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Boas, Franz. Race, Language and Culture – T24


Some Traits of The Dakota Language 11

In the following I will discuss a few features of the language of the
Dakota Indians which seem to have a wider linguistic interest.

First of all I shall discuss the classification of verbs. There are two
types of verbs, active and static. Active verbs take active pronouns,
static verbs take static pronouns. “I am sick” is static, and the form for
“I” is the static pronoun which is identical with the object of the transitive
verb. This is a frequent feature of American languages. It is peculiar
to Dakota that only stems expressing activities performed by living
beings can be active, all others are static. Static verbs may be made
active by instrumental, sometimes by locative prefixes, but the stem itself
is static. Thus the term “to break” is formed from the static verb “to be
in a broken condition,” and might be translated “to cause by means of
pressure to be in a broken condition.” The static terms are differentiated
according to the form and character of the substance to which they
refer, such as long, or flat, and liquid, soft, brittle, etc. