Immediate Future tense in early creolized CW

This post is intended as a short, sweet suggestion.

"Seriously, you ever wonder where you're going? What your future will be like?"

“Seriously, Cruz…do you ever wonder where you’re going? What your future will be like?”

(Image credit: CartoonStock)

Let me put it as a table with 4 cells, 3 of which I’ve written about terms of CW Tense marking, 1 of which I’m newly adding to the discussion:

    • IMMEDIATE: (tiki)
    • REMOTE: aɬqi
  • PAST:
    • IMMEDIATE: chxi
    • REMOTE: anqati

This is what the tense-marking system (always optional, as it had also been in Lower Chinookan, which could just mark tense in the verb) looked like in early-creolized Chinuk Wawa, as far as I can discern.

(Obviously I’m leaving out Present tense marker alta, as it plays no role in the symmetries I’m about to discuss.)

And I think we have here quite a revealing little chart.

Etymologically, all 4 of these morphemes are Lower Chinookan “particles”. That’s Chinookan-linguist talk, meaning they were uninflected and weren’t verbs or nouns.

It bears adding that these 4 were distinct from other so-called particles in those languages, though, in having adverbial meanings. Chinookan chxi was something like ‘a little while passed, then…‘ in Boas’s paraphrase (he thought of it as a conjunction); anqati was ‘long ago’, and aɬqi was ‘later on’. Tiki was one of the uninflected particles “expressing states of mind and body“…

Yes, I’m telling you a new analysis of the Chinookan source of tiki: I believe that even though documentary linguist Franz Boas understood < tq¡ēX > (tq’íx̣) as ‘to like something/someone’, that’s only because his Natítanui (Shoalwater-Clatsop) Lower Chinookan expert Charles Q’lti (Cultee) was explaining its meaning in Chinuk Wawa. In fact, out of 5 occurrences of this particle in a textual sampling, 3 are accompanied as expected by an inflected ‘do’ verb, but 2 show Q’lti using it alone as an uninflected verb…as in CW.

Long story short, in Chinookan, the ancestor of CW tiki wasn’t used for ‘want’ or ‘intend’, which was instead expressed by various verbal affixes as well as by the ancestor of CW qʰéx̣chi (which in CW means ‘although’)!

Read on…

Most other Chinookan particles famously were ideophones — sort of exclamatory little imitations of the sound of an action, often reduplicated as if to convey an enhanced impression. That set of particles is the source of plenty of Chinuk Wawa, such as liplip ‘boil(ing)’, p’əq or p’əqp’əq ‘hit’, ʔush or ʔushʔush ‘sleep’ (babytalk word). That’s quite different from the four words we’re looking at today.

And a funny thing happened on the way to full creolization…

Because within CW itself, aɬqi, chxi, and anqati all 3 continued to function as adverbs…but tiki, the one which wasn’t time-referring to start with, evolved further, entrenching itself as a verb in CW ‘to want, to like’, and by corollary ‘be about to do something’. 

That is, one of these things is not like the others: 3 of the CW tenses were still expressed by adverbs. One came to be signaled by a verb.

And I don’t necessarily believe that CW verbal tiki ever “grammaticalized” into much of a stable ‘Immediate Future’ marker meaning ‘be about to do’, any more than it grammaticalized into any kind of unambiguous signal of ‘try to’ — though both meanings continued to be expressed by tiki.

Thus, an imbalance existed in the already merely optional CW tense-marking system. There were only 3 clearly tense-related slots filled in what semantically should be a symmetrical 4-member arrangement.

And I suggest this instability led to further changes in that system.

The most visible effect of this development was that the other Immediate (i.e. short-range) tense marker, chxi, lost a good deal of its time-related meaning. We can understand this as the system balancing itself out; if there was no longer a viable Immediate Future particle, the Immediate Past one no longer stood in clear opposition to such a meaning. Chxi thus shifted from a core meaning of ‘just now (happened)’, to a less time-bound adjectival ‘new’, and, similarly to tiki‘s sense of ‘be about to do’, a new quasi-grammatical ‘begin to do’. 

And so we were left with a creolized-CW system where non-Present tenses were limited to Past and Future, without a necessary distinction between Immediates and Remotes. In actual usage, anqati still conveys a sense of ‘long ago’ and aɬqi of ‘eventually’; and chxi remains a clear way to indicate ‘happened just now’ — but tiki is not now a clear signal of ‘about to do’. 

It may well be that the Indo-European languages French and English exerted some influence on CW’s tense-simplification, starting from the creolization era of Fort Vancouver. These non-Indigenous languages, in a linguist’s point of view, can be said to have just 2 tenses (believe it or not).

  • The main distinction in English is between a plain stem (present tense) and the addition of “-ed” etc. (past tense).
  • In French, the big divide is similarly between a shorter stem (present tense, with 4 of the “persons” usually sounding identical) and one with an “é”-type sound suffixes (past tense, as well as imperfect, lots of infinitives, participles, etc.).

I’ll reiterate that the use of tense-marking words within the Jargon remains completely non-obligatory. And that fact has very much to do with the historical use of these words in older Lower Chinookan, as well as with the local Salish languages’ interest in marking verbal aspect rather than tense.

So as usual, in Chinuk Wawa we see here a fairly intricate entwining of older languages. 

Here’s a fine distinction for you. Presumably a considerable influence on the status of tense in CW as a non-mandatory category also came from the other tribal languages of the area such as K’alapuyan; I just know less about those, and their overall impact on CW appears to be relatively minor. But it’s virtually definite that Canadian French and English played no traceable role in this optionality, being obligatorily tensed languages.

What do you think?