Early creole kapshwála(-), later creole ípsət(-), and CW grammar change

A quite early metaphor in lower Columbia River creolized Chinuk Wawa seems to have been replaced by Grand Ronde creole speakers…

steal sleep

Men stealing sleep (image credit: Reddit)

Early on, there was a structure that placed kapshwála ‘steal’ immediately before a verbal root, metaphorically indicating that that act was done in secret and maliciously.

For a linguist, an important observation is that this consistent placement is suggestive of a prefix-in-the-making; in no other instances does kapshwála function as an adverb, and adverbs normally can be placed in several positions including after the verb. The functional and syntactic shift here might show kapshwála, like a number of other words in early CW, evolving from the first member in a sort of Serial Verb Construction into a productive affix (a derivational one in this case). Like some others, the resulting prefixoid fell into disuse later, as we’re going to see.

(That’s right, Chinuk Wawa creolized quite early, by the early Fort Vancouver era, and later re-simplified. That’s a whole separate story.) 

Anyway, here is a listing of the examples of it in the 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary:

  • kapshwála-ískam (literally ‘steal-take’) ‘take in secret, sneak away with’
  • kapshwála-łátwa (literally ‘steal-go’) ‘abscond, steal away’
  • kapshwála-mámuk (literally ‘steal-do’) ‘do in secret’
  • kapshwála-músum (literally ‘steal-sleep/have.sex’) ‘commit adultery’
  • kapshwála-wáwa (literally ‘steal-speak’) ‘to speak ill of, slander’

All of the preceding forms are marked as non-Grand Ronde data in the dictionary, and all were documented at least 15 years before the GR reservation existed. What you find when you search for the local equivalents of such ideas are instead expressions that build on a different root, ípsət, which already has a literal meaning of ‘secret, secretly’. The one idiom of this type that the dictionary points out is ípsət-wáwa (literally ‘secretly-talk’) ‘secret language or code; to talk a secret language or code’. Relevantly, this syntactic placement of ípsət again suggests the predictability of a prefix; we don’t seem to encounter different but synonymous word orders such as *wáwa ípsət*.

(The following discussion is based on my searches in texts and dictionaries for ‘secret(ly)’, ‘steal(s/ing)/stole(n)’, ‘adulter(y/er/ess/ous)’.)

Notably, I don’t see an analogue for these adverbs / metaphors in the Natítanui language (Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinookan), when I search in Charles Cultee’s “Chinook Texts” that were published by Franz Boas in 1894. But Kathlamet Lower Chinookan does have something analogous, at least in its compound-seeming verb stem ‘look secretly’ (-k’əl-psut, pages 76, 129, 137, 169), but not ‘take secretly’ or ‘approach/creep up to secretly’, it seems). However, that’s a concept that we haven’t found expressed in CW! Neither of these languages shows us how ‘adultery’ is spoken of, and both use a different verb stem from CW’s kapshwála to express ‘steal’. (I found nothing relevant in Upper Chinookan, i.e. in Kiksht and Clackamas texts.)

Is there a correspondent to the ‘steal-‘ or ‘secretly-‘ formations in Southwest Washington Salish? I don’t see comparable expressions in e.g. Upper Chehalis (the best-documented of this little set of languages). To be sure, M. Dale Kinkade’s 1991 dictionary has a root łúxʷ that’s glossed by Franz Boas as ‘steal a man’s wife’ — which I bet you is FB’s English translation from his Salish consultant’s fluent Chinuk Wawa! But there’s no obvious sign of a native Salish metaphor of  ‘stealing’ a wife, or of ‘secretly’ doing things, that I’ve found in Up Ch, Lower Cowlitz, Lower Chehalis, or even in Quinault, the one dictionary that has a word glossed as’adultery’, which however turns out to be literally ‘many wives’. 

Similarly with the other 2 major influences on early Chinuk Wawa: I’m not familiar with English or French having commonly expressed adultery as ‘wife stealing’. Those more knowledgeable than I should add comments below, as needed. 

So then, it’s not outlandish to guess that these metaphors are endogenous to early CW. (I.e. a unique creation within the pidgin-creole language.) Supporting evidence perhaps comes from the fact that the ‘steal-‘ and ‘secretly-‘ metaphors strike me as usages parallel to other rather productive CW prefixlike verb modifiers, like Fort Vancouver-era (and later) łúsh(-) ‘well’ and GR-era kʰə́ltəs(-) ‘pointlessly’, drét(-) ‘really’, etc., and thus part of a set of functionally similar forms. 

An extra note — when I’ve worked with the 8 BC Salish languages as written in Chinuk Pipa (shorthand), I’ve seen the relevant part of the Christian 10 Commandments rendered with Salish words for ‘stealing someone’s wife’. That is quite likely an indication of the Catholic missionaries working from their own knowledge of early CW, using it to ask local Salish people for “their word for” the concept!