Progress on ‘when’ in Kamloops CW

By chance, we don’t exactly know how to say ‘when’…


(Image credit: emaze)

…in the northern / BC variety of Chinook Jargon…

…at least, not from the Indigenous people’s CJ letters that I used as the basis of the grammar description in my dissertation.

There, I found that the one known term for ‘when’ was kah son (qʰá-sán in Grand Ronde style), literally ‘where-day’! 

Even more limiting, we only find that expression being used in the BC letters as the relative ‘when’, i.e. ‘at the time when…’ So we haven’t known how to ask ‘when?’, i.e. ‘at what time?’

I’m of the opinion that we can augment our understanding of BC Chinuk Wawa, though, by thoughtful reading of the newspaper Kamloops Wawa (1891-1904) and the books published by the same small press. 

A particularly useful source, I find, is the Chinook Manual, a Kamloops collection of prayers, hymns, and catechism from 1896. 

In that book we find some illustrative occurrences of kah (qʰá in Grand Ronde style), literally ‘where’ but sometimes used as ‘when’.

An especially clear usage is the expression pus k’o kah X (with X being a verb phrase) — this would be pus q’úʔ qʰá X if the same usage existed at Grand Ronde, literally ‘when it arrives where X happens’. This expression has two uses or meanings, ‘until X happens’ and ‘when it’s time to X / when you’re about to X’. (The latter sense has a nice “verbal aspect” function that I think we can get a lot of use out of.)

Examples of both:

  • Alta tlus msaika wit pus iaka k’o kah msaika haha milalam… (page 62)
    ‘Now you folks should wait until you make confession…’
  • Ikta mamuk nsaika pyusim pus k’o kah nsaika styuil, pus k’o kah nsaika mamuk? (page 87)
    ‘Why do we make the sign of the cross when it’s time for us to pray, (and) when it’s time for us to work?’

  • Tlus Mari, S[ahali] T[aii] iaka mama, styuil pus nsaika, klahawiam tilikom, alta pi pus k’o kah nsaika mimlus. (page 46)
    ‘Blessed Mary, god’s mother, pray for us, poor people, now and when we’re about to die.’

We also find variants on this expression, with pi k’o kopa… (‘and arriving at…’), and with the above-noted kah son (literally ‘where day’): 

  • …wik kansih wiht naika mamuk masachi pi k’o kopa kah son alki naika mimlus. (page 71)
    ‘…never again will I do bad things until I eventually die.’

…and also with the parallel expression kah tintin (literally ‘where hour’) — 

  • Tlus ilo tanas makmak pi ilo tanas chok klatwa kikuli kopa nsaika labush kopa sitkom pulakli pi k’o kah tintin nsaika iskom ⊕… (page 93)
    ‘No bit of food and no bit of drink should go down our mouths (throats) from midnight until we take communion…’

I also perceive traces of a simpler expression ‘at some time; at any time; whenever’ that just uses kah ‘where’:

  • Drit alki naika tlus nanich naika tomtom, pus kah naika nanich masachi, aiak naika kwash… (page 45)
    ‘Really I will keep watch over my heart, (and) if ever I see evil things, I’ll immediately be afraid…’

Contrast all of the above with the use of a different motion verb, having a definite subject rather than ‘it’, in this expression — this I think can have only the literal meaning, ‘where’ (‘at the place where…’) :

  • …klaska skukum hol iaka lima pi iaka lipii pus klaska chako kopa kah alki klaska nil kopa lakrwa. (page 74)
    ‘…they yanked his hands and feet when they came to where they were going to nail them to the cross.’

You might be noticing, though, that even this new discovery leaves us still limited to stating relative times. And this is actually bizarre to me, as there’s already a heavily used relative-when word, pus. (It also means ‘if’, but which sense the speaker means is almost always very clear.) I still have not yet found a clear indication of how to inquire ‘when?’ (‘at what time?’), in the northern dialect. Oh well, I’ll keep researching…

I feel that kah, in its usage as ‘when’, likely has something in common with other non-literal usages in CW. The original meaning of the word (‘where’ in Lower Chinookan and then in the Jargon), is pretty concrete, because it refers to the physical world.

Assuming that its later use as ‘when’ retains some of those semantics, as we so often see in CW’s metaphors, I’m imagining that the original inspiration for it might have been in a mild misunderstanding. Folks at some point long ago might have asked things like ‘where did you shoot that deer?’ and been understood as asking ‘when’.

Plus, a not-uncommon sort of answer to that question would’ve been ‘two days away’, because long distances were traditionally expressed by travel times. 

From all of this, we might extrapolate that a proper BC Jargon way to ask the question ‘when?’ would be “Kah?”

And at some point in our revitalization of this vitally important historical language of the province, we’ll need to decide for sure how we’re going to ask ‘when’. 

Bonus fact:

‘When’ in the southern dialect of Chinuk Wawa, exemplified by Grand Ronde tribal usage, is easy: qʰə́nchi.

Oddly enough, that word too has multiple meanings, also functioning to express ‘how much?’

Are you starting to suspect that there’s something odd about languages and time measurement?

What do you think?
Kata maika tomtom?