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Chitimacha diachrony in areal perspective: Lessons from an isolate

  • Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana

Abstract and Figures

Within historical linguistics, language isolates are often viewed as a problem. Their isolate status makes it difficult to peer into their history, and internal reconstruction is generally thought to be of limited utility. Campbell (2013:170–172) briefly discusses how historical linguists might productively gain insights into the diachrony of language isolates, but notes the “frequent sentiment that it is not to be tolerated that there should be languages with no relatives” (p. 170). Chitimacha (ISO 639-3: ctm) is one such isolate from Louisiana. It was documented extensively by Albert S. Gatschet, John R. Swanton, and Morris Swadesh from 1881–1934 (Gatschet 1881a; Gatschet 1881b; Gatschet 1883; Swanton 1908; Swanton 1920; Swadesh 1939), and its last native speaker passed away in 1939. Very little has been published on the language, and the majority of what has been published reflects the sentiment mentioned by Campbell – attempts to resolve Chitimacha’s isolate status by incorporating it into this or the other language family (Swanton 1919; Swadesh 1946; Swadesh 1947; Haas 1951; Haas 1952; Gursky 1969; Brown, Wichmann & Beck 2014). None of these proposals has been widely accepted (Campbell & Kaufman 1983; Kimball 1992; Kimball 1994; Campbell 1997). This talk attempts to view Chitimacha’s status not as a problem to be solved, but as a potential treasure trove of insights into the social and linguistic history of both the Chitimacha language and the Southeast U.S. more generally. Because of the limited accessibility of the Chitimacha corpus until recently, and the prevailing interest in language classification, the precise nature of Chitimacha’s participation in the Southeast linguistic area has until now remained largely uncertain. This talk uses language-internal evidence to shed some initial light onto that history and the relationship between Chitimacha and the other languages of the Southeast. In this talk I examine the language-internal evidence for the diachrony of three major grammatical features of Chitimacha: positional auxiliary verbs, switch-reference, and agent-patient alignment. Using archival data from Morris Swadesh (1939), I show that each of these features has a clear, language-internal diachronic pathway, wherein existing lexical and grammatical material were recruited for these new functions. However, each of these features is shared by other unrelated languages of the Southeast U.S., suggesting that their development in Chitimacha was in fact motivated by contact. How then did Chitimacha borrow these structural features without borrowing any lexical or grammatical material? Following Mithun (2012), I propose that multilingual speakers in the Southeast carried over discourse-level patterns of managing information flow into Chitimacha, and that as these discourse patterns became more frequent and routinized, they grammaticalized into major features of Chitimacha grammar. It is not grammatical structures themselves that are borrowed, but rather a preference for packaging information in discourse in ways that parallel grammatical structures in the original language. The existence of these shared structural patterns between Chitimacha and other languages shows that Chitimacha is indeed situated firmly within the Southeast linguistic area. Chitimacha’s isolate status, rather than forming a barrier to our understanding of Southeastern history, in fact provides a unique window into the history of the Southeast, as well as mechanisms of contact-induced grammatical change.
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Lessons from an isolate: Chitimacha diachrony in areal perspective
Daniel W. Hieber
University of California, Santa Barbara
SSILA 2018, January 5, Salt Lake City
(handout and slides available at
1. Introduction
Chitimacha is a language isolate in the Southeast linguistic area
Spoken in Louisiana until the death of its last native speaker in 1940
Archival materials from documentation from 1802–1934:
o 1802: word list (Duralde 1802; Jefferson 1808; Du Ponceau 1820)
o 18811882: lexicon, a few texts (Gatschet 1881a; 1881b)
o 19071921: dozen texts, sketch grammar (Swanton 1908; 1920)
o 19301934: 120 texts, 3,500-word lexicon, 200-page grammar (Swadesh 1939a;
Swadesh 1939b; Swadesh 1939c)
Figure 1. Languages of Louisiana and the surrounding region (Swanton 1911)
Issues in the study of isolates
Data from other languages aren’t applicable
Internal reconstruction is limited in its utility
Isolates are a problem to be solved via the comparative method
Today’s talk: Isolates are a bountiful treasure trove of diachronic insights!
