Didactic dialogues in CW dictionaries, Part 4E (Gibbs 1863 ex phrases/sentences)

The fifth installment in our mini-series on the exemplary Chinuk Wawa utterances of George Gibbs!

Gibbs quotes us some examples of how to use the adverb now spelled as chxí in the Grand Ronde writing system.

It means ‘just a moment ago’, ‘suddenly’, and ‘just starting to do something’.

Chxi is not best analyzed as a tense marker, because it’s totally optional to use this and the other adverbs (alta, anqati, aɬqi) expressing time relative to the moment of speaking.

Because it retains (as is usual in Chinuk Wawa) trace characteristics of the Indigenous, particularly SW Washington Salish, languages, chxi can be sort of thought of as a predicate, thus expressing ‘it was just now (that/and)…’

This word goes at the start of the phrase, as in Gibbs’s examples:

  • Chee nika ko. ‘I have just arrived.’
    (chxí nayka q’úʔ. lit. ‘just.now I arrive’) 
  • Chee klaska ko. ‘They have just come.’
    (chxí ɬaska q’úʔ. lit. ‘just.now they arrive’).
  • Chee yakka klah. ‘Now he is in sight.’
    (chxí yaka ɬáx̣. lit. ‘just.now (s)he be.in.sight’


Thinking of chxi as the predicate of these sentences implies that the material after it is its subject!

So we’d literally be saying ‘my arriving was just now’, etc. (‘It was just now, my arriving (was).’) 

This matches Indigenous grammar, specifically that of SW WA Salish — which likes to start a clause with e.g. an adverbial or quantifier predicate, followed by a possessed nominalization of the notional main verb.

It also helps account for why intransitive, stative verbs like ‘be.in.sight’ have their “subject” preceding rather than following, which would be normal; the “subject” here is actually a possessor, in this view, and CW possessors always precede the thing possessed.) 

See how Gibbs translates chxi as ‘just’ and ‘now’.

You can combine chxi with the adverb álta ‘(and) now’. (That definition of alta is meant to show you how that word indicates both the present moment and the immediately following one. This explains why alta is constantly used in stories: “And then…and then…and then…”) Alta has to come directly after — never before chxi — to generate a synonymous statement:

  • chxi alta nayka q’uʔ.
  • chxi alta ɬaska q’uʔ.
  • chxi alta yaka ɬax̣.

To my mind, the logic behind the Jargon’s allowing only this one ordering in this adverb pair-up is intuitive. It makes sense to say ‘It was just now, and then (X happened)’, but it’s not so logical to try saying ‘and then, (and) it was just now’ that it happened.

Chxi doesn’t combine with any further tense-related adverbs. You don’t find *chxi anqati* (? ‘just now long in the past’?), *chxi aɬqi* (? ‘just now way in the future’ ?), or a redundant *chxi chxi*.

Bonus fact:

Image credit: University of Washington Digital Collections

This word chxi is also used as an adjective, meaning ‘new; fresh’. Specifically it gets used as an “attributive” adjective, preceding  the noun that it modifies, as in:

  • chxi-wam-iliʔi ‘springtime’ (literally ‘new-warm-land’;
    this phrase, I believe, probably started out historically as a comment ‘the ground’s just (getting) warm now’ — see my comments on Salish above — but I certainly hear speakers now using this as a normal noun phrase, for instance often referring to
    ukuk chxi-wam-iliʔi ‘this spring’.)
  • chxi-tilixam ‘young person/people; teenager(s)’ (literally ‘new-people’) 

You don’t tend to find fluent speakers using chxi to make “predicative adjective” (in Jargon really “stative verb”) comments like ‘this one is new’, *chxi ukuk* / *ukuk chxi*. That first attempted version sounds incomplete, as if you were trying to say ‘this one is just now (becoming…)’. The second version sounds just as if you’re thinking in English instead of in Chinuk Wawa. This strikes me as one area where CW simply says something different involving an attributive adjective, for example:

  • nayka t’ɬap chxi t’sikt’sik ‘I got a new car’
  • chxi alta nayka kəmtəks Ø ‘this is the first I’ve heard of it; it’s new to me’ (literally ‘just now I know it’)

One big fact that’s relevant here is that it’s comparatively rare for an inanimate or abstract thing to be the subject of a clause, in languages all over the world. So it’s more natural for us to phrase things such that that thing is the object.

I think this adjectival behavior quirk also traces to the above-mentioned history of chxi as an adverb in Chinookan.

I feel there’s also a link with the strong universal tendency of languages to have a word for ‘new’ if they only have a few true adjectives. Chinook Jargon of course has very few adjective “lexemes” (root words), because it has very few lexemes. So I can’t be surprised about CJ adjectives behaving in ways that reveal their origins in other “syntactic classes” such as adverbs, nouns, etc.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?