What can and can’t be joined by “pi”?

Have I not written anything on this before?

can and cant

(Image credit: Teachers Pay Teachers)

[Editing to add: we should also look into the behaviour of conjunctions in Lower Chinookan and SW Washington Salish. — DDR]

Often, the simplest and most fundamental parts of a language go unresearched. I don’t want that to happen with Chinuk Wawa’s conjunction pi, the only member of that category of words in some dialects of Jargon.

This little French-Canadian word (its grammaire grand-mère is puis ‘(and) then’) does lots of work.

Let’s see what it can and can’t do.

Hmm, I’m wondering if it inherited any French restrictions on its use? Or acquired new ones in the processes of pidginization / creolization / Indigenization?

We can get a somewhat reasonable, if small, sample of data by examining the entry for pi in the excellent 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary.

Things we do find:

  • pi N (N can include Pronouns, Names, etc.)
    • t’álap’as pi lílu ɬaska míɬayt íxt-ixt ɬaska háws
      ‘Coyote and Wolf lived (with) their houses one-to-one (adjacent)’
  • any clause pi any clause (the pi + clause part is backgrounded / subordinate)
    • qʰáta ya wáwa “cháku” pi wík ya nánich? 
      ‘How in the world can she say ‘come in!,’ yet she doesn’t see me?’
  • higher-place number pi lower-place number
    • mákwst-táɬlam pi íxt
  • stative clause or Quantifier expression pi nominal argument (to express comparative / superlative degrees)
    • ya máksti hayásh pi nayka
      ‘He’s twice as big as me’

Things we don’t find:

  •  Attributive Adjective pi Attributive Adjective , I think!
  • likewise Adverb pi Adverb, I think!
  • a semi-restriction: in the northern dialect at least, two or more semantically-associated nouns tend to get said in juxtaposition, without any pi. (See “Orphan Grammar: Why “pi” is Less Used Than You’d Think” for super-neat examples!)

Things I think we’ll find:

  • I suspect we’ll find similar patterns of use and non-use with these less widespread CW conjunctions:
    • ən ‘and’ (found in southern and northern dialects; from English)
      • wél, nayka ən nayka ats… (joining nouns)
        ‘Well, me and my sister…’
      • álta ya munk-káku ya limá, ən nay tə́mtəm… (joining clauses)
        ‘Then she does like that with her hand, and so I think…’
    • əbə ‘or’ (southern; from Canadian/Métis French ou bien)
      • úkuk əbə úkuk (joining nouny things)
        ‘this or that’

But the most recently introduced conjunction, known only from more recent elders of Grand Ronde, breaks the previous pattern by conjoining adverbs: 

      • or ‘or’ (southern; from English)
        • wík na kə́mtəks pus máksti or íxsti (joining adverbs!)
          ‘I don’t remember whether (it was) twice or once’

To summarize: pi does have a somewhat different pattern of possible uses than its French-Canadian ancestor had. In some ways, this could be predicted; the source word puis participates in structures with et ‘and’, after all!

Other divergences are less obvious, though I feel they’re also predictable — For example, I hypothesize that it’s just kind of rare in practice for speakers of any language to utter a sequence [Attributive Adjective] and [Attributive Adjective], that is, things like “a red and blue sash”.

Even more to this point, languages tend to subgroup adjectives into semantic classes, which occur in a fixed sequence in speech, giving us those marveling memes that bounce around social media: 

  • Quantity or number
  • Quality or opinion
  • Size
  • Age
  • Shape
  • Color
  • Proper adjective (often nationality, other place of origin, or material)
  • Purpose or qualifier

An example being “I love that really big old green antique car that always parked at the end of the street.”

(The preceding info is taken from the first website that came up in a Google search for “order of adjectives in English”. Linguistic typologist RMW Dixon and colleagues have done wonderful work showing similar tendencies around the world.) 

Because adjectives tend to sort themselves into these cognitively distinct classes, I think it’s superfluous to conjoin them with pi. By corollary, our “red and blue sash” example may be the most frequent kind, since its two Attributive Adjectives are members of a single semantic class. 

I’ll wager all of the above will be confirmed, and maybe a couple minor wrinkles will be added, once a bigger study is done of Jargon textual examples, i.e. lots of sentences. Maybe a database search can already be done on Grand Ronde data? I have effectively all Chinook Peipa data from BC, in doc format, which is less easily searchable.

What do you think?