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The participial oblique, a verb mood found only in Nunivak Central Alaskan Yup'ik and in Siberian Yupik

  • Steven A. Jacobson

…plus d’informations

  • Steven A. Jacobson
    Alaska Native Language Center,
    University of Alaska Fairbanks,
    Alaska 99775-7680,

Corps de l’article

Figure 1

Location of languages and dialects mentioned in the text (CAY = Central Alaskan Yup’ik; CSY = Central Siberian Yupik; GCY = General Central Yup’ik; HBC = Hooper Bay / Chevak; NS = Norton Sound; NUN = Nunivak; SLI = St. Lawrence Island).

Location of languages and dialects mentioned in the text (CAY = Central Alaskan Yup’ik; CSY = Central Siberian Yupik; GCY = General Central Yup’ik; HBC = Hooper Bay / Chevak; NS = Norton Sound; NUN = Nunivak; SLI = St. Lawrence Island).

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Of the various dialects of CAY [1], the NUN dialect (termed also “Cup’ig” and in the past, “Cux”), is certainly the most divergent. Louis Hammerich who conducted the pioneering linguistic research on NUN stated that:

The hunting talk which is found in the grammar of […] Bethel (Kuskokwim), written by Hintz [sic], was readily understood not only at Tanunak [sic] (Nelson Island), but also on the Yukon (Marshall), up the Kuskokwim (Sleitmiut [sic]), in Bristol Bay (Dillingham) and at Lake Iliamna […]. The Bethel tale, which is more or less willingly understood at Nunivak, is completely incomprehensible to the Eskimos of the [Alaska] Peninsula and Kodiak/Afognak […]. The suk-dialect [Sugpiaq or Alutiiq language] and the yuk-dialect [the majority dialect of CAY] are mutually incomprehensible (or, at least, nearly incomprehensible); […]. The yuk- and cux-dialects are, with more or less difficulty, mutually comprehensible.

Hammerich 1958: 637-639

Hammerich thus established that NUN was indeed a dialect of CAY in contrast to Sugpiaq which is now recognized as a different, though closely related, language [2].

In another report, Hammerich (1954: 2-3) noted that, “before the grammar of the mainland dialects is better known, and before the grammar of Nunivak is written, it would be hazardous to declare a certain mainland suffix unknown on Nunivak or inversely.” The present writer was only dimly aware of the existence of an inflectional suffix in NUN not present on the mainland when he wrote his three descriptions of NUN in 1979, 1984 and 1995 [3]. However, now it does indeed appear that NUN differs from mainland CAY not only in lexicon and phonology (as well noted by Hammerich, myself, and others), but also in syntax, because as it turns out NUN does have the participial oblique (PO) verb mood, which is not found in the other dialects of CAY.

That the PO mood itself almost certainly is not used today and has not been used in recent times in GCY, the majority mainland dialect of CAY, can be seen from three factors. Firstly, no instances that could be of the PO mood can be found in published collections of texts (over half of which are now digitized and thus searchable by computer). Secondly, when presented to speakers of GCY, the PO mood is not recognized or understood. Thirdly, nothing that could in fact be the PO mood itself is mentioned in any of the grammatical works on GCY including even the older works of Barnum (1970 [1901]) and Hinz (1944) based on research from several decades before publication. One could seek traces of the PO mood in those divergent CAY dialects which are closest to NUN, namely HBC and Egegik, or in the fourth divergent dialect of CAY, i.e. NS [4]. Concerning HBC, nothing like the PO mood is to be found in Woodbury (1981), no instances of it are in any of the texts in Woodbury (1984), nor is it recognized by younger, though fully competent, speakers of HBC. Concerning the nearly extinct dialect of Egegik, no instances of the PO mood appear in the admitedly tiny corpus of texts (at the Alaska Native Language Center archives) in that dialect, and similarly for evidence from NS. There is always the possibility however, that the PO mood may in fact be at least known to some speakers as archaic, even if not actively used, in HBC, Egegik, NS or even in GCY [5].

As we shall see, however, the PO mood is also found in CSY and in the Naukan Yupik language of East Cape, Chukotka. Furthermore, a remnant of a link between the PO mood of CSY and that of NUN does turn out to be present in GCY after all. Comparing the form and function of the PO mood of NUN with that of CSY, it will be demonstrated that: (1) though they differ somewhat in the form and range of their person/number components, it is definitely one and the same verb mood, and (2) the differences in form for the two areas having the PO mood can be explained, to a large extent, by the differences in the function of the mood in those areas.

The PO mood in NUN CAY

For NUN the marker of the PO mood is -yalria[6] for intransitive, and -yaqe- for transitive. These consist of what is historically the postbase -yar- (discussed later) followed by the marker of the participial mood, -lria- (in some instances as -lrii-) for intransitive, -ke- for transitive. The person/number markers for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person subject intransitive are like ordinary (i.e. not oblique) participial mood markers. For 4th person non-singular they are like the possessed relative noun markers (-meng for plural, -mek for dual). However, for 4th person singular subject intransitive they are like the singular unpossessed relative noun ending -m, rather than the possessed relative noun marker -mi. The person/number markers for 1st, 2nd or 3rd person subject transitive are like ordinary participial markers. However, if the object is 4th person, they are like the corresponding connective mood markers (i.e. the person/number elements of the endings for the verb moods expressing “because,” “if/when [future],” etc.). For 4th person subject, they are specifically like the conditional connective mood (expressing “if/when [future]”) markers, i.e. starting with n rather than m (e.g., ‑niu 4th s. - 3rd s., ‑nia 4th s. - 1st s.).

The following examples are taken from three sources: word usage examples written by two NUN speakers for the NUN dictionary (Amos and Amos 2003) and personal communications between them and the present writer in connection with his editing of that dictionary; transcriptions of testimony by NUN speakers given in their language at government hearings (ANCSA Testimony n.d.); and a traditional story told by a NUN elder and printed in a recent book on Nunivak traditions (Fienup-Riordan 2000). From these examples one can see that 4th person is used in the standard way to show co-reference of the subject or object in the dependent clause (i.e. the clause with the PO mood) with the subject of the main clause. In these examples the “when” or “because” clause in English translates the Yupik verb or clause with the PO mood.

For CAY, including NUN, the verb-elaborating postbase (or postbases) -yar- means ‘to go V-ing’ or ‘would V’ (as in contrafactual conditionals). [8] Based on comparative evidence Fortescue et al. (1994) give the meaning of the proto-Eskimo source of this postbase as ‘would V’ [9]. However, these translations do not seem particularly helpful in understanding the present-day function of the PO mood in NUN. Rather, it appears, from the above examples and others, that the NUN PO is basically an alternative to the consequential mood (the mood expressing “because” or sometimes “when [past]”). The meaning of a NUN sentence with the PO mood such as, neryugyalrianga nerellruunga, ‘because I wanted to eat, I ate,’ in non-NUN CAY could only be expressed with the consequential mood, neryu(gng)ama nerellruunga, (which can also be used in NUN as an alternative to the PO mood). No doubt in NUN the PO mood has a somewhat different discourse role than the consequential [10]. However, as with the consequential (and other connective moods), the 4th person vs. 3rd person apparatus is used to indicate or counter-indicate coreferentiality of the subject of the PO verb with the subject of the main verb, as is clearly seen in the examples above. But, as we shall see below, this is not the way the PO works in CSY.

The PO mood in (SLI) CSY

Willem de Reuse (1994) was apparently the first person to fully describe, and name, the PO mood of CSY, although he notes that Menovshchikov (1967: 151) had already described the intransitive side of this mood. For Chukotkan CSY Vakhtin (1995: 311ff) discusses the intransitive side of the PO along with the transitive side, which, as we shall see below, is somewhat different in Chukotka than in SLI. For CSY the marker of the PO mood is ‑yalghii‑ [11] for intransitive, and ‑yaqe‑ for transitive. These consist of what is historically the postbase ‑yagh‑ followed by the marker of the participial mood, ‑lghii‑ (underlyingly ‑lghia‑) for intransitive, ‑ke‑ for transitive. These mood markers are followed by various person/number markers. So far, this is exactly as in NUN. For intransitive, the person/number markers are like the ordinary (i.e. not oblique) participial mood markers for 1st person, and are like the possessed relative noun case markers for 4th person (‑mi for singular, ‑meng for plural, and ‑mek for dual). For 2nd person subject the situation is still unclear [12]. The person/number markers for the transitive are for 1st or 2nd person subject like the ordinary, non PO, participial mood markers. For 4th person subject they are like connective mood markers but with the “remnant” of the localis case with singular subject as with specifically the contemporative (expressing “while”) mood (‑minigu for 4th s. – 3rd s., ‑mininga for 4th s. – 1st s., but ‑megteggu for 4th p. – 3rd p., etc.) [13]. These are the 4th person subject transitive PO markers of SLI CSY; for Chukotkan CSY these endings are different and will be discussed later.

