2 kinds of ‘when’ in 2 dialects

And 2 polarities!


(Image credit: Soundcloud)

[Editing to add: Grand Ronde (southern-dialect) CW actually has a phrase qʰá-sán, literally ‘where-day’, but unlike the BC expression in meaning ‘some day’. It’s potentially the ancestor of the BC phrase, however!]

The 2 dialects of Chinuk Wawa are, of course, the broadly “southern” one centered on the lower Columbia River (Oregon & Washington), and the broadly “northern” one centered along the Fraser River (British Columbia).

The 2 kinds of ‘when’ words are the content question ‘when?’ and the relative ‘when (such-and-such happens)’.

When (see what I did there?) we schematize things this mathematically, I find it helps me wrap my mind around the wiggly concept of encoding time with language.

  • Relative ‘when…’
    • Southern: qʰə́nchi…, older qʰə́nchix̣…
      (see note under question ‘when?’)
    • Northern: pos…
      (as we write it in the BC CW teaching alphabet; pos also means ‘if’, i.e. all not-yet-real situations are introduced by this particle)
  • Question ‘when?’
    • Southern: qʰə́nchi?, older qʰə́nchix̣?
      (the etymology is Lower Chinookan ‘how much?, how many?’, as if to ask ‘how much time until’ something occurs)
    • Northern: kah-sun?
      (literally ‘where-day?’)

However, the odd thing about ‘when?’ up north is that we don’t have great information. In the actual full-sentence non-literary usage (southern interior BC Aboriginal people’s letters) that I used for my dissertation — to distinguish from mere dictionary word lists and from Kamloops Wawa‘s missionary speech — I’ve only found kah-sun? And I’ve only found it referring, pretty literally, to day-sized units of time. Here’s the subentry for it in the dictionary that I made from my Kamloops-area CW dissertation data:

kah son
—-interrogative idiom. when?, which day?

tlus maika mamuk drit maika wawa pos ka son [124.007]
‘Make your answer straight [about] which day it will be.’ [‘…when it will be.’]

The only way found to express ‘when?’ in KCW, unusually among Chinook Jargon dialects. Kah in [114:007] seems to be intended as kah son.

So we don’t really know yet, how northerners asked ‘when?’ with a longer or shorter timescale in mind. Northern dialect does have the word kantsih, its version of southern qʰə́nchix̣ — but only with the meaning ‘how much?, how many?’, plus what we might call a determiner use in kantsih sun ‘some day’.

If we look beyond textual information to the inadequate medium of dictionaries, we do find JB Good 1880:30 giving the surprising phrase konsick leele? (‘how.much long.time’) for ‘when?’ — which, interestingly, seems to back up my idea above that folks used to ask ‘how long until’ for at least future ‘when?’ Put into my current BC teaching alphabet, kantsih leili pi (‘how(.much) long.time until’) would be totally understandable. But we still don’t know how to ask ‘when?’ in regard to past events, and so on.  

I’ve often hunted around for some answer to this nagging question. How can we ask, in BC, ‘When is your lunch?’ or ‘When is your baby due?’ (Aside from the always available workaround of talking very literally: Ikta our maika sitkum-sun mukmuk? [‘What hour is your midday meal?’] and Ikta mun atlki chako, maika papoos? [‘What month in the future will it come/happen, your baby?’])

One way that occurs to me to come at this is to introduce another 2-way distinction here: polarity. That is, we’ve seen positive ‘whens’ above, and it happens that we can look at negated ones in CW too. These mean ‘never’.

  • Negative ‘never’
    • Southern: wík-qʰə́nchi
    • Northern:  hmm, again I’ve found no in-use evidence!

One thing I feel sure of is that ‘never’ in northern (BC) CW wouldn’t be *heilo-kah-sun*, because heilo-kah is already strongly entrenched there as ‘nowhere’. Plus there’s that disturbing issue of kah-sun only referring to day-sized timescales. 

What a puzzle, eh? 

But I think there is some useful evidence, if we look beyond texts and sentences, and resort to the less-satisfying genre of old word lists. Several southern interior BC eyewitnesses of frontier CW provide a uniform expression for ‘never’ that they apparently used in frontier days:

So it appears that the old southern expression for this survived the transplantation of CW to the north! All things considered, we might have expected BC CW to develop something like *heilo kantsih*, because it uses heilo more often for negations. But there are indeed a handful of other old wik- expressions that survived up north as set phrases: 

  • weik-tloosh ‘Negative Imperative “don’t” ‘
    (formerly in the south, ‘bad’, literally ‘un-good’ if you’re translating George Orwell)
  • weik-kata ‘impossible; can’t’
  • weik-saiyaa ‘near(ly)’

From this evidence I gather that the lack of ‘never’ in my Aboriginal letters data may be purely by chance. I’m comfortable accepting that weik-kantsih is ‘never’ in genuine BC CW. It doesn’t conflict with any data that I know of. 

However, this doesn’t extend to the positive kantsih; I do not expect that that word reliably meant ‘when?’ in BC. Why? Because that quirky kah-sun expression is so darn frequent in the north! And Lindley 1862:35 says that konsick is ‘how much?’ but not that it’s *’when?’* Le Jeune 1924, a pretty voluminous lexical resource that could’ve been helpful, frustratingly happens to list no expression for ‘when?’. 

Well, that’s all I know for now. 

What do you think?