Is qʰə́nchix̣ ‘when’ from Chinookan ‘how much (time span)’ ?

When I look at questions about future ‘when’ (that is, ‘when will…?’) in Lower Chinookan, I wonder if I’m seeing useful clues…

how much time

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What I’m pondering today is the original meaning of the word that Chinuk Wawa uses as both ‘when?’ and ‘how much / how many?’

Here are the two passages in Charles Q’lti (Cultee’s) “Chinook Texts”, published by Franz Boas in 1894, that I’m highly interested in:


‘When will they go out?’ — page 145 (page 148)


‘When will he speak to me?’ — page 211 (214)

Both of these might be understood as literally asking ‘how much (time until)’, ‘how much (will it be and then)’.

I also notice that in the same language, past-tense ‘when did X happen?’ questions also use qantsix:


‘When did she die?’ — page 156 (160)


‘When did that youth come home?’ — page 193 (195)

To my mind, qantsix expressions can be thought of as ‘how long until X?’; ‘how long since X?‘ They ask about time spans.

This, I propose, explains why Chinuk Wawa’s inherited version of this word, qʰə́nchi, means either ‘when?’ or ‘how much?’ In fact, ‘how much’ may well have been the original sense of the word. 

The next question that I think is important to ask in this connection is, how do you say in Lower Chinookan, ‘when?’, in other situations?

The answer to that would appear to be that you use a much more frequent word, manix:


‘When you will go you will meet a pheasant’ (a very loose translation) — page 11

But — you know me — I have questions. The above example of manix occurs with a future-tense verb, as does qantsix What then might be the difference between these two conjunctions? Let’s look at some more instances of manix


‘When these people come…’ — page 15 (20)


‘When you come to burning prairies…’ (another real loose tranlsation) — page 165 (170)


‘When the ghosts carry a soul away and no seer is present [to recover it]…’ — page 197 (206)

So, manix expressions are equivalent to ‘(at the time) when X; whenever X’. But manix did not survive into Chinuk Wawa. For question ‘when?’, CW asks qʰə́nchi, and for ‘at the time when’, it says either qʰə́nchi or (especially in the northern dialect) pus (which in CW means either ‘(the time) when’ or ‘if’). 

And that pus is also from Lower Chinookan…although its story is less straightforward.


‘If I had found him I should not have hid him.’ — page 76 (86)

The Chinookan word pus is normally understood as a counterfactual marker (the 2012 Grand Ronde Chinuk Wawa dictionary notes this fact). And in early Grand Ronde CW, we find it in a use very much like the above example, equivalent to English ‘would’ in its various senses. Its use mutated in CW, surely in part due to the changed uses of Chinookan qantsix!

For what it’s worth, there are still more shades of ‘if’ expressions in Lower Chinookan, such as qiáx… 


(no further translation given) — page 99 (105)

…and tayax (~’good’), an equivalent to CW ɬúsh(-pus)



‘Oh, I wish Blue-Jay would see me.’ — page 137 (142)

At any rate, I hope to have shown that a very important word of Jargon, whose multiple meanings have puzzled previous researchers, traces back to a Lower Chinookan expression for ‘how much (time)’.

On a related note, CW t’ɬúnas-qʰə́nchi ‘who knows how much; Gosh knows how much; etc.’ also goes back to Lower Chinookan:

tlunas qhenchi


What do you think?