An important difference from the PO of NUN is that for CSY there are no intransitive or transitive 3rd person subject PO forms, nor transitive PO forms with 4th person object [14]. The reason is that for the CSY PO mood, 4th person works differently in regard to reference than it normally does. In CSY the subject of the PO verb, no matter what person, is always co-referential with the subject of the verbs of the main preceding sentence(s). For a very clear illustration of this see the 4th s. intransitive example, “Kaalluni […],” above. There is no room nor need for a 3rd person vs. 4th person subject distinction, and given that the subject is co-referential in this way, there is no possibility of the object also being co-referential [15].

In itself the CSY verb-elaborating postbase (or postbases) -yagh- mean ‘to go somewhere to V’ or ‘to V without the desired results’ [16], and, as noted above, Fortescue et al. (1994) give the meaning of the proto-Eskimo source of this postbase as meaning ‘would V’ [17]. However, these translations do not seem particularly helpful in understanding the function of the PO mood in CSY any more than in NUN, nor the differences between the PO in the two areas.

For CSY, de Reuse writes:

Like the Consequential mood, the Participial Oblique moods [intransitive and transitive] often seem to be translatable as ‘when (in the past)’; the difference between the two lies in the discourse function of the Participial Oblique. Against the background of the subordinate clause in the Participial Oblique mood, the main clause describes an event focused on because it is unexpected or contains an element of surprise. As a result, the Participial Oblique moods are more accurately translated as ‘it was the fact (in the past) that…, but…’; ‘until now…’; ‘now that…’, and the main clause often contains interjections expressing excitement, particles meaning ‘already’, or the postbase -fte/-pete- ‘to apparently V’.

de Reuse 1994: 50

The present writer has described the PO of CSY as serving as the functional analogue of the observational construction of CAY:

[The PO] is also used to express, ‘through acting (one) sees that such and such occurs,’ i. e. the observational construction, […] in fact this may be one of the principle uses of the participial oblique mood.

De Reuse, in his thesis, does not analyze the participial oblique mood […] [in this way] and he gives several examples where this cannot be the analysis since the action in question would not cause one to ‘see that such and such occurs.’ Thus, evidently the participal oblique mood has a somewhat broader usage. However, in the translations given in the Loreof St. Lawrence Island Sivuqam Nangaghnegha books (Apassingok et al. 1985; Apassingok et al. 1987; Apassingok et al. 1989), it appears that the participial oblique mood definitely often is used for the observational construction.

Jacobson 1994: 269-270

As de Reuse (1994) states and some of his examples illustrate, the PO mood in CSY can indeed function as an alternative to the consequential mood, though with a somewhat different role in discourse. Whether used in such a way or not, it agrees with the pattern for the observational construction in CAY whereby the subject of the verb expressing the “observational event,” which is the PO verb in CSY (but the indicative [!] verb in CAY) is the same as that of the main preceding sentences. For the CSY PO, again as with the observational construction of CAY, the identity of subject or object of the secondary verb with the subject of the main verb is neither explicitly indicated or counter-indicated [18]. For the CSY PO, unlike the NUN PO, 4th person links the PO clause with preceding sentences [19], not with the other clause of the sentence in which it occurs.