Three features of Chitimacha grammar:
I. positional auxiliary verbs (‘sit’, ‘stand’, ‘lie’)
II. switch-reference
III. agent-patient alignment
2. Positional Copular/Auxiliary Verbs
Chitimacha has three different copular verbs which are also used as auxiliaries. The choice of verb
depends on the physical position of the subject:
hi- ‘be sitting (neutral)’ (default form)
či- ‘be standing (vertical)’
pe- ‘be lying (horizontal)’
The auxiliary verb follows the main verb, which is marked with a participial suffix -k, -ːkʼ, -tk,
or -ntʼk, depending on the phonological environment.
Glossing Note: Verbs distinguish first (1) vs. non-first (NF) person. Glossing abbreviations are
provided in the Appendix. The translations are from Swadesh, but the glosses are my own.
hi-, default, neutral use
(1) Waʔ his kečmi-ːkʼ hi-ʔi-n.
‘He was waiting for the others.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A35 4.16)
(2) Kaye hi-ʔuy-i.
‘He was alive.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A19 2.7)
hi-, sitting
(3) Hi tey- hi-ʔuy-ki-n.
‘I was sitting down.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A65 6.3)
(4) Tey=kʼiš hi-ʔi.
sit(SG)=alone NEUT-NF.SG
‘He just sat [there].’ (Swadesh 1939a:A30 4.3)
či-, vertical
(5) We ʔakšuš kuː =ki či-ʔi.
DET cypress water =LOC VERT-NF.SG
‘That cypress stands in the water.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A9 2.4)
(6) ʔuybi=nk piːhni-ːkʼ či-ʔuy-i we šuš =ki.
‘The blood was red on that tree.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A9 2.1)
pe-, horizontal
(7) ʔ ʔinčʼ ʔatin kiš natʼi-ːkʼ pe-ʔe sa šuš kuti=nki.
1SG father big dog lie-PTCP-SUBORD HORIZ-NF.SG DEM tree head=LOC
‘My grandfather’s dog is lying in the top of that tree.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A55 1.10)
(8) Him čiski nowa=nki ʔapš šahtʼi-ː pe-ʔe.
2SG pumpkin mellow=LOC CIRC HORIZ-NF.SG
‘He crawls about amongst your watermelons.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A67 4.4)
All three positional auxiliaries have the same plural forms:
naka 1PL ‘we are sitting/standing/lying’
naʔa NF.PL ‘y’all/they are sitting/standing/lying’
Plural Auxiliaries (with ‘sit’, ‘stand’, and ‘lie’)
(9) ʔ ʔinčʼi ʔ ne we kʼinkkʼank kin hi teni-ːkʼ naku-n.
1SG father 1SG and DET girls with DIST sit(PL)-PTCP AUX(1PL)-PROG
‘My father and I and those girls were sitting.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A65 1.3)
(10) We kimi sekʼis tapšmi-ːkʼ na-ʔuy-na.
DET branch among stand-PTCP AUX(PL)-PAST.IPFV-NF.PL
‘They were standing among those limbs.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A38 1.19)
(11) Kamčin namčʼemi-ːkʼ naʔa šuš tapšn keta=nki.
deer be.camped-PTCP-SUBORD AUX(NF.PL) tree upright side=LOC
‘Deer are lying beside that upright tree.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A66 2.1)
Chitimacha also shows evidence of an earlier auxiliary system:
(12) Kaya=nk ni kʼap-čuy-i.
rain=NOM DEF get-IRR(SG)-NF.SG
‘The rain will get you.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A9 2.3)
(13) ʔampi=nk kin kʼušmi-ːtʼi-naka.
what=ABL with eat-IRR(PL)-1PL.A
‘With what shall we eat it?’ (Swadesh 1939a:A15 5.1)
Irrealis Reflexes
(14) Čʼaː šahyn=iš hup čuy-iʔi.
sun to go(SG)-NF.SG
‘He went toward the sunset.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A2 1.5)
(15) Kʼastʼa=nk hi tʼut-naʔa.
north=LOC AND go(PL)-NF.PL
‘They went toward the north.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A3 2.1)
Past Imperfective
(16) ʔiš=k šuš hup nuhč-k ša-ʔuy-ki-n.
