Didactic dialogues in CW dictionaries, Part 4G (Gibbs 1863 ex phrases/sentences) … acting and intending

In my previous installment of this mini-mini-series of Geo. Gibbs’s example sentences, I talked about a very important concept in Chinuk Wawa’s grammar, the “active” verbs…

active knowledge

(Image credit: Medium)

Today, let’s dwell on just one of those verbs, kə́mtəks ‘to know’.

Some of my linguist readers, depending on their theoretical preferences, might find it surprising that ‘know’ could be an active verb. They might think it’s strictly a verb of perception, taking an “experiencer” argument rather than an active “agent”. Nonetheless, I have not found any distinct syntax going on with perception in CW. (But I will always keep my eyes open for it. So to speak.)

Anyway, being an “active” — not a “stative” — predicate in the Jargon, our kə́mtəks gets placed after its subject, as in these first two examples from Gibbs for the day:

  • Nika kumtuks okook tyee. ‘I know that chief.’
    (nayka kə́mtəks úkuk táyí.)
  • Nika kumtuks Klikatat wau-wau.’ ‘I understand the Klikatat language.’
    (nayka kə́mtəks ɬə́kətət-wáwa. Lit. ‘I know Klickitat talk.’)

But something you can vary pretty freely in the word-order is where to place modifiers such as adverbs, as you’ll see in the next two examples that we have from Gibbs:

  • Yahka hyas kumtuks cooley. ‘He can, i.e. knows how to run well.’
    (yaka hayas-kəmtəks-kúli. Lit. ‘he very-know-run.’
    yaka háyás(h) kəmtəks-kúli. Lit. ‘he much know-run.’)
  • Hyas yakka kumtuks cooley. ‘(of a horse) He can run fast (literally, he knows well to run).’
    (háyás(h) yaka kəmtəks-kúli. Lit. ‘much he know-run.’)

A couple of comments are in order now. First, the two examples just given aren’t using kə́mtəks as their main verb, but instead they have kəmtəks- as the “Characteristic activity” prefix.

Then, the use of < hyas > in the first of these two examples is indeterminate, as I’ve tried to visually indicate. This “word” might be either the de-stressed “Intensifier” prefix hayas- or the regular fully stressed adverb háyás(h) ‘a lot’. There’s not a huge difference in meaning in this instance, but there can be one, with other predicates and phrase structures!

In both of the ‘run well’ sentence versions, Gibbs seems to translate < hyas > as ‘well’, although I’m used to hearing ɬúsh whenever someone literally means ‘to do something in a good way’. This is one of the reasons why I show a different literal translation of < hyas >.

In any case, the main verb in these two is kúli ‘to run’, which is certainly an “active verb”, something done by the subject. (As it happens, it’s something under the subject’s control.*) Therefore the subject still stands before the verb, the same as in the first two examples from Gibbs.

Bonus fact:

* “±Control”, as a grammatical category, is reminiscent of non-European languages, e.g. the Interior branch of the Salish family.

The Chinook Jargon “Active/Stative” verb distinction is not, however, about control. Instead it’s more about the difference between something that you “are” and something that you “do”. (Let me leave it there for now.) All dialects of CJ are based on this distinction.

Only in the more Interior Salish-influenced Kamloops-area variety of northern-dialect CJ do we also find a clear grammatical category “Out of Control”. (My dissertation reported this discovery.) There, the word t’ɬáp ‘find; catch’ has further developed into a prefix showing that the subject experienced or achieved the verbal predicate without having made it happen. This t’ɬap- prefix can go on both active and stative verbs, for example these:

  • t’ɬap-ɬax̣áwyam ‘wind up being miserable’
  • t’ɬap-skúkum-hàws ‘get thrown into prison’
  • t’ɬap-mamuk-kə́t ‘manage to cut it’ (with Chinook Jargon’s “silent IT”)
  • t’ɬap-kə́mtəks ‘to find out’

Let me end with a final remark.

This t’ɬap- might seem like a “Passive” marker, if you’re looking at the ‘get thrown into prison’ sort of example. But none of the other examples I’m showing you could possibly be taken as Passives. The only unifying meaning here is ‘it happened without my control’. So the remaining 3 examples are saying more literally, ‘wind up being imprisoned’, ‘wind up cutting it’, and ‘wind up knowing (it)’.

Besides, Chinuk Wawa has no Passive voice. As my dissertation also reported, all we have is a conventionalized use of the 3rd person plural subject ɬaska ‘they’, as in this line from a Native-written letter:

Pi hilu nayka kəmtəks pus ikta nayka mamuk kopa yaka, pi ɬaska wawa pus wik-saya nayka mamuk-miməlus yaka.

‘And I’m not aware of having done anything to her, but it’s said [literally ‘they say’] supposedly I nearly killed her.’

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?