Specific comparison of the PO mood form in NUN and in CSY

Taken as a whole the PO mood takes much the same form in CSY and in NUN, given that 3rd person subject forms and 4th person object transitive forms exist in NUN but not in CSY. Other than this, differences are minor. Firstly, the 4th person singular intransitive person/number marker in NUN is like the unpossessed relative noun marker -m, whereas in CSY the 4th person singular intransitive is like the 4th person possessed relative noun marker –mi, just as in both areas the 4th person plural and dual are like 4th person possessed relative noun markers, -meng, and –mek. In the opinion of the present writer the NUN form is an innovation, based on the fact that the 3rd s. intransitive person/number PO marker, Ø, is essentially the absolutive unpossessed noun ending so that at play is the analogy: unpossessed absolutive for 3rd person, so unpossessed relative for 4th person. This analogy cannot arise in CSY where there are no 3rd person subject forms. Nor can NUN extend it as far as to change non-singular forms 4th person intransitive forms since the unpossessed absolutive and relative non-singular are the same, and such a change would make the 3rd person vs. 4th person distinction collapse.

Secondly, for transitives, while both CSY and NUN use person/number endings like those of the connective moods, in (SLI) CSY they have the peculiarity of one of the connective moods, namely the contemporative, while in NUN they have the peculiarity of another of the connective moods, namely the conditional. In my opinion this is not a significant difference. No doubt the PO mood of CSY and that of NUN CAY have a common origin in proto-Yupik Eskimo, even though at the present day they differ slightly in form, operation, and function.

Difference between the PO mood of Chukotkan CSY and that of SLI CSY

It is appropriate here to discuss a certain difference between the endings of the PO in Chukotkan CSY and SLI CSY. In Chukotkan CSY the 4th person subject transitive PO endings are different: -yaqenni [20] is used rather than -yaqminigu, and -yaqminiki, of SLI; -yaqegni is used rather than -yaqminikek of SLI; and -yaqeseng is used rather than -yaqmegteggu of SLI. Vakhtin (1995: 312) gives other endings of this group in the form of -yaqegteng for 4th p. – 3rd d, (which is -yaqmegtekek for SLI), and -yaqeteng for 4th p. – 3rd p. (which is -yaqmegteki for SLI). In all these there is no marker for the object, though duality of an object is indicated. The present writer has not been able to ascertain the Chukotkan forms of the endings for 4th person subject with 1st or 2nd person object, if indeed such forms exist.

When Adelinda Badten of St. Lawrence Island transliterated some of the Chukotkan CSY stories from Rubtsova (1954) for use by St. Lawrence Islanders, she replaced specifically Chukotkan forms (lexically different or with different endings) with the corresponding SLI form, marking the changes with superscript numbers on the changed words to refer to notes. When the book by Badten and Krauss (1971) was published, only the superscript numbers appeared with the replacement forms; the notes with Rubtsova’s original forms were not included, however one can easily enough compare the words in question with the originals in Rubtsova (1954).

A computer search through more than 300 digitized pages of texts from SLI finds numerous occurrences of the SLI pattern for 4th person subject transitive PO endings, but not a single occurrence of the Chukotkan pattern. Conversely, a computerized search through 64 digitized pages of texts from Chukotka [21] finds 90 occurrences of the Chukotka pattern for these endings, and three occurrences of the SLI pattern. These three are in the one and only text by a certain individual and in that text there are no occurrences of the Chukotkan pattern. So, one can conclude that this individual is of a family group that speaks more like SLI, in this regard at least, than like other Chukotkans [22].

The PO mood in Naukan

As mentioned above, the PO mood is not to be found in CAY outside of NUN. One might ask if it is present in Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) or in Naukan, the two other Yupik Eskimo languages. A cursory examination shows no evidence of it in Sugpiaq [23]. It is, however found in Naukan.

In the second example the PO verb has a 3rd person ending, and thus appears to show that the Naukan PO pattern is more akin to that of NUN than that of CSY, but further research would be required to conclusively establish this. A cursory visual search through several Naukan stories in Menovshchikov (1987) did not turn up any instances of the PO mood, suggesting that it is less common than in CSY or NUN. A quick investigation reveals no evidence of a PO in Sirenik either. None is expected in Inupiaq/Inuit where the so-called participial is related in function only, and not form, to that of Yupik.

Can the PO be an instance of diffusion from CSY to NUN or the reverse?