1SG=NOM tree to run-SS sleep-PAST.IPFV-1SG.P-PROG
‘I used to run off to the woods and sleep (there).’ (Swadesh 1939a:A52 1.4)
(17) We=nki hi šakʼit-k hi-ʔuy-i.
‘[During the flood], he hung there.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A10 4.2)
Past Imperfective Reflex
(18) Hatka=nkiš hi ʔuy-naka.
six=alone DIST arrive(PL)-1PL.A
‘Only six arrived (there).’ (also ‘happened upon there’) (Swadesh 1939a:A3 9.2)
Present Imperfective
(19) Ha nasta kap tohw-ʔ-i.
‘This root is breaking.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A75 10.3)
(20) Kaya kap tey-ʔ-i.
‘The rain is stopping.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A84 8.4)
Present Imperfective Reflexes
ʔiš- COP
(21) Kaye ʔ-iki-n.
alive COP-1SG-PROG
‘I’m still alive.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A10 5.2)
(22) ʔus=k kaːkumi-ːkʼ ʔ-naku-n ʔ nitiya.
1PL=NOM know-PTCP COP-1PL-PROG 1PL master
‘We knew that it was our master.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A7 1.4)
=(i)š TOP
Originally a cleft construction, i.e. ‘it was TOPIC that…’
(23) Hus naːnčaːkamank=š we-t=k hi hokm-iʔi.
3SG brothers=TOP DET-ANA=NOM DIST leave-NF.SG
‘He left his brothers.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A1 1.1)
(24) ʔantʼi ʔunkʼu=š nus=up kun namki-ːkʼ hi-ʔuy-i-n.
old one=TOP west=to some live-PTCP AUX(NEUT)-PAST.IPFV-NF.SG-PROG
‘A certain old man lived in the west.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A5 1.1)
(25) Ho kačm= =hiš načpi-ːtʼi-na-n hesikʼen.
DEM doctor=TOP =ERG cure-IRR-NF.PL-PROG again
‘Those doctors will cure you.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A80 3.4)
ʔka ‘they say
Invariant discourse marker
Original meaning was probably ‘it is (the case)’, developing into ‘it is said (that)’, and then
finally (with the addition of the plural -ka) ‘they say (that)’, as in (26).
(26) Kutnehin čʼah ʔ-ka.
God bird COP-PL
‘They say it is God’s bird.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A10 2.3)
Table 1. Summary of diachronic origins of Chitimacha aspectual markers
Aspectual Marker
Diachronic Origin
-čuw- / -tʼi- IRR
čuw- / tʼut- ‘go’
ʔuy- happen’
ʔiš- COP
Chitimacha auxiliaries were reanalyzed as aspectual markers, but underwent a process of renewal.
The positional verbs ‘sit’, ‘stand’, and ‘lie’ underwent auxiliation (cf. Kuteva 2001) to replace the
original auxiliary system.
Positional auxiliary verbs are an areal feature of the Southeast.
Table 2. Comparison of positional auxiliary verbs in several Southeastern languages
Chitimacha (isolate)
Atakapa (isolate; Swanton 1929)
Choctaw (Muskogean; Broadwell 2006:209211)
Tunica (isolate; Haas 1946:349351)
-hki ‘exist’
The forms in each language are unrelated, but the pattern is the same.
In the Muskogean languages, the positional auxiliaries also replaced an earlier set of
auxiliaries (Booker 1980:187ff). Those earlier auxiliaries were incorporated into the verb, and
reanalyzed as various voice markers.
