“Making” “use” of Jargon’s resources

As usual, first southern Chinuk Wawa had a vaguer expression, then northern CW got a preciser one.


To express “using” a noun N in the creolized southern variety, you just said mamuk-N or munk-N.

That uses what I call the Causative prefix, which grammaticalized from the originally Nootka Jargon verb mámuk ‘to do, to make’. So, why am I saying that “use” is a Causative?

Well now, that prefix munk-/mamuk-, when used with a verbal stem, does give you an obviously Causative sense. Please recall that in the Jargon, lots of words are verbs…

Thus, with Active verb stems, you get e.g. mamuk-kə́mtəks (Cause-know) = ‘to teach’ someone something, and mamuk-kúri (Cause-run) = ‘to chase’ something or someone. 

And with Stative verb stems, the canonical examples are adjectival, and it’s easy to understand the Causative nature of these forms. You can say mamuk-ɬíʔil (Cause-black) = ‘to blacken’ something, and mamuk-chxí (Cause-new) ‘to renew’ or ‘renovate’ something.

Adverbial stems work like that also, e.g. mamuk-qʰáta (Cause-how) = ‘to mess someone up’ (that is, to make them be some way or other). 

But, those Stative stems that are notionally nouns emerge with a different semantics, when Causativized. 

Nouns, too, are Stative verbs in Chinuk Wawa — but they’re a limited subclass. They’re verbs only when they’re not being used as “arguments” of another verb, that is, only when they’re not the subject, object, etc., but instead are being used as predicates. 

Noun stems referring to human beings tend to generate Causative idioms, as if the noun were being used in a metaphorical way: mamuk-táyí (Cause-chief) = ‘to respect / venerate’ someone, mamuk-bástən (Cause-White.person) = ‘to Americanize, to make someone be like White people’. You rarely “make use of” a person.

But mamuk- plus a noun stem referring to a nonhuman physical object gives you the sense of ‘using’ that object. Examples: you can say mamuk-ísik (Cause-oars) ‘to paddle’ (to use oars), and mamuk-lapʰél (Cause-shovel) ‘to dig’ (to use a shovel). 

And a subset of those physical objects are things that we humans gather for a specific kind of use, for consumption in order that we can go on living. So their Causative forms mean the harvesting of that resource: mamuk-sámən (Cause-salmon) = ‘go fishing’, mamuk-lakámás (Cause-camas) = ‘go camas-digging’.

I also want to mention the noun stems that express abstract concepts. There are very few of these in Chinuk Wawa; I suspect all of them are noun usages of adjectival stems, e.g. ɬúsh ‘good thing(s)’ (which really seems to always be used for ‘good actions’), and mas(h)áchi ‘evil thing(s)’ (which likewise tends to denote ‘bad deeds’). When Causativized, then, such abstraction-stems often just give you the same result that adjective stems do, e.g. mamuk-ɬúsh (Cause-good) ‘to improve’ something. My sense of a form like mamuk-mas(h)áchi (Cause-evil) is that it’s used for ‘do evil things’ to (kʰupa) someone, which you may or may not consider to be an atypical Causative.

=> Long story, short, “use” is just a small part of Causative verb inflection in southern CW!


The southern CW system got taken northwards through Washington state and to British Columbia, so that you’ll find folks using mamuk- expressions there. But, as with so much of Jargon grammar, things got simplified in the transplantation process. It’s often less clear, with northern speech, that ‘using’ is intended by mamuk (other than by appeal to the context).

Given this vagueness, it’s thus no surprise that we have some evidence for a newer borrowing of a highly precise term from locally spoken BC English:



This word yus is not common, but in the 1902 “Chinook Book of Devotions throughout the Year”, on page 174, I found this passage, and there’s really no mistaking the meaning:

yus passage

Ankati msaika yus msaika itluil pus
mamuk masachi: tlus alta msaika yus
iaka pus mamuk tlus.

‘Formerly you folks used your body(ies) to 
do evil: now you should use 
it to do good.’

Bonus facts:

1. My previous best analysis was that the above were two similar but distinct expressions in Jargon, a prefixal mamuk- Causative for ‘making things be a certain way’ vs. a verbal mámuk for ‘using’. Since arriving at the view that CW is a “Fluid-S” Active-Stative language (not a Nominative-Accusative one), I’ve found that various elements of the grammar that used to be messier, like this one, now have comparatively elegant, simple explanations. 

2. It’s worth passing along an observation made by Henry Zenk et al. in the Grand Ronde Tribes language program, that CW mamuk- causatives retain something of the semantics of the verb mámuk that they historically derive from, in that it’s normally only humans that can be the subject (the causer). Such fossilization, keeping no-longer-necessary properties after a linguistic change, is really common in languages — another example is the behavior of abstract nouns noted above — and it’s one of the reasons why I’m always talking in terms of “linguistic archaeology”. You really can excavate a lot of past human culture by careful attention to present-day language. 

What do you think?