska quasi-Passive. The latter is a conventional use of the 3rd person plural pronoun (‘they’) *without any reference to a specific subject*, with *Active* roots and stems. (I.e. with transitives and with active intransitives. But notably not with statives.) That is, it uses a blurring-out of the logical subject to shift your focus more onto the logical object and the effects of the predicated action on it. This, too, is Passive-like, but again there’s no Passive-style change of logical object into a grammatical subject.

Notice the division of labor here. Chinuk Wawa has 2 separate constructions that superficially approximate the Passive voice that’s so familiar to speakers of English. (Which is the most common first language of most present-day learners of Jargon.) You have stative verbs in the chaku- Inceptive *aspect*, and you have active verbs in the łaska quasi-Passive *focus* construction. So these are 2 totally different critters, but they work together to allow us CW speakers to emphasize the result, the outcome, of any situation over the process or progress of it.

Maybe you’d like to compare this with other divisions of labor in Chinuk Wawa. You might say CW likes the heavy work of expressing people’s thoughts to be shared out fairly, as with:

aláxti ‘maybe (I think so) vs. t’łúnas ‘maybe (I dunno)’
tə́mtəm ‘self (for mental effects)’ vs. íłwəli ‘self (for physical effects)’
-tə́mtəm ‘trait (emotional/viewed non-negatively)’ vs. -latét ‘trait (intellectual/viewed negatively)’
kʰapa ‘for (a Noun purpose)’ vs. pus ‘for (a Verb purpose)’ vs. Ø ‘for (a motion-Verb’s purpose)’
kʰə́ltəs ‘bad, worthless’ vs. másháchi ‘bad, evil’ vs. wík-łúsh ‘bad, worse than things ought to be’

Coming back to Beth’s suggestion of ya chaku-t’łáp for ‘(s)he was found’, then, that form would not fit neatly into what I’ve found above. T’łáp is an Active, Transitive verb, so we’d expect the closest thing to a passive form of it to be łaska t’łáp ya, literally ‘they found her/him’.

I can’t speak for the community of Grand Ronde CW talkers, so it’s not for me to say whether using ya chaku-t’łáp for ‘(s)he was found’ is an innovation — I mean, whether it’s a usage that folks are widely accepting and understanding as a new development in CW grammar. (I.e. as a clearly Passive form of Active predicates.)

If that’s happening, I think it’s immensely interesting to a linguist, because it seems to me to imply a typological shift. It would mean CW changing from the historically more Indigenous-style Stative-Active (Fluid-S) language that it’s always been, into a language that’s fundamentally more like English (Nominative-Accusative)! [Editing to add a reference to one study which agrees that passives are thought to be rare in stative-active languages.]

That process is metatypy, “a kind of contact-induced language change in which a language’s syntactic and semantic patterns are changed on a large scale following a model language in which the speakers are bilingual and which is the dominant language of the speakers.”

It would be a very big deal, as a linguistic discovery, because such a fundamental shift in the pattern of a language has rarely been documented.

On the other hand, usages such as saying ya chaku-t’łáp for ‘(s)he was found’ might be relatively infrequent, just a predictable byproduct of the fact that most speakers of CW have it as a second language learned after English. In that case, we might expect such usages to be a fleeting occurrence, one that will give way to a solid continuation of the grammar patterns of the tribal elders.

At any rate, when we finally explicitly articulate the known patterns of old-school straight Chinuk Wawa, as I’ve done here for its 2 quasi-Passive forms, we can help provide the clearest possible guidelines for teachers and learners.

qʰáta mayka tə́mtəm?
What do you think?