Chitimacha followed a parallel grammaticalization process.
3. Switch Reference
Chitimacha has a means of distinguishing same-subject vs. different-subject in clause chains (Hieber
2016). Same-subject (SS) is marked with -k, -ːkʼ, -tk, or -ntʼk, depending on the phonological
environment. Different-subject (DS) is marked with a full set of person suffixes.
(27) Piya ših hi kʼaːct-k, wetk we nuš kʼapt-k ʔutp =k
cane belly DIST cut-SS then DET stone take-SS leather =LOC
ʔapš waːct-k, huykʼi ʔapš ʔuti-ːkʼ, wetk we piya kʼaːcn =ki
SOC wrap-SS good SOC tie-SS then DET cane cut.piece =LOC
hi šahčt-k, wetkš huykʼi kas hukt-k, wetkš hesikʼen ʔutp
AND then good back close-SS then again leather
hi kʼapt-k, we piya kʼaːcn we ʔutp =ki ʔapš waːct-k,
DIST take-SS DET cane cut.piece DET leather =LOC SOC wrap-SS
huykʼi ʔapš ʔuti-ːkʼ, wey-t hukʼu kas nučmi-ːkʼ,
good SOC tie-SS DEM-ANA COP(EMPH) back work-SS
kas hamča-ːš-naʔa.
back keep-PRES.IPFV-NF.PL(DS)
‘They cut a cane joint, take the stones and wrap them in hide, tie them well, put them into the
section of cane, cork them well, again take hide and wrap the cane section in the hide, tie it
well, and, having prepared it in that way, they save it.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A71 3.3)
(28) Wenk hi ču-ːkʼ kuː kʼapt-k we ʔakšuš
now DIST go(SG)-SS=TOP water take-SS DET cypress
hi tʼeyktepi-ču-ø-ːš, kayi paːhmpa him ni kʼapt-ʼiš-i.
‘Now if you go there, take water, and (if) you splash that cypress, thunder gets you.’
(Swadesh 1939a:A9 2.5)
The SS marker developed out of a participle (Hieber 2016):
(29) Kiš ʔatin nuhčpa-pa kʼiht-k hi-ʔi ?
dog big want-PTCP AUX(NEUT)-NF.SG
‘Do you want your horse to run?’ (Swadesh 1939a:A67 6.2)
(30) Kaːcpa=nk ʔam ʔoonak =hiš kʼet-k ʔap tʼuːt-š-naʔa.
stick=ABL everything =INSTR beat(SG)-PTCP VEN go(PL)-PRES.IPFV-NF.PL
‘They came beating him with sticks and so forth.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A9 1.2)
The participle in turn developed from a locative nominalizer -(n)k (Hieber 2016), which is still in
use synchronically:
(31) Šeːni-nk hup hi ničwi-ʔi.
pond-LOC to DIST move(VERT).to.water-NF.SG
‘He came to the edge of a pond.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A2 1.2)
(32) Hi čuy-iʔi namu hi kuti-nk.
AND go(SG)-NF.SG town DIST end-LOC
‘He went to the end of that village.’ (lit. ‘the village’s end’) (Swadesh 1939a:A86 2.11)
This locative can also be suffixed to a fully-conjugated verb (33), and is sometimes metaphorically
extended to the temporal domain (34):
(33) ʔ hi-ki-nk naʔa.
