Another reason why chaku- verbs aren’t passive

In my research on Chinuk Wawa, I admit it took years to come to see verbs prefixed with chaku- (literally ‘come’) as Inceptive Aspect.

active passive

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Or call it Inchoative, or even change-of-state. But yes, this extremely common verbal inflection is Aspectual, focusing as it does on where you are in the progress of an event or state. Specifically, it tells you that you’re just after the beginning. 

This understanding allows us to meaningfully make a contrast with the particle chxi ‘just now; just a moment ago’, which is one of the optional, adverbial markers of tense in CW, and is used sometimes for expressing ‘start to do’. 

It also helps us to understand that certain linguists’ previous claims that chaku- is a Passive voice form are off the mark. 

…Today I want to put forth another reason why chaku- verbs are not Passive. It’s simple. We’d expect Passive verbs to be statives, always primarily expressing a state of being, rather than an activity. And it’s true that the big majority of these forms are statives, by virtue of containing chaku-

(In the following discussion, *asterisks* around a form show that it’s concocted by me, not taken from known CW data.)

But chaku- rarely pairs up with prototypically highly transitive verbs; we don’t ever seem to find stuff like:

  • *chaku-pálach* to try saying ‘be given’
  • chaku-nánich to try saying *’be seen’* (that is, this formation does occur, but with a very different sense, the Inceptive ‘come to see (wind up seeing)’

But sure enough, derived from stative verbs there are also active chaku- verbs, expressing actions that you take on purpose, for example: 

  • chaku-kə́mtəks ‘to learn’ (literally ‘come.to-know’)
  • chaku-paɬlam ‘to get drunk’ (literally ‘come.to-be.drunk’)

Need I point out, some chaku- verbs are transitive; since they take objects and “complements”, that right there shows you they’re not passive:

  • ɬas chaku-nánich yaka míməlus ‘they (thereby) realize she is dead’

Plus, chaku- verbs are compatible with Imperfective aspect hayu-, which is strongly correlated with active verbs, to show an ongoing activity:

  • *nayka hayu-chaku-kə́mtəks chinúk-wáwa* ‘I’m learning Chinuk Wawa’

In addition, in my understanding some chaku- verbs can simultaneously refer to a (change of) state and be active stuff that’s done on purpose by their subject: 

  • chaku-x̣lúyma ‘to change, become different’ (lit. ‘come.to-be.different’)
  • *chaku-stún* ‘to turn to stone’ (lit. ‘come.to-be.a.rock’)

These last two examples are due to Coyote coming to my mind. He’s constantly changing himself into various objects and appearances…on purpose. 

As I ponder and write this, I’m referring to the excellent list of chaku- verbs in the 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary of Chinuk Wawa. I refer to it for a full illustration of the ideas I’m talking about. We can cross-reference that list to the entries for each headword that’s shown with chaku-, to see example sentences. 

And my next question is whether active uses of chaku- verbs perhaps prefer the typically active-verb word order, placing the subject first. (For example, I find úkuk ɬúchmən chaku-míɬayt-tənás kʰapa ya k’watʰín ‘that woman got to have a baby in her belly’.) And maybe the stative uses of chaku- verbs prefer the associated typical word order, with subject going last. (E.g. I find chaku-pʰáɬ may k’wətín ‘your belly gets full’.)

If further research should show a correlation between active vs. stative chaku- forms & active vs. stative word order, it would reinforce the claim I’m making today, that these are not Passives.

But even without such syntactic backup, I’m convinced of the strength of this claim. As always with CW, a close acquaintance with the language as actually spoken is the best way to chaku-kə́mtəks” its true nature. And my acquaintance with CW shows that there just is no passive voice in Jargon (this is true of many, many languages in the world). 

PS: a customary approximation of a passive in CW, especially common in the northern dialect, is to use the 3rd person plural subject in an indefinite sense that doesn’t refer to anyone in particular:

  • ɬaska wáwa… ‘it’s said that…’ (literally ‘they say…’)
  • …qʰá ɬaska ískam likalistí ‘…where communion was being given’ (lit. ‘…where they were taking communion’)

What do you think?