Álta: a note on Perfective aspect

There’s much more to be said about verbal “aspect” in Chinuk Wawa … here’s a bit …

alta already

(Image credit: Amazon)

Alta (literally ‘now’) in both dialects does a good job of conveying ‘already’, in combination with the “Perfective Aspect”.

Since just one form of CW verbs is marked as Imperfective, with the hayu- prefix, pretty much any other form counts as Perfective.

A couple of examples:  

From the southern dialect: Page 2, paragraph 6 of Victoria Howard’s “Just One His Leg, Just One His Arm”:

t’ɬúnas álta ya munk-míməlust na chích
is translated by compiler Melville Jacobs as
‘Maybe he has killed my grandmother by now‘.

The verb munk-míməlust (in BC spelling, mamook-memaloos) ‘kill’ carries the implication of ‘finish killing’, and otherwise meets our simple criterion for Perfective Aspect above. Mrs. Howard doesn’t use an Imperfective form of the verb, *hayu-munk-míməlust* (‘be killing’), which would have tipped us towards an interpretation *’Maybe he’s now killing her’*. Thus, álta is well translated with the words ‘by now’ in this case — a synonym for ‘already’. 

From the northern dialect: Kamloops Wawa‘s 1904 European travel narrative includes this bit: 

Ukuk liplit, < 50 >sno alta iaka ilip chako kopa Kanada ilihi.
‘This priest, 50 years ago he first came to the country of Canada.’

Again, we have a Perfective verb, here chako ‘to come to; arrive’; the presence of the adverb ilip ‘(for the) first (time)’ reinforces this understanding. Besides, it’s got a clearly a past-tense referring adverbial phrase. So here too, alta is best understood as ‘already’ (as in ‘it’s 50 years already’) or ‘ago’, rather than the literal sense ‘now’. This is an extremely common usage in the northern dialect. 

A subject of related interest is how CW expresses ‘still’, that is, ongoing situations. That’ll be the subject of a separate article.

What do you think?