‘You [pl.] are at my place.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A38 1.13)
(34) […] ǯ kap šan-i-nk kʼiš.
sun up go.out-NF.SG-LOC until
‘[…] until the sun comes up.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A64 1.5)
However, these uses appear to be fossilized leftovers from a time when the use of -(n)k on verbs was
more common:
The use of -(n)k with copulas, as in (33), has clearly lexicalized. Hikink ‘my place’ and hiʔink
‘your/his/her place’ are highly frequent, and often translated as ‘my home’ and ‘your/his/her
Cases like (34) are very rare in the synchronic corpus, and occur mostly with the postposition
It seems that, except in the fossilized constructions above, the verbal use of -(n)k continued its
metaphorical extension into the temporal domain, and was reanalyzed as either of two distinct
functions that were in complementary distribution1:
When -(n)k co-occurred with the generic nominalizer -i, it was reanalyzed as a temporal
1 A similar complementary split in functions occurred for nominal uses of -(n)k as well: When -(n)k appeared with the
nominalizer -i, the two affixes were reanalyzed as a single unit, with scope over the noun phrase rather than just the
noun; this became the postposition =(n)ki ‘at, on’. Otherwise, -(n)k remained a locative nominalizer, as shown in (31)
(35) Ney kap šanšw-i-nk-i, […]
earth up go.out-NF.SG-TEMP-NZR
‘When the ground emerged, […]’ (Swadesh 1939a:A10 8.1)
(36) Kʼastʼa ʔap hoː kʼih-čuy-i-nk-i weyǯiːkʼ yeht-ʼiš-iki.
north.wind VEN blow want-IRR(SG)-NF.SG-TEMP-NZR thus cry-PRES.IPFV-1SG.A
‘That is why I cry out when the north (wind) is going to blow.’
(Swadesh 1939a:A10 10.11)
Otherwise, -(n)k was reanalyzed as a participle:
(37) Wetkš ni kʼast-k, […] weytenkʼenkš tʼut-naʔa hesikʼen.
then DEF plant-PTCP after.that go(PL)-NF.PL again
‘Then they planted, […] and after that went on again.’ (lit. ‘planting, they went’)
(Swadesh 1939a:A3 2.3)
(38) Kap ten-tk ni kʼas-mi-naʔa.
‘They stopped and planted (again).’ (lit. ‘stopping, they planted’) (Swadesh 1939a:A3
Additional evidence for the development of the locative > participle is found in their phonological
conditioning environments, presented in Table 3.
Table 3. Phonological conditioning environments for the locative and participial suffixes
/w, y/__
The glottalized versions of the participle likely arose from a reanalysis of the morpheme
boundary separating the person markers and the locative:
o Synchronically, non-first person forms alternate between glottalized and non-
glottalized forms: -i vs. -iʔi (sg.), and -na vs. -naʔa (pl.). The glottalized forms
typically appear only in careful speech.
o The copula also has the glottal stop (hiʔi (sg.) and naʔa (pl.)).
o Assuming that the glottalized version represents the original form of these
morphemes, then the glottal stop may have been reanalyzed as glottalization of the
following consonant – the /k/ of the participle. Swadesh (1939c:13) in fact notes
that the glottalization with -ːkʼ actually precedes the oral closure.
o This analysis explains why -ːkʼ lengthens the preceding vowel: it is the result of
compensatory lengthening that occurred when the glottal stop in the non-first
person markers was reanalyzed as glottalization of the following consonant. This
lengthening was then extended to the first person markers as well.
o This analysis also explains why the participle does not have an /n/ after vowels like
its locative counterpart: the suffix would have originally been preceded by a glottal
closure rather than a vowel.
In sum, there is a plausible pathway for the phonological development of the forms of the
participle out of the forms of the locative suffix.
Recap: Switch Reference < Participle < Locative
Switch reference is also a prevalent feature of the Southeast, e.g. in Choctaw:
(39) Kaah sa-nna-haatokoosh, iskaliʼ ittahobli-li-tok.
car 1SI-want-because:SS money save-1SI-PAST
‘Because I wanted a car, I saved money.’ (Broadwell 2006:263)
(40) Kaah banna-haatok, iskali’ ittahobli-li-tok.
car want-because:DS money save-1SI-PAST
‘Because he wanted a car, I saved money.’ (Broadwell 2006:263)
The forms in Chitimacha are different from those in Muskogean, but the function is the same.
