For GRINs: Making sensible choices

Sometimes you have to figure out which thing you know about Chinuk Wawa is relevant at the moment…

green wheat field and blue cloudy sky

Grin hwit? (image credit: Pixers)

iht grin hwit

Grin hwit? (image credit: Dreamstime)

Here’s a beautiful example: what does GRIN mean to you?

grin hwit

= Alta iaka kro iaka son S[ahali]T[aii] tanas
álta yaka q’úʔ yaka sán sáx̣ali-táyí tənás 
now he arrive his day above-chief child
‘Now he [sic] has arrived, the day of God the child(,)’

pus tilikom chako drit komtaks iaka. Drit,
pus tílixam chaku-drét-kə́mtəks yaka. drét, 
so.that people become-really-know him. Really,
‘for people to get to really know him. Really,’ 

drit naika wawa kopa msaika: kakwa iht grin
drét nayka wáwa kʰupa msáyka: kákwa íxt “GRIN
really I say to you.folks: like one “GRIN
‘really I say to you folks: like one “GRIN” ‘

hwit, pus wik iaka klatwa kopa ilihi, pi
xwít*, pus wík yaka łátwa kʰupa íliʔi, pi 
wheat, if not he go to ground, and 
‘wheat, if he [sic] doesn’t go into the ground, and’

chako mimlus kopa ilihi, kopit iht iaka mitlait,
chaku-míməlus(t) kʰupa íliʔi, kʰəpít-íxt yaka míłayt, 
become-dead on ground, only one he sit, 
‘die in the ground, he [sic] stays alone,’

pi pus iaka mimlus kopa ilihi, iawa iaka chako
pi pus yaka míməlus(t) kʰupa íliʔi, yáwá yaka cháku 
and if he die on ground, there he come 
‘but if he [sic] dies in the ground, then he [sic] comes’

klahani iaka tipso, pi chako ayu wiht
łáx̣ani yaka típsu, pi cháku háyú wə́x̣t 
out his plant, and come much more 
‘out(,) its plant, and it becomes much increased(,)’

iaka hwit. Kakwa wiht alki naika.
yaka xwít*. kákwa wə́x̣t áłqi nayka. 
his wheat. Thus also FUTURE I. 
‘its wheat (does). That is how I too will be.’

— Chinook Book of Devotions (1902), page 109

So, does “< GRIN >” mean ‘green’?

We know that the Jargon, especially the northern/later dialect which Kamloops falls into, took in quite a number of new borrowed words from locally spoken English. Such words typically replaced old relatively vague terms with more precise ones. So it’s entirely possible that we have here a new word that just means ‘green’ in distinction to the older pchíx̣ ‘blue; green’. In fact it’s pretty common in the northern dialect to say < blu > for the specific color ‘blue’, so why not a word for ‘green’ also?

But wait, what if “< GRIN >” means ‘grain’?

In the Chinuk Pipa writing of British Columbia, which the Chinook Book of Devotions is written in, the vowel letter < i > stands for any of the Chinook Jargon sounds / i e y /. (And sometimes schwa!) So the string of letters < g-r-i-n > in that alphabet can correspond to English grin, green, grain, and even Gren as in the Wenner-Gren Foundation for anthropological research. 🙂 

If you’re familiar with the Christian “parable of the grain of wheat“, you may already see where this is going. 

In the above passage, “< GRIN >” indeed has the second proposed meaning, I mean ‘grain’ as in a single seed. 

Even without being familiar with the Bible, you’d be able to reach this conclusion. Because the entire noun phrase that’s used is < iht grin hwit >, ‘one GRIN wheat’. The Chinuk Wawa word < iht > (íxt) means ‘a specific one’ or ‘one single’, so that the phrase we’re focusing in on pretty clearly means ‘one grain of wheat’. (Not *’one green wheat’*, which just wouldn’t make much sense.) 

This leads us to another point of CW grammar — expressions of measurement. These are formed differently from English ones, where you have to say ‘of’, as in ‘one grain of wheat’, ’19 gallons of gas’, ‘a world of hurt’ ‘an ocean of calamine lotion’, etc. Jargon instead just says, literally, ‘one grain wheat’, etc.

My sharp-eyed readers probably noticed, while reading today’s CW passage, the recurring translation ‘he’ referring to the grain of wheat. Did you wonder what’s up with that? In a nutshell, that’s the French “accent” of the writer, Father JMR Le Jeune. He tended to write < iaka > ‘he; she’ for all 3rd-person verb subjects, much as French strongly prefers to express a subject with elle/il. That is — true to his own keenly observant self-criticisms sometimes published in the Kamloops Wawa newspaper — he spoke Jargon ‘imperfectly’, compared to the fluency he observed among the Indigenous people around him. Whereas Le Jeune in effect anthropomorphizes the grain of wheat here, the most fluent speakers don’t do such things. (Unless of course they intend to make Grain of Wheat a story character!)

Instead they would just leave out yaka, resulting in an inanimate subject — the “silent IT” that I’ve often pointed out in my teaching. And the writer in fact winds up getting it right, at the end of this passage, where he does leave out yaka in saying < …pi chako ayu wiht iaka hwit >, ‘…and it becomes much increased, its wheat (does).’

One last note. Le Jeune expresses the grain of wheat ‘falling’ with the Chinuk Wawa literal expression ‘go to the ground’, < klatawa kopa ilihi >. (I translate it as ‘go into the ground’ in my translation above, only to facilitate the idea of the grain sprouting.) While the northern dialect had lost the old/southern expression t’łúx̣ for ‘falling’, it held onto this synonymous expression. Northern speech like that of BC also developed a widely used new borrowing from English, < fol dawn >, i.e. ‘fall down’!

Also, by the way, northern CW took in < hwit > ‘wheat’, nudging aside the older and broader saplél ‘wheat; flour; bread’ and the lower Columbia River leblé(y) ‘wheat’ (from Canadian French le blé). 

Kata maika tumtum?
What do you think?