A note on the first person plural in Chimariko

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A note on the first person plural in Chimariko  (1920) 
by Edward Sapir
International Journal of American Linguistics, Vol. 1, No. 4 (1920), pp. 291-294.

I know of few irrevocable facts in the domain of American linguistics that are quite so regrettable as our scanty knowledge of Chimariko. What attention I have been able to give the Hokan problem has tended to convince me that in Chimariko we possess, or possessed, one of the most archaic languages of the whole group, perhaps the one language in California which came nearest a faithful representation of the theoretical Hokan prototype. As it is, we must make shift to get on with such material as has been spared us and be doubly thankful for the fragmentary data that Dixon was able to secure in 1906 from the one or two aged or half-witted survivors of the tribe[1]. The present note will serve to illustrate how unexpected and far-reaching may be the threads that bind Chimariko to geographically remote languages in California.

The first personal pronominal affix for Chimariko verbs always, or nearly always, shows clearly related forms for singular and plural. This will be evident from the following[2]:

tc-, first person singular. Prefixed or suffixed as subject of intransitive verbs, with adjectival stems. Prefixed as object of transitive verbs.

tca-, tco-, first person plural. Prefixed or suffixed as subject of intransitive verbs, with adjectival stems. This suffix[3] is distinguished from singular tc- by change of vowel. If the singular has a as connecting vowel, the plural has o, and vice-versa. Prefixed as object of transitive verbs.

i-, y-, first person singular. Prefixed or suffixed as subject of intransitive verbs, with verbal stems. Prefixed as subject of transitive verbs.

ya-; we-, w-, first person plural. Prefixed or suffixed as subject of intransitive verbs, with verbal stems. Prefixed (va-) as subject of transitive verbs.”

Further on Dixon remarks[4]:

“It will be seen that two wholly different forms are given in both singular and plural for the first person. In the use of the one or the other of these, there is a fairly clear distinction in use. The first type, tc, is never employed with verbal stems indicating action or movement, but with those, on the contrary, which indicate a state or condition. On the other hand, whereas the second form, i, y, is invariably used with the former class of verbal stems, it is also used with the latter, but is then always suffixed. In most cases, there is no confusion between the two forms, i. e., if the first person singular is i or y, the first person plural is ya. A few instances appear, however, in which this does not hold, and we have i in the singular, and tc or ts in the plural. In a limited number of cases also, either form may apparently be used, as qε·-i-xanan, qε·-tce-xanan I shall die, i-saxni, tca-sxani I cough [perhaps better understood as stem asax-, with i displacing a- of stem; tc- prefixed: tc-asax-ni. Cf. tc-a·wi·n I fear and other singulars in tc-a-]. A phonetic basis is to some extent observable, in that tc or ts is never a prefix when the verbal stem begins with a vowel. [This seems doubtful.] As between i and y, it appears that the latter is always used before stems beginning with a vowel except i, whereas i is employed before stems beginning with i or with consonants. [There seems, however, to be some evidence to show that i- may displace the initial stem vowel, just as u of tcu- my displaces the initial vowel of the noun stem, e.g. m-isam thy ear, h-isam his ear, but tcu-sam my ear.] The first persons singular and plural are distinguished from each other, where the form tc is used, only by a change of connecting vowel already pointed out. [Dixon’s “connecting vowel”, in the verb as in th enoun, as is shown by general Hokan comparative evidence, is in all probability either the initial vowel of the stem or a prefixed vowel inhering in the pronominal or other prefixed element.]

“The pronominal elements as given, are, when used as prefixes, attached to the verb by means of connecting vowels. These... often show some relation to the vowel of the verbal stem, but this is noticeable chiefly in the case of o and u stems. The first person singular and plural are distinguished from each other only by the change in this connecting vowel. As a rule, the first person singular it tco- or tcu-, whereas the plural is tca-. In one or two instances, however, this seems to be reversed.”