Munro (1983) also notes a connection between embedded participial forms and same-subject
markers in Muskogean (cf. Broadwell 2006:217 for Choctaw).
Chitimacha followed a parallel grammaticalization process.
4. Agent-Patient Alignment
Chitimacha shows agent-patient alignment in verbal person marking in the 1st person (Hieber, in
Non-first person markers in Chitimacha exhibit nominative-accusative alignment, where the
nominative is marked, and the accusative unmarked.
It is common for languages to have agent-patient alignment in just the 1st, or 1st and 2nd,
persons (Siewierska 2013).
Languages and even individual lexical items in a language vary as to how productive the
agent-patient alternation is. Chitimacha appears to be fairly productive in this regard.
Languages vary as to the semantic basis of the agent-patient alternation. In Chitimacha, the
alternation is conditioned primarily on control rather than other factors like active/stative (cf.
Hieber, in revision for details).
Nominative-Accusative Alignment in the Non-First Person
(41) Tʼut-naʔa hesikʼen. (intransitive)
go(PL)-NF.PL again
‘They went on(wards) again.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A3 2.3)
(42) Waštik kʼet-naʔa. (transitive, accusative unmarked)
cow kill-NF.PL
‘They kill a cow.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A20 1.1)
The primary difference between the agent and patient suffixes in Chitimacha is their position, not
their form.
Figure 2. Chitimacha verb template
The agent and patient suffixes do however differ in their morphophonological behavior, so it is
always possible to distinguish one from the other (cf. Hieber, in revision).
The agent-patient alternation occurs with intransitives, transitives, ditransitives, causatives,
reflexives, nonfinite verbs, deverbal nouns, dynamic verbs, and stative verbs (Hieber, in revision).
For brevity, only a few examples from intransitives and transitives are shown below.
Intransitive with 1st Person Patient vs. Agent
(43) ʔiš=k neːm-ki
1SG=NOM be.afraid-1SG.P
‘I am afraid’ (Swadesh 1939a:A30 4.5)
(44) ʔ š sekʼis ʔapš č-m-iki
1SG wood in CIRC go(SG)-PLACT-1SG.A
‘I have gone about in the wood sufficiently.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A28 1.5)
Transitive with 1st Person Patient vs. Agent (ex. 1)
(45) ni-kint-ki-č
‘If you drop me into the water’ (Swadesh 1939a:A1 3.3)
(46) ni-kin-ču-ki-nkʼ
‘I must drop you into the water’ (Swadesh 1939a:A1 3.2)
Transitive with 1st Person Patient vs. Agent (ex. 2)
(47) kʼet-ki-ʔi we koːš=iš
beat-1SG.P-NF.SG DET switch=INSTR
‘she beat me with the switch’ (Swadesh 1939a:A60 1.6)
(48) we kaːci ʔatin kap kʼet-iki
DET owl large STAT kill(SG)-1SG.A
‘I killed the horned owl’ (Swadesh 1939a:A80 5.6)
Transitive with 1st Person Patient as Subject
(49) Huykš ʔam ʔoːnak ni šik-ki.
yet thing all DEF forget-1SG.P
‘I have not forgotten everything yet.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A5 10.3)
In many languages, the agent and patient forms are phonologically distinct. In Chitimacha, the
forms are phonologically similar, but different in their distribution and morphophonological
behavior. Why?
We have already seen that Chitimacha aspectual morphemes were once auxiliary verbs.
When the MAIN VERB + AUXILIARY construction was reanalyzed as a single verb, some of the
singular person markers on the main verb were caught in the middle.
Figure 3. Univerbation of main verb plus auxiliary
The first person marker -ki was reanalyzed as a patient marker, while the non-first person
marker -i deleted after stem-final consonants. Stem-final vowels, however, always change to
/i/ before aspectual markers, providing evidence that the non-first person -i was at one point
present in this position as well:
Stem-Final /e/ → /i/ Before Aspectual Markers
(50) ʔ kiča hokšti-ču-ki. < hokste- ‘feed’
1sg wife feed-IRR(SG)-1SG.A
‘I shall feed my wife.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A15 6.2)
The deletion of the non-first person -i in these contexts explains why the agent-patient system
is at work only in the first person.