Given that, as mentioned above, the PO mood itself is not found in CAY except in NUN, one could speculate that the PO mood might be a direct diffusion from St. Lawrence Island to Nunivak or vice-versa, given that “only” open ocean separates the two islands. In my opinion this is very unlikely. It is true that coastal areas of GCY near Nunivak Is. do have a name, Asveryagmiut (literally, ‘people of the place with many walrus’), for St. Lawrence Islanders. This word (spelled Asweryagmiut) is a place name on Nunivak Island itself (although in NUN ‘walrus’ is kaugpag, not aswer—cognate to asveq ‘walrus’ in other parts of CAY and in CSY). So, unless quite old, the toponym does not refer to a place that just happens to have lots of walrus. However, given the vast distance between St. Lawrence Island and Nunivak Island, it seems extremely unlikely that there has ever been anything more than sporadic, accidental travel or migration from one place to the other. This would almost certainly not be enough to affect the language in such a fundamental way as to introduce a new verb mood.

Although there are many—likely ancient—Chukchi loans in CSY, there are no Chukchi loans in NUN that would only have come directly from CSY [24]. There are, it is true, certain lexical items found in CSY and NUN, but not in CAY, such as eltughaq / elturar ‘grandchild,’ tanqiq / tanqig ‘moon,’ and sikuq / cikur ‘needle.’ However, these three words, and others with the same limited CSY-NUN distribution, are generally to be found also in Inuit and/or in Sugpiaq; they are conservative retentions in NUN replaced elsewhere in CAY. There is no lexicon that we know of in CSY that is also found only in NUN and nowhere else in Alaska. More likely, the PO mood was probably originally in a continuous area: in all of CAY (and perhaps Sugpiaq), in formerly Yupik but now Inupiaq Seward Peninsula, in Naukan, and in CSY, and it has all but disappeared in between the two—or rather, three, counting Naukan—places where it remains.

Dependent use of the participial mood in GCY

A possible tie between the PO mood of CSY and that of NUN is a certain dependent use of the ordinary participial in GCY (and probably NS and HBC), not previously described in any detail. When discussing 4th person object transitive verb endings, which he, misleadingly, calls the “reciprocal form,” Hinz (1944: 53) states that there exist such forms “also in the transitive participle, but as this form is not used […] much […] I have not sufficient knowledge of it to give examples,” but then he goes on to give a plausible table of endings for them (Hinz 1944: 70) [25]. The various uses of the participial discussed in Reed et al. (1977: 250, 297), and Jacobson (1995: 382ff) leave no room for forms with 4th person object (or subject) endings. However, this writer has now seen that there is in fact a dependent use of the participial mood in addition to the one dependent use (in the “observational construction”) discussed in Jacobson (1994, 1995: 382ff), and that this other use can, and probably must, involve 4th person endings. It may likely just be the case that this use is the “missing link” between the PO moods of CSY and NUN!

In texts, one can find a number of examples of this dependent use of the transitive participial with 3rd s. subject and 4th s. object. When the postbase -yaaqe- ‘in vain’ is used with it, the meaning is ‘although.’ That construction is an alternative to the concessive mood.

Recall that in CSY, though not in present-day CAY, one of the meanings of the postbase -yar-/-yagh- is ‘in vain’ (hence, ‘although’), and that -yaaqe- may in fact be derived from -yar- and the postbase -aqe- ‘regularly, repeatedly.’ Note, however, that ‘although’ is not the meaning of the PO in either NUN or CSY.

When occuring without the postbase -yaaqe- the meaning is ‘when’ or ‘because.’ That construction is as an alternative to the consequential mood, just as the PO mood of CSY and NUN is [26].

Working from Hinz’s table, and one’s knowledge of non-4th person object transitive participial endings and of 4th person object markers, one can predict what other person and number endings would be (see Table 1). One expects endings as in sentences such as:

These proposed sentences meet with approval when offered to speakers (though they preferred to use the consequential mood instead of the participial), but it is certainly significant that absolutely none with endings like these have been found in an extensive computer search of (non-NUN) CAY texts. Perhaps it is not too surprising not to find examples with 1st or 2nd person subjects in narrative texts; they might occur more in oral exchanges. However one would expect to find 3rd person – 4th person examples with non-singular subjects and/or non-singular objects in texts, yet they are apparently not to be found; only 3rd s. – 4th s. forms are found. It may well be that this dependent use of the participial mood (revealed especially when the object is 4th person) is far less common now than it was 70—or more—years ago when Hinz was doing his research.