Forms with combined prefixed pronominal subject and object involving the first person are given by Dixon as follows:

i-: I-thee, I-him, I-ye
ya-: we-thee, we-him, we-ye, we-them; he-us
tcu-, tca-: he-me, they-me
tca-: he-us, they-us

The material contained in Dixon’s paper is hardly sufficient to enable us to unravel all the details of first person pronominal usage. Much remains uncertain or obscure. It is fairly clear that a number of phonetic laws are operative that Dixon has not succeeded in disentangling; it is also possible that certain phonetic niceties not explicitly taken into account, particularly vocalic quantity, may be significant. Thus, it is observable that verb stems in a- with preceding first personal y- show a ye- in the first person singular, ya- in the first person plural; e.g., from -ama- to eat: y-ema I eat, ya-ma let us eat. Apparently, in the singular the a- of the stem has been palatalized to e by the preceding y-; in the plural the ya- of the pronominal prefix has displaced the a- of the stem, or the two a- vowels have contracted to a single vowel that ordinarily resists palatalization. It seems more likely that the -a- of ya- and tca- regularly displace initial stem vowels. The simplest statement of the facts that it seems possible to formulate is as follows:

Sing. Plur.
Subjective (i.e. subject of active verb) y- (before vowels) ya-
i- (before consonants)
Objective (i.e. subject of static verb and object of transitive verb) -i -ya
tcu- (before consonants) tca-; -tca
tc- (before vowels);
-tcu, -tc-

The vowels of tcu- (singular) and of ya- and tca- (plural) are probably inherent vowels of the prefixes that normally displace initial stem vowels; tca- for tcu- and tco- for tca- are probably secondary phonetic developments due to assimilation, contraction, or elision. The first person plural, then, is formed from the corresponding singular by adding an -a- to the y- or tc- of the singular or by displacing the vowel of the singular tcu- by an -a-. In other words, the really essentially element of the affixed first person plural of Chimariko is -a-.

The truth of this is confirmed by certain first person plural forms in a- (without preceding y- or tc-) that are not explicitly discussed by Dixon but are scattered about in his texts. The verb -uwam-, -owam to go (-wam- appears also as -wum-, -waum-) regularly appears with “connecting vowel” -u-, -o-, e.g.:

y-owa′m-xa-nan I’ll go (p. 349, l. 11)
y-uwaum-xa′-nan I shall go (349.5)
y-uwau′m-ia I go (349.2)
m-owa′m-xa-nan you shall go (349.14)
h-owa′m-da he went (349.1)
n-u·′wam go! (349.8; n- is second perosn singular imperative)
n-u·wa′um go back! (351.1)
nu·-g-u·wa′m-na “don’t go!” (350.18)

With these forms contrast the following first person plurals:

a·′-wam let’s go (351.9; 343.4)
a·-wa′m go (359.5)
a-wa′m let’s go (351.18)
a-wu′m let’s go (341.6)
a-wa′m-an we’ll go (351.16)
na·′tcidut a·′-wam we go (349.9)
xoko-lε·′-tce a-wa′m-xa-nan two-of-us will-go 350.1; 351.3)
xotai′-re-tce a-wa′m-xa-nan (we)-three will-go (350.15)

Obviously a- is here a pronominal element, displacing, as do ya- and tca-, the initial vowel of the stem. The verb -uwam- probably contains a suffixed, perhaps local, -m-, as shown by other derivatives of -uwa, e.g.:

n-u·a-kta go (359.6)
m-u·′a-dok-ni you come back (360.2)

In such verbs also the first person plural is characterized by an a- displacing the u- of the stem, e.g.:

a-wa-kda-xa′n let’s go around (341.10; 11)

Finally, the negative of the first person plural, ordinarily ya-x-, tca-x-, is for the verb -uwa-(m-) apparently a-x-, e.g.:

a-x-am-gu-tcai′-da-nan (we) don’t want to go (350.14)