The process of univerbation explains the similarity between the agent and patient forms:
Originally they were the same form, just in different places (one on a main verb, and one on
an auxiliary).
What caused the reanalysis from nominative-accusative to agent-patient?
Malchukov (2008) lays out a diachronic pathway whereby transimpersonals (transitive verbs with an
impersonal subject; Sapir (1917:85); Haas (1941)) can be reanalyzed as patient verbs.
Mithun (2008:329) similarly posits that “a reanalysis of transitives with zero subjects as intransitives
could have occurred” in Chitimacha.
In a language in which (i) intransitive and transitive verbs are not distinguished formally, (ii) topical
3rd persons are usually not mentioned, (iii) few nouns are marked for case, and (iv) word order is
predicate final, it would be a simple matter to reanalyse a nominative-accusative system as an agentive
one or vice versa. […] Transitive clauses with omitted 3rd person subjects could be reanalysed as
intransitive, and objects could be reanalysed as grammatical patients. (Mithun 2008:308309)
Chitimacha meets all these criteria, and thus it is no surprise that Chitimacha shows evidence of the
transimpersonal > patient pathway as well. A limited set of verb forms (intransitive patientive verbs
which contain an aspectual marker) still retain a pleonastic / expletive non-first singular suffix -i,
which I gloss as ‘ø’ to indicate that it contributes no meaning to the construction.
(51) Wey ne ʔapš kimikiš wekkši.
wey ne ʔapš kima-iki wek-ki-ʔiš-i.
DEM just REFL think-1SG.A-SUBORD laugh-1SG.P-PRES.IPFV-ø
‘I laugh when I think about it.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A49 3.9)
(52) ʔtkanki kʼan ni šik-ki-čuy-i.
sometimes NEG DEF forget-1SG.P-IRR(SG)-ø
‘I shall never forget.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A60 2.2)
Cases like these suggest an earlier, transimpersonal stage for Chitimacha verbs, where forms like (52)
would have been interpreted as having an expletive subject, meaning something like ‘it forgets me’.
However, morphophonological changes deleted this suffix in many contexts.
In (53) the /i/ is deleted, but its effect on the irrealis morpheme remains (-čuw > -čuy).
(53) Nuːp-ki-čuy hi kimi-ːkʼ hukʼu hi šankint-ki.
‘You put me out thinking I would die.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A10 5.5)
In (54) the -i is deleted.
(54) Paːkine-ki-čuː-š, […]
‘If I get tired, […]’ (Swadesh 1939a:A1 3.2)
Without an aspectual marker, it’s unclear whether the -i is present. Example (55) could be glossed
as -ki 1SG + -i NF.SG, where the /i/ of the non-first singular replaces the /i/ of the first singular, or
simply as -ki 1SG.P.
(55) Wetkš we nitiya=nk=š ʔ hi šankint-ki.
then DET master=NOM=TOP 1SG DIST put_out-1SG.P(-NF.SG.A???)
Then the (boat) master put me off.’ (Swadesh 1939a:A10 10.3)
The vanishingly rare presence of the non-first singular -i suffix in patientive constructions would
have hastened the reanalysis from transimpersonal > patientive.
Agent-patient alignment is a strong areal feature of the Southeast. It is present in 13 out of the
14 languages listed as belonging to the linguistic area by Campbell (1997:341344).
The agent-patient morphology in Chitimacha follows a different pattern, and has different
forms than, that of Muskogean and the other isolates in the area.
5. Mechanisms of Change
Chitimacha shares these 3 features (and others) with languages of the Southeast.
In each case, Chitimacha recruited native lexical / grammatical material rather than borrow
material from other languages directly.
