Didactic dialogues in CW dictionaries, Part 4F (Gibbs 1863 ex phrases/sentences) — a deep dive!

The sixth part our mini-mini-series on George Gibbs’s 1863 example sentences of Chinuk Wawa takes you to the water, and drops you in. Let’s go deep!

grammar police water bottle

Grammar Police water bottle courtesy of Society6

Here are the usage illustrations he gives that involve “chuck” (tsə́qw), ‘water’…

  1. Chuck chahko. ‘The tide rises’
    (tsə́qw cháku. Literally, ‘water come.here.’)
  2. Chuck kalipi. ‘The tide falls’
    (tsə́qw k’ílapay. Lit. ‘water return.’)
  3. Elip lolo chuck. ‘In the first place carry water.’
    (íləp, lúlu tsə́qw. Lit. ‘first, bring water.’)
  4. Mahsh chuck kopa boat. ‘Bail the boat out.’
    (másh tsə́qw kʰupa pót. Lit. ‘remove water from boat.’ Can also be used as ‘throw water into the boat’!)

There’s no particularly complicated Chinuk Wawa grammar there. But there are useful points to think of, which can help you speak and understand this language better.

All four sentences have “active” subjects, so they put the subject word before the verb. Yes, ‘water’ is seen as able to take action, in the Jargon. So in instances like #1 & #2, when you have tsə́qw as the subject, it’s likely to be doing just that, and denoting ‘the sea’, ‘the river’, ‘the lake’, or another body of water.

When tsə́qw is the object of the verb, it’s more likely to be referring to the physical substance ‘water’ as a quantity. This is what’s going on #3 & #4.

Hang on, though. You might be wondering, where’s the so-called “subject” that comes before the verbs in #3 & #4? There’s no subject word pronounced there at all!

Well, both sentences are commands. And in your Joe Average “imperative” sentence, you don’t pronounce the pronoun that signals who you’re talking to. Presumably that’s mayka ‘you Singular’. (A majority of the world’s languages work more or less like this.) I assure you, us linguists get trained to find the patterns in each language, and for me, the pattern in Chinook Jargon is that “active” subjects precede the verb. Therefore, I analyze CJ active commands as having a “silent YOU” subject 🙄 before the predicate.

“Stative” commands would be a more complicated question. How do you order someone to, for example, “be happy”, “be tall”, or “exist”?

I’m forced into just a few choices to illustrate state-of-being imperatives in Chinuk Wawa. Your prototypical stative verb in this language is an adjective — but there are vastly fewer of them than e.g. the many thousands of adjectives in English.

Instead, a big percentage of the ideas that us English-speakers would expect to put as adjectives are really expressed by verbs in CW. For instance, ‘industrious’ would be the verb kəmtəks-mámuk (literally like saying ‘knows how to work’). And check this out — such verbs are non-stative!

More about that: the verb kə́mtəks ‘to know; to understand’ something (the source of the ‘Characteristic Action’ prefix kəmtəks-) is active, and I’m constantly drawing your attention to how Jargon words hold onto their historical traits even after they change function, pronunciation, etc.; so sure enough, kəmtəks- takes active subjects as well. Likewise mámuk is an active verb.

Therefore, kəmtəks-mámuk has an active subject, so in a declarative sentence you’d put that subject before the verb: yaka kəmtəks-mámuk ‘she’s industrious’. And — if you’re able to say ‘be industrious’ as a command in Jargon, which I doubt — the imperative form would involve dropping the active-subject pronoun: *kəmtəks-mámuk!* Let me emphasize that that command sounds UNGRAMMATICAL & RUDE to me.

Here’s why. In my experience of Chinuk Wawa, you never ever directly order someone to “be this or that”, the way this bossy English language does. This language understands that folks have no control over most of their individual traits. The closest approach to commanding such things that I find to be grammatical and acceptable in Jargon is to use the milder command/request forms:

  • ɬúsh (pus) mayka kəmtəks-mámuk! [all dialects]
    (Sounds like ~ ‘you ought to be industrious’ to me.)
  • k’úyʔ (pus) mayka kəmtəks-mámuk! [southern dialect only]
    (Sounds like ~ ‘I wish you were industrious’ to me.)
  • níxwá mayka kəmtəks-mámuk! [southern dialect only]
    (Sounds like ~ ‘go ahead & be industrious’ to me.)

And that’s only, so far, talking about a syntactically active verb that’s only the notional equivalent of a stative.

What about actual syntactically stative verbs? Such as the examples I introduced above, “be happy”, “be tall”, or “exist”. (Which of course are also notionally stative.)

The answer is exactly the same, due to that ultra-important Chinook Jargon grammar/culture rule that I’ve just taught you: We don’t get to order anyone to “be this way”, nor “to exist”. The issue is precisely because these are stative concepts, therefore we can’t phrase them like active ones. So you don’t find active-style subjectless commands in CJ like *ɬúsh-tə́mtəm!* (for ‘be happy!’), *háyásh!* (for ‘be tall!’), or *míɬayt!* (for ‘exist!’). Again we have to turn to the workarounds of the politer request structures:

  • ɬúsh (pus) mayka ɬúsh-tə́mtəm / háyásh / míɬayt! [all dialects]
    (Sounds like ~ ‘you ought to be happy / tall / exist’ to me.)
  • k’úyʔ (pus) mayka ɬúsh-tə́mtəm / háyásh / míɬayt! [southern dialect only]
    (Sounds like ~ ‘I wish you were happy / tall / existed’ to me.)
  • níxwá mayka ɬúsh-tə́mtəm / háyásh / míɬayt! [southern dialect only]
    (Sounds like ~ ‘go ahead & be happy / tall / exist’ to me.)

Of course, all of those ‘exist’ examples are really marginal, in that it’s so hard to imagine when you’d ever urge someone or something to exist! But you do find such expressions in Bible translations, as when God urges light to exist.

Here’s a neat twist, though. In Jargon, just as in English, you can indeed tell someone NOT TO BE like this or that! Such negative stative-verb command expressions are actually frequent. Those’re okay because…did you already see this coming?…you’re then telling someone to actively choose to be/not be a certain way — you’re telling them to act, not to be. Understand that? I know, it’s weird, but it’s true.

Here are legit examples I’ve heard in Chinuk Wawa, where you’ll see that negative commands typically include the subject pronoun:

  • wik ma kakwa! (heard from an extremely fluent southern-dialect speaker)
    not you be.that.way!
    ‘Don’t be like that!’
  • ikta mamuk mayka k’was nayka? … hilu mayka kakwa! (in a northern-dialect love song)
    what make you fear me? … not you be.that.way!
    ‘Why are you afraid of me? … Don’t be like that!’

(If you left out the subject pronoun in the preceding examples, they’d be indistinguishable from saying ‘it’s not like that’, with the “silent IT” subject pronoun. The same can be said of lots of other negative commands.)

Another important twist is that at least one otherwise stative-verb expression, if used as an explicit command, switches (due to the “Fluid-S” nature of this language) from stative to active (i.e. intentional action) meaning, e.g.:

  • míɬayt!
    ‘sit!’ or ‘stay!’, but not *’be!*’ or ‘*exist!*’
    (also, identical with ‘it exists’)

They say water is the source of everything. Today we’ve flowed from talking about water, to thinking about the deep cultural philosophy of Chinuk Wawa, to learning some useful pointers about how to speak this “Fluid-S” language…fluently.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?