On the basis of Cimariko alone one might surmise that the original form for the first person plural pronominal prefix (perhaps only for the “subjective” series) was a- and that the ya- (and perhaps also tca-) forms arose under the influence of the singular. An original Hokan paradigm for the first person pronominal prefixes:

Sing. i- Plur. a-

is, indeed, preserved in Salinan[5]. The contrast of sing. i- (which generally appears in Salinan as e-; for Salinan e < i c.f. Antoniaño epa·l tongue, Migueleño ipaʟ < Hokan *ipali, Chimariko ipen, Achomawi ip‘li): plur. a- appears in the independent personal pronoun (Antoniaño he·’k‘ I, ha·’k‘ we; Migueleño k‘e’ I, k‘a’ we); in the prefixed subjective elements (e- I, a- we); and in the locative pronominal series (-k’e to me, -k’a to us). The possessive pronominal prefixes are all but analogous. The first person singular is characterized by the absence of a prefix except, in the case of stems with initial vowel, for the prefixed article-like element ṭ-, which is not properly a possessive pronominal element; the corresponding plural has ṭ-a-, the article-like ṭ- plus the properly pronominal -a-, or (before vowels) ṭ-a-ṭ-, in which ṭ- seems to be used pleonastically. The only pronominal series in Salinan not characterized by a distinctive a- in the first person plural is the objective, suffixed to the verb (-ak me; -t’ak us); here the plural is derived from the singular by means of the common Salinan pluralizing element -t- (c.f. also -ka thee: -t’kam you; -o, -ko him: ot, -kot them).

It is the series of subjective pronominal prefixes that most closely corresponds to the Chimariko “subjective” series. This is true for all persons, as indicated in the following comparative table:

Chimariko Salinan
Sing. 1 y-, i- e-
2 m- m-
3 h-
Plur. 1 a-; ya- a-
2 q- k- (subject of 2nd per. plur. imperative[6])
3 h-

As so often in Chimariko, the Salinan pronominal elements of the first person frequently, if not regularly, displace or contract with the initial vowel of the stem or displace the vowel of a preceding element (e.g. ko- not; k-e- not I, k-a not we). Examples of Salinan forms in e- and a- are:

e-ki am I going? are we going?
k-e-cxai’ I woke up (’icxai’ to arise at dawn) n-a-paʟa let us dance
k-e-k‘a·k’a I will not sing k-a-suxtax we are not afraid
m e-yax when i came (iyax to come) m-a-ya when we go (iya several go)

Note that i- of iya to go, iyax to come (for i- cf. Washo iye to go; for -x < -k‘ c.f. Chimariko -uwa-k- to come < -uwa-, -uwa-m- to go and Yana -k‘i- hither, e.g. ni-sa- to go away, ni-k‘i- to come) is displaced by first person plural pronominal a- as in Chimariko (e.g. ya-mitcit-ni we kick, h-imitcit-ni he kicks; stem -imitcit-, cf. Hokan *imi'- leg).

  1. Roland B. Dixon, The Chimariko Indians and Language (University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, vol. 5, pp. 293-380, 1910).
  2. Dixon, op. cit., p. 318.
  3. Read doubtless “affix”.
  4. Op. cit., pp. 325, 326.
  5. See J. A. Mason, The Language of the Salinan Indians (University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, vol. 14, pp. 1-154, 1918).
  6. Treated by Mason (p. 41) as a modal (imperative) prefix of the plural, but evidently pronominal, as shown by the parallel use of pronominal m- in the imperative of the singular, by the analogy of the Salinan possessive form t-k-, t-uk-, t-ko your, and by the comparison of other Hokan dialects (besides Chimariko q-, qo-, qe- we have also Yana -ga ye). Cf. also Washo ge-, imperative prefix; this is likely to be the old second person plural prefix, generalized for both numbers. The leveling of singular and plural pronominal prefixes is characteristic of Washo. The pronominal analogies of Washo ge- have been already pointed out by Kroeber.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1939, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.