In each case, there are significant differences between the structure of the Chitimacha features
and that of other languages, even though their overall function is the same.
How did this happen? Contact is the obvious answer, but what’s the precise mechanism?
5.1. The Southeast as a Contact Area
The Southeast is a well-known linguistic and cultural area (Jackson & Fogelson 2004).
Both Creek and Mobilian Jargon were used as linguae francae and trade languages (Dreschel
1997; Martin 2004).
There were robust trade networks in the region (Hudson 1976:313316; Brown 2004).
Exogamy was common (Speck 1907).
Movement of peoples was common, with speakers of different languages known to live
amongst one another (Swanton 1911:360364).
Spanish loanwords are known to have spread via the above pathways (Martin 1994).
In sum, the Southeast was ripe for multilingualism.
5.2. Discourse, Multilingualism, & Grammaticalization
In cases of multilingualism, stylistic discourse preferences are easily borrowed (Mithun 2008;
Mithun 2012).
It is not the grammatical structures themselves that are borrowed, but rather a preference for
packaging information in discourse in ways that parallel the grammatical structures in the
source language.
As these information-structural preferences become increasingly frequent, they become
routinized and eventually grammaticalized as the dedicated construction for that function.
Positional Auxiliaries: Bilingual speakers used the lexical verbs ‘sit’, ‘stand’, and ‘lie’ in
Chitimacha as rough equivalents of positional auxiliaries in other languages, until they were
reanalyzed as auxiliary verbs themselves.
Switch Reference: Because the subject of a participle is the noun it modifies, chains of
participial clauses share the same subject, making them the obvious choice for continuing
topics in a manner analogous to switch reference in Muskogean. This pattern gradually
became more frequent in Chitimacha, until it was possible to have long stretches of text with
only a single main verb.
Agent-Patient Alignment: The reanalysis of transimpersonals in Chitimacha would have
been greatly bolstered by bilinguals who already spoke a language with semantic alignment.
6. Conclusion
Chitimacha is sometimes viewed as peripheral to the Southeast linguistic area (e.g. Martin
1994). The structural features and shared grammaticalization processes examine here situate
Chitimacha firmly within the Southeast linguistic area.
The forms and internal histories of these grammatical structures suggest contact-induced
grammaticalization rather than genetic inheritance.
Despite being an isolate, data from other languages are useful in understanding diachronic
developments in the language. Contact phenomena illuminate language-internal histories as
much as areal ones.
Internal reconstruction can be quite robust, especially when reflexes of past forms remain in
the language (Givón 2000).
Stylistic preferences in discourse can completely restructure grammar.
Chitimacha’s isolate status is precisely what gives us this window into the history of contact in
the Southeast. While internal evidence suggests what seems prima facie to be a fairly
comprehensive story regarding how these structural features arose, when we step back and
examine these histories in light of their larger historical and social context, we gain a much
deeper understanding of the area.
7. Acknowledgments
Many thanks to Kim Walden and the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana for allowing me to work with their
language data. Thanks also to Marianne Mithun for useful discussions about this topic. An earlier version of
this talk was presented at the American Indian Seminar at the University of California, Los Angeles, and
thanks are due to Pamela Munro, Margit Bowler, Jon Gluckman, and the other participants of the seminar for
their feedback. This work was funded in part by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research
Fellowship (GRFP) Grant #1144085. All errors are of course wholly my own.
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9. Appendix: Glossing Abbreviations
pleonastic morpheme
first person
second person
third person
circumlative (‘about’)
horizontal position
neutral position
non-first person
past tense
present tense
sociative (‘together’)
stative / change-of-state
vertical position
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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Markers of grammatical dependency frequently undergo changes in domain or scope, whether these changes occur at the level of local morphology, clausal syntax, interclausal syntax, or discourse. In Chitimacha, a Louisiana isolate documented by Morris Swadesh in the 1930s, the diachronic continuum of scopal changes from morphology to discourse can be reconstructed for the participle -k using synchronic reflexes.
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