Concerning 4th person subject transitive participial verb endings, which Hinz refers to (following Kleinschmidt's terminology for Greenlandic) as “3e” forms (Hinz 1944: 51), Hinz has only question marks on his chart (Hinz 1944: 68). Searching by computer through texts for words with endings for various conceivable 4th person subject transitive participial, one finds only words ending in -yaaqekni, and these do indeed seem to be 4th person singular transitive participials.

Close consideration of these sentences shows that they are not examples of the nominalizing role of the participial morpheme with 4th person absolutive possessor (which would have the same form), since there are no transitive verbs in these sentences of which they could be the objects. The participials in these examples are clearly transitives with 3rd person objects, though there is no *u to mark that object. In fact, the ending here, -kni (in -yaaqekni), is very like the 4th s. subject transitive PO mood of Chukotkan CSY, -yaqenni (see above). However, examples could not be found in the GCY texts with *-yaaqekteng, which would have a 4th pl. transitive participial ending similar to the Chukotkan CSY -yaqeseng.

As for the intransitive participial in this dependent use, examples from texts have been found only using the postbase -yaaqe-, and so meaning ‘although,’ and with 4th s. subject marked by -m (as in the NUN PO mood):

The 4th p. forms in -meng (as in the PO of NUN and CSY) were not found with a computer search. However, if 4th p. forms take -t (as is conceivable), they might have escaped attention, since they would look like, and could indeed be interpreted as, nouns in apposition to the subject. Indeed such forms when presented to speakers are approved. For example, qerrucaaqellriit iteryuumiitutalthough they are cold, they don’t want to go in.’

Putative 3rd s. forms would also be hard to spot, but when presented to speakers, were rejected. For example, *nenglliryaaqellria iteryuumiituaalthough it (weather) is cold, I don’t want to go in.’ Rejected by speakers also were putative 1st s. forms; for example, *qerrucaaqellrianga (or *qerrucaaqellriama) iteryuumiituaalthough I am cold, I don’t want to go in’ is rejected.

Proposed intransitive forms without -yaaqe- were rejected; for example, *kailriimner’uq for ‘because he’s hungry he is eating’ is rejected (the consequential kaig(ng)ami ner’uq being used for this instead), and *kailrianga nerua for ‘because I am hungry I am eating’ is rejected (the consequential kaig(ng)ama nerua being used instead). Recall that GCY also rejects the NUN type PO (see above), using the consequential instead

The almost complete lack of examples other than with the two endings, 3rd s. – 4th s., and 4th s., is evidence, as Hinz suggests (for 4th person subject), that this use of the participial mood is disappearing. The forms we do see are essentially fossils. They are likely the “missing link” between the PO of CSY and the PO of NUN.


The PO mood does indeed seem like it has been “cobbled” together from the postbase -yagh-/-yar- and the participial mood with additional endings borrowed from those of the connective moods to accommodate 4th person, with a new “twist” put on the meaning of the aggregate of the parts. Finding the PO mood so similar in two widely separated areas, NUN CAY and CSY, in different languages in fact, suggests that the PO mood in much its present form goes back to proto-Yupik times. The dependent use of the participial in GCY discussed above with its limited set of endings, suggests that this “missing link” is a reduced offshoot from some earlier stage in the development of the PO mood.

When one considers 4th person subject transitive PO forms, one sees that the SLI CSY pattern is virtually the same as the NUN CAY pattern, while the Chukotkan CSY pattern is different. The joint SLI and NUN pattern uses essentially the endings of the connective verb moods here, while the Chukotkan pattern uses what seems to be 4th person possessor possessed absolutive noun endings here. On the other hand, the Chukotkan CSY pattern for these 4th person (singular) subject transitive PO forms is indeed like the pattern found of the “missing link” in GCY.

More research may (or may not) shed light on the questions of the origin of this mood, and whether the NUN CAY, SLI CSY, or Chukotkan CSY pattern of forms (and function) is nearer to the original. At this point, evidence one way or the other is still scanty and presents (to this writer) a mixed picture, but what is indisputable is that NUN has this PO verb mood represented elsewhere in CAY only in a limited remnant form, but quite present in CSY (and Naukan).

Parties annexes