Working my way through the Chinook Book of Devotions (1902) from British Columbia, I notice several ways of expressing ‘can; able’.

1. [nothing added to a verb], meaning ‘can (perceive)’

Note: this category is pretty tenuous, in that it says as much about the usual English-language translations of such expressions as it tells anything about CW grammar. komtaks, kolan, nanich … 

Wik na msaika komtaks 
Can‘t you folks understand

kwanisim naika mamuk ikta naika papa patlach

‘that I always do what my father gives’

mamuk kopa naika?
‘(as) work to me?’

— page 49

Pus chako tumoro,
‘When the next day came,’

Shosif iaka stik iaka mitlait flawirs. Kakwa

‘Joseph’s stick had flowers (growing) on it. This is how’

klaska nanich ST iaka tomtom pus iaka
‘they could see God’s idea for it to be’

Sin Shosif, iaka marii kopa tlus Mari.
‘Saint Joseph who got married to the blessed Mary.’

— page 12

2. < SKUKUM PUS >, meaning ‘strong enough to’

Not to be confused with < Skookum Puss >, lol.

skookum puss mountain

Skookum Puss Mountain, Washington (image credit: Worldwide Elevation Map Finder)

Note: essentially all occurrences of < skukum pus > mean ‘able to; capable of’. But they’re not the majority of expressions of ability. In fact, just as in other Jargon dialects, the inability expression < wik-kata > is much more frequent than any of the positive forms I’m discussing today. 

…Wik na maika komtaks, naika skukum pus mamuk- 
‘…Don’t you understand that I’m capable of’

nil maika kopa lakrwa, pi naika wiht skukum

‘nailing you to a cross, but I’m also capable’

pus mamuk-klahawiam maika?
‘of taking pity on you?’

ShK wawa kopa iaka:
‘Jesus said to him:’

= Wik maika skukum pus mamuk ikta kopa
‘You aren’t capable of doing a thing to’

naika, pus wik ST patlach kopa maika…
‘me, if God doesn’t allow it to you…’

— page 122

Wiht iaka skukum pus hilp nsaika
‘He is also able to help us’

pus nsaika kakwa iaka kopa ukuk ilihi.
‘so that we’re like him in this world.’

— page 7

Naika papa, ikta iaka patlach kopa naika, ukuk
‘My father — what he gives to me — this’

iaka ilip kopa kanawi ikta, pi ilo klaksta
‘is the foremost of all things, and nobody’

skukum pus
mash ukuk kopa naika papa iaka

‘is able to remove it from my father’s’


— page 107

The next couple of examples, as I see them, really illustrate the power of the < skukum pus > structure even more fully.

First, we find it inflected with the ‘become-‘ prefix tlap- that’s used only on psychological states (which in BC dialect don’t take *chako-* like other predicates do). So, in a neat discovery, ‘to be powerful (enough)’ is considered a mental quality in this dialect: 

= Kata masachi man iaka tlap- 
‘How has an evil man become

skukum pus mamuk aias ikta haha
able to do big things that are sacred’ 

‘like this?’

— page 96

And anyone who’s been exposed to Intro Linguistics in the last half -century will recognize that the following example demonstrates how < skukum pus > is “recursive” — it’s open not only to coordination (‘powerful enough to do X and to do Y’) but also to subordination, with the subordinate clause also having < skukum pus > at its centre (‘powerful enough to make us powerful enough’)

Wik na iaka skukum pus mamuk-tlus
‘Isn’t he able to improve’ 

nsaika, mamuk-ilo kanawi ikta masachi
‘us, destroying everything evil’ 

nsaika mamuk, pi pus mamuk-skukum nsaika
‘that we do, and to enable us’

pus tlus nanich iaka wawa ST ilip illi...
‘to respect the word of God the first-living?…’

— page 103

3. < AIAK >, meaning ‘able to; can readily’

Note: in BC Chinook Wawa, most occurrences of < aiak > are not expressions of ability, but instead have the word’s literal meaning, ‘right away’ or ‘quickly’. But quite a few signify ‘have a tendency to’ — which I imagine was historically the steppingstone from ‘fast’ to ‘able’.

Wik kakwa tlus Mari: ukuk pishi orishinil
‘Blessed Mary was not like that: that original sin’

wik iaka kro kopa iaka; iaka sili ilo chako
‘didn’t extend to her; her soul never got’

kakshit kopa ukuk; kakwa ilo iaka pulakli- 
‘ruined by it; so she was never dark-‘

tomtom; iaka aiak nanich kopa tlus oihat…
‘hearted; she was able to look to the right path…’

— page 7

…iaka mamuk drit nsaika tomtom
‘…he [God] straightens out our heart’

pus aiak iaka klatwa kopa tlus…
‘so that it can go to good things’

— page 7

Shisyu, hilp naika sik tomtom
‘Jesus, help our sick hearts’

Pi tlus kolan naika styuil

‘And hear my prayer well’

Pus naika nanich kah maika
‘So I can see where you are’

Pi aiak naika tlap maika.
‘And can find you.’

— page 52

= Taii, pus maika tiki, aiak maika
‘Chief, if you want, you can’

mamuk tlus naika.
‘heal me.’

— page 55

Tlus wik msaika ayu tomtom kopa tolo
‘You folks shouldn’t be thinking about earning’

ayu chikmin kopa ukuk ilihi: iakwa
‘lots of money in this world: here’ 

kanawi ikta chako kaltash, pi kapshwala
‘everything becomes worthless, and thieving’

man aiak iskom.
‘people can take it away.’

— page 69

= Ukuk man pus profit man iaka, aiak
‘This man, if he’s a prophet, can’

iaka komtaks klaksta pi kata ukuk kluchmin
‘tell who this woman is and what she’s like,”

iaka mamuk ikta kopa iaka lipii, pus iaka
‘who is messing with his feet; that she’s’

piltin kluchmin.
‘a sinful woman.’

— page 108

…pi iaka wah ukuk glis kopa ShK iaka latit
‘…and she poured the oil over Jesus’s head’ 

pus iaka makmak.
‘as he ate.’

Iht iht lisapotr, pus klaska nanich
‘Several apostles, when they saw’

ukuk, chako saliks tomtom, pi klaska
‘this, got angry, and they’


= Ikta mamuk iaka kaltash mash
‘Why is she dumping’ 

ukuk? Aiak iaka sil ukuk kopa ayu chikmin 
‘that stuff? She could sell it for a lot of money’

pus patlach kopa klahawiam tilikom.
‘to give to poor people.’

— page 113

Other ways?

Can you think of other ways people express ‘can’ in Jargon?

What do you think?