Understanding úkuk + Possessive

Here’s a usage of úkuk not pointed out in the major dictionary…


…and a further wrinkle in its meaning. I want to focus in on the úkuk + Possessed Noun formula, literally ‘this/that/those’ + ‘my/your/her/etc.’ + Noun.

That structure is typically, in my experience of the Jargon, translated into English as ‘that dog of mine’, ‘those canoes of theirs’, etc.

Lately I’ve been presenting some small lessons from the southern-dialect Chinuk Wawa text told by Grand Ronde elder Victoria Howard, “Just One His Leg, Just One His Arm”. Today’s mini-study comes from that same source.

In one passage in that tale (“Texts in Chinook Jargon” edited by Melville Jacobs, 1936:2, paragraph 4, section 2), the younger female character leaves the house to get help from her adult male relatives as her grandma is being assaulted by a monster. Here’s the wording, put into current Grand Ronde writing, followed by Jacobs’s and my translations of it:

of hers

álta tənəs-ɬúchmən ya ískam kítɬən…álta ya másh-sáyá uk ya kítɬən
Jacobs: ‘the little girl took a bucket…and then she threw away the bucket’

DDR: ‘then the girl got a kettle…then she discarded that kettle of hers /
then the girl got a kettle…then she discarded the kettle she had’

(As I mentioned the other day about the gender of the monster in this story, the age of the girl isn’t made clear by Mrs. Howard.)

Jacobs, for whatever reason, does not translate the Possessive ya ‘her(s)’ in either of its occurrences above.

And that’s a substantial point to note; possession is important here.

We’re looking at the introduction of an item that the girl owns (‘her kettle’), followed, I suspect crucially, by its alienation (she tosses away ‘that kettle of hers / that kettle she had’).

Notice that this type of expression, ‘that kettle of hers’ (okok yaka ketlin in our BC teaching alphabet), conveys not only possession (which is taken care of by yaka ketlin) but also a more temporary “aspect”* of that relation: ‘that kettle that she had / that she was holding’. etc.

(*Note 1: In saying “aspect”, I’m borrowing the term “aspect” from linguists’ terminology for verb stuff. On purpose.

Note 2: In translating this structure sometimes with an English relative clause, ‘that she had’, I’m not claiming that it’s a relative clause in CW. It’s not.)

That is, okok yaka ___ occurs also with types of possession that are definitely not “alienable” — it’ s not rare to hear okok yaka papa ‘that dad of hers’ for example — but it does seem to put a more momentary, highlighting focus on that relationship than plain old yaka papa ‘her dad’ does.

Here’s a second example, from the same story, to help us delve into this further…

A couple of sentences later (same paragraph, section 2), the grandma in an apparent defensive move binds her own belly up tightly:

skin lup

álta yáx̣ka(,) uk lamiyáy(,) ya ískam uk ya skín-lúp
Jacobs: ‘the old woman took a thong’

DDR: ‘then she, the old lady, took that rawhide rope of hers /
then she, the old lady, took the rawhide rope she had’

As with the kettle situation that precedes this, the ‘thong’ or ‘rawhide rope’ is a new element in the story’s flow. But unlike the kettle, there’s no introductory exposition to inform us that the lady already had such an item in the first place! We’re just suddenly told  that she ‘took that rawhide rope of hers’.

In English, that translation of the wording makes us presume that the rope is something she already owns, and that we ought to already know that. But that’s misleading. Since the storyteller hasn’t in fact made us aware of that pre-existing possessive relation, my thinking is that a somewhat modified translation is in order.

It seems to me, then, that uk ya kítɬən and uk ya skín-lúp can both be well understood as ‘the ___ that she had’.

This slightly different way of putting things, revolving around the known meaning ‘the’ for uk (rather than its more literal, older sense ‘that; this’), is perhaps helpful. It takes us away from any attempt to coordinate the nouns ‘kettle’ or ‘rawhide rope’ with previous discourse, and brings us into the realm of definite articles, where we only need to understand that there logically exists some definite kítɬən or skín-lúp that the speaker has in mind.

To show this Demonstrative + Possessed Noun structure used in more varied ways, here are some examples taken from older posts on my website…

Nawitka aias haha ukuk wawa, pi
Indeed very sacred these words, and 
‘Indeed these words [a Bible story] are very sacred, and’

ukuk nsaika Chinuk, drit aias klahawiam
this our Chinook, really very pitiful 
this Chinuk Wawa of ours/this Chinuk Wawa that we have, is really (too) pitiful’

pus mamuk klahani ukuk aias haha
for making outside these very sacred 
‘for expressing these very sacred’



“Mamuk kanamokst ukuk klaska tu myush. Wik tlus pus kaltash iaka mitlait kopa ilihi.”
‘Collect these leftovers of theirs (literally ‘their toomuches; that excess that they have‘).  They shouldn’t be left just lying on the ground.’


tlus nsaika mamuk
good we make-

‘it’s good that we’ 

yutl kopa ukuk maika aw iaka mimlus,

happy for this your brother he dead, 
‘celebrate about this brother of yours


Kopit ukuk naika musmus pi wik kata iaka gitop
‘I just have this cow (there’s just this cow of mine/this cow that I have) and she can’t stand up’


What do you think?