Serial verbs as a local “accent” in Victoria Chinuk Wawa

Keeping this simple, I think I can still get the point across easily…

svc

Above: another great source of info on SVC’s 
(image source: Oxford University Press)

…If you’re proficient in Chinuk Wawa, you can quite often notice someone’s “accent” in their use of this language, even if you can’t hear them.

A neat example came up recently while our Saturday morning study group was reading Thomas Paul’s “Sametl” story, which anthropologist Melville Jacobs published in 1936. 

Mr. Paul, who we presume was a native speaker of SENĆOŦEN / Saanich Salish, has a neat little pattern of stringing together more than one motion verb, with only one subject expressed for the whole sequence. It’s as if I said in English, “I’m moving traveling going to Brentwood Bay.” 

Here are examples from Mr. Paul’s Jargon. (I’ve put the text into a teaching alphabet that I’ve been fiddling with.)

The notation (,) shows you where we’d expect a subject pronoun/noun to occur. Jacobs often wrote these without commas, as if to reflect that Mr. Paul wasn’t even pausing long enough to make these into a more typical CW structure, the subjectless present participle (‘doing’, ‘going’, ‘traveling’ etc.) — 

  • Pos yaka chako kopa inatai(,) chako kopa iht vilij, yaka tiki fait…
    ‘Whenever he came (from) across (the water)(,) coming to some certain village, he wanted to fight…’
  • …tilikam yaka kooli(,) lolo mokst kaniim… 
    ‘the people they traveled(,) taking two canoes…’
  • Pi tlaska kooli(,) tletwa kopa inatai…
    And they traveled(,) going over across…
  • Yaka iskam tenes kanim(,) kooli kopa yaka kanim, pi mitlait kopa
    He took a little canoe(,) traveled in his canoe, and sitting in

    kanim, yaka isik(,) kooli kopa Ke’ye…
    the canoe was his paddle(,) traveling to Ke’ye…

  • Wel’, yaka kooli alta(,) skookum kooli. 
    Well, he traveled now(,) hustling away.
  • Wel’, SÁ˼MEL yaka kooli(,) tletawa kopa wolf…
    Well, SÁ˼MEL he traveled(,) going to the wolf’s place…
  • …pi yaka isik(,) skookum isik(,) kooli kopa yaka hom.
    and he paddled(,) paddled hard(,) traveling to his home.

This sort of structure is known as “serial verbs” in linguistics, and recent scholarship e.g. by Timothy Montler has shown that it’s a previously unrecognized feature of Salish languages in the general southern Vancouver Island area. Klallam, SENĆOŦEN, and close sisters of them have this going on. 

Serial-verb constructions (SVC’s) are particularly noticeable with strings of motion verbs, as in most of the above examples, but Montler has shown that they occur in these Coast Salish languages also with location expressions, so maybe the examples of ‘he sat waiting’ are also SVC’s:

  • Pi yaka mitlait(,) weit okok taid…
    And he sat awaiting that tide…

  • …yaka weit pos taid chako(,) mitlaaait…
    …he waited for the tide to come, siiitting there…

Keeping this as simple as I originally intended, I’ll wind up by noting that serial verbs are not a feature of fluent Chinuk Wawa as generally observed across dialects and through time. They’re pretty much confined to Mr. Paul’s personal usage (“idiolect”) of CW.

In other words, we know of no Jargon-speaking communities in which it’s ever been normal to use SVC’s. 

And because of that, SVC’s amount to one way of demonstrating the “accent” that Thomas Paul brought to his CW, making his quite a recognizable voice among the many speakers we’ve known.

You’ll find me from time to time pointing out this sort of “L1” (mother-tongue) influence on various people’s Jargon. Lately, for example, I’ve been noticing quite a bit of it in Father Le Jeune’s extremely fluent but still identifiably French way of writing Chinuk Wawa. 

You’ll also of course encounter some L1 influence from American or Canadian English on the ways people now alive speak Jargon. 

It’s unavoidable. However, if you develop the skill of spotting it as a divergence from known fluent CW grammar, you can choose to avoid copying it…eh?

What do you think?
qʰáta mayka tə́mtəm?