Things Chinuk Wawa doesn’t do (Part 1)

I’ve mentioned, over the years, many things you just won’t be able to do when talking Chinook Jargon. I think these are valuable little lessons in how to talk this language right…

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Got your attention! Image credit: Walden University

I’d better say right now, this is not me agreeing that this is somehow a “simple” or “inferior” language! Read my PhD dissertation to see a very large number of complexities going on in Chinook.

Now getting right into it:

  • Passive.

There’s no Passive “voice” in Chinook Jargon.

Us linguists have precise definitions of what a Passive is.

But, for my normal reader, let me just say there’s no way to say stuff like ‘I was hugged by Grandma’, without that expression also (and more fundamentally) meaning something else.

  • There are plenty of single words in Jargon that sound, in their usual English translations, like Passives. The word t’sə́m essentially means ‘written’. But those words are actually Stative Verbs in Jargon, meaning ‘to exist in a written state; to be a specimen of writing’.
  • And there is a common strategy in Jargon of saying stuff like ɬaska wáwa, which we often translate in English as ‘it’s said’. But this phrasing actually means ‘they say…’. Which is an Active Verb. Actives are universally agreed to be sort of the opposite of Passives.
  • The Jargon also puts chaku- onto all kinds of expressions, like chaku-ɬq’úp, with a result that we often translate into English like ‘get broken’. That sounds Passive to our ears, but these expressions in Jargon are actually Change-of-State forms, showing that something that previously existed in an un-sliced condition now is sliced. That’s a really different focus that Passives, which emphasize that someone (often unnamed) did something to you.

All of these formations really do show up in Chinuk Wawa where we, thinking in English, expect someone to say something in a Passive form.

But none of these are Passives.

And, the more you understand how CW thinks about stuff that happens in the world, I think the less likely you’ll over-use the above formations.

So you’ll talk more like an elder — like someone who fluently spoke Jargon during its glory days.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?