Idioms/compounds headed by íkta

I often note the rule that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in Chinuk Wawa.

bad apples

Some kind of metaphorical apples! (Image credit: Wikipedia)

CW words stick pretty close to their original, literal meanings.

I’ve expressed this as a commandment, “Don’t talk flowery in Jargon.”

The core observation is that you find plenty of metaphors in this language, but hardly any fanciful ones.

That’s unlike my native Pacific NW English with its “green monster” for ‘dumpster (giant garbage container) (symbol of 2020)’, or French with its mon chou (my cabbage) for a term of endearment.  The European languages, due in large part to their heritage of literacy, indulge in a greater amount of high-flown poetics.

I bring this up now in reference to one of the frequent types of idiomatic phrase in Chinuk Wawa.

There are lots of expressions whose “head”, as we linguists call it, is the most generic noun in the language, íkta (‘thing’). You’d think that these idioms, if any in CW, could get quite abstract, since they’re not referentially tied down to any specific entity.

How abstract does ikta get in these?

I’ve picked a coherent data set to work with today — a 2011 vocabulary provided by the Grand Ronde Tribes. I assume it’s going to contain more ikta expressions than any other (i.e. previous) document of Chinuk Wawa, as the Tribes have put serious work into coining new phrases relevant to modern life, as the need arises in a CW-speaking environment. The lexicon I’m using also includes pretty much all previously known expressions in that community.

Specifying that I’m ignoring phrases that use quantifiers (like kʰánawi-íkta ‘everything) and those using íktʰa[-]s ‘clothing; belongings’, let’s tally everything I find in my source:

  • ánqati-íkta ‘artifacts’ (‘long.ago-thing’)
  • íliʔi-íkta ‘harvest, crop’ (‘earth-thing’)
  • kákshət-íkta ‘debris’ (‘broken-thing’)
  • lúʔluʔ-íkta ‘something round’ (’round-thing’)
  • mákuk-íkta ‘goods’ (‘buy/sell.thing’)
  • pʰáyt-íkta ‘arms’ (weapons) (‘fight-thing’)
  • x̣ə́ləl-íkta ‘animal’ (‘moving-thing’) 

Summarizing: ikta, as vague as its meaning is, still holds onto its original reference to physical objects, as it seems to have done in older Chinookan. (There, my impression is broadly that i-kta was a physical thing and tan was ‘something; anything’ else.) This lexeme in Jargon might be better translated as ‘item; object’. While one expression above extends it to living (but nonhuman) things, it’s not applied to abstractions, which tend to be expressed by typical CW structures relating to the mind, such as -təmtəm (‘mind; heart’) and -wawa (‘speaking’) compounds.

And this: we don’t find a ton of -ikta idioms built with words that are basically descriptors, adjectives. That is, CW speakers resist the urge to wave their hands and say in effect “you know, the red thing”…

And this too: I was surprised how few -ikta expressions I found! And most of those listed here are old, coming from Father St Onge’s 1870s experience of CW in the broader lower Columbia River region. I take this as supporting the claim that Chinuk Wawa does not make fast and loose with the metaphors. Potentially you could have thousands of -ikta idioms in the language (like English, which produces ’em freely every day), but actually CW speakers have a long tradition of putting in real effort to say what they mean, as precisely as they can.

And this cultural ethic of speaking Jargon as well as you can is, in turn, further proof against the rather offensive claim by some linguists that CW is “not a language”!

What do you think?