Subordinate clauses are simple…

…Well, at least simpler than main clauses.


(Image credit: dopl3r)

For instance, it’s relatively rare to find a prefixed verb form in CW subordinate clauses. Also it’s less common to find a subject pronoun in such an environment than it is in main clauses, where it’s effectively the rule. 

So, even when the idea is of e.g. a “progressive” or “imperfective” aspect of ongoing motion, this is expressed simply by the verb root cháku (‘come’) – not by the more precise hayu-cháku ‘coming’.

There is much more that can be said about this, but for now I’ll just generalize that you can keep subordinate clauses fairly simple, when you’re talking Jargon.

This is also true of essentially all languages in the world, so it’s not a great surprise. But it’s the sort of detail of a language that’s rarely pointed out in grammatical descriptions for learners and researchers to use.  

To illustrate this principle, I’m going to return to Grand Ronde elder Victoria Howard’s CW tale, “Just One His Leg, Just One His Arm”, published by Melville Jacobs in 1936. I’ll tally everything in it that I understand to be a subordinate clause (including relative clauses), shown in orange between backslashes, \\ . What’s been arguably left out from each subordinate clause is indicated in blue in [parentheses].

(here’s the exception to my rule:
the Subjects have no need to identical, and the presence of pus makes the subordinate clause more complex than the main;
the idea is instead that the ‘if’ clause is backgrounded and is more hypothetical than the main clause) :

  • 1.3.1: 
    …ya ɬátwa \nánich\ \pus álta ɬas cháku\
    she go \see\ \if now they come\
    ‘she went \to see\ \if they were coming now\’
  • 3.3.1:
    \pus ya q’úʔ,\  áɬqi na úmaʔ yax̣ka
    \if he arrive,\ Future I feed him
    ‘\whenever it arrives,\ I’ll feed it’
  • 4.2.3:
    \pus íkta ya páɬach yax̣ka,\  ya ískam Ø…
    \if thing she give him,\ he take it
    ‘\if she gave it anything / whatever she gave to it,\ it took it’

The greatest number of instances are of a thing I’ve noted previously, 

(Subjects of main & subordinate clauses are identical) :

  • Paragraph 1, Section 1, Sentence 2 & 11.1.5:
    …ɬas ɬátwa \nánich máwich\
    they go \[Subject ‘they’] see deer\
    ‘they went \hunting\’
  • 1.3.1: 
    …ya ɬátwa \nánich\ \pus álta ɬas cháku\
    she go \[Subject ‘she’] see\ \if now they come\
    ‘she went \to see\ \if they were coming now\’
  • 2.1.1: 
    …ya ɬátwa \nánich uk tílixam\ \cháku\ 
    she go \[Subject ‘she’] see that person\  \come\
    ‘she went \to see that person\ \that was coming\’
  • 3.1.1: 
    …ya ɬátwa \nánich\
    she go \[Subject ‘she’] see\
    ‘she went \to look\’
  • 3.3.2 & 4.1.2:
    ɬátwa \ískam tsə́qw!\
    go \[Subject ‘you’] get water\
    ‘go \to fetch water\!’
  • 3.3.3: 
    ma kúri \ɬátwa\ \atá mayka pápa…\
    you run \[Subject ‘you’] go\ \[Subject ‘you’] wait your father\
    ‘you run \to go\ \to wait for your father\’
  • 8.2.2: 
    ma ɬátwa \nánich\
    you go \[Subject ‘you’] see\
    ‘you go \to look\’
  • 8.2.4: 
    na cháku \ískam yax̣ka\
    I come \[Subject ‘I’] get her\
    ‘I’ve come \to get her\’

(A: a main-clause Object is identical with the Subject of the subordinate clause) :

  • 1.3.2:
    …ya nánich íxt tílixam \cháku\
    she see one person \[Subject ya, Progressive Aspect hayu-]come\
    ‘she saw a certain person \that was coming\’
  • 2.1.1:
     …ya ɬátwa \nánich uk tílixam\ \cháku\
    she go \see that person\ \[Subject ya, Progressive Aspect hayu-]come\
    ‘she went \to see that person\ \that was coming\’ 
  • 6.2.1: 
    ɬas nánich uk íkta \ya ɬátwa…\
    they see that thing \he [Progressive Aspect hayu-]go\
    ‘they saw that thing \that was going along\’
    (I believe the exceptional presence of Subject ya here is due to the subject being the normally inanimate ikta ‘thing’.)

(B: the Subject of main-clause intransitive verb is identical with that of the subordinate clause) :

  • 2.1.2: 
    kʰəpít-íxt uk tílixam \cháku\
    only-one that person \Subject ya(ka), [Progressive Aspect hayu-]come\
    ‘that person \that’s coming here\ is alone’

(the Subjects of both clauses are again identical) :

  • 8.1.1 & 9.1.1:
    wík ya tq’í  \munk-k’ílapay Ø\
    not he want \[Subject ya] make-return it\
    ‘it doesn’t want to return it [the corpse]’


  1. The following 3 points apply when the subordinate clause follows the main clause — word order matters a lot in CW.
    1. Verbal aspect marking (such as hayu- ‘Progressive’) is normally left out of subordinate clauses; it’s more obligatory in main clauses. 
    2. When the Subject or Object of the main clause is the same entity as the Subject in the subordinate clause, the latter is considered to be obvious, and is left out. Exception: if the main-clause Subject is atypical, i.e. a noun that’s normally an inanimate non-Subject, the Subordinate clause does express a Subject, as if to clarify.) 
    3. When the main-clause Subject is a different entity from that of the subordinate clause, the latter is introduced by the hypothetical (“Irrealis”) marker pus. (This does not occur in the above story, so I will show examples below.) In the subordinate clause, the Subject is not left out, as it’s not predictable from any preceding main clause; I’m not sure how much verbal aspect inflection gets left out, but I’m guessing that the hayu- Progressive is again likely to be dropped.
  2. Pus (subordinate) clauses can occur before the main clause, in which case they function adverbially, as seen above. This comparative independence from the main clause’s argumentation makes the Subject of the pus clause less predictable, so it is always expressed. It seems that verbal aspect marking in these clauses is also often left out. 
  3. I won’t go into this in detail now, but we could also understand clauses introduced by a conjunction such as pi ‘and; but; or’ as also being subordinate. (They similarly “background” information that’s not the topic of discussion.) These too have no special need for their Subjects to co-reference arguments in the main clause, so they express an overt Subject of their own. My impression is that pi clauses are even more independent from the main clause, and that they accordingly tend to preserve verbal aspect marking and such. 

Examples (linked to previous posts on my website) of mismatch between main-clause & subordinate-clause Subject, necessitating the hypothetical-marker pus:

Example of pi-conjoined clauses from “Just One His Leg…”: 

  • 4.2.1: 
    ya munk-k’áw-k’aw ya k’watín kánawi \pi ya hayu-úmaʔ uk íkta\
    she Cause-tied-Reduplication her belly all and she Progressive-feed that thing
    ‘she tied up her midsection completely and she kept feeding that thing’

In this example, neither the Subject nor the hayu- inflection is left out. Hmm. “For future research.” 🙂 (There’s just one pi-conjoined clause in the story! Mrs. Howard preferred to narrate her stories by juxtaposing full main clauses right up against each other, with no “and” whatsoever.) 

I guess I could conclude for today by phrasing one of my observations from a different point of view: CW’s Progressive aspect hayu- marking is perhaps, by its grammatical nature, more likely to occur in main clauses than elsewhere. I’ve often noted that this particular inflection is more optional in the language than are chaku- Inchoative aspect or munk- / mamuk- Causative voice. So, it might be said that subordinate clauses are more tolerant than main clauses of leaving details unspecified.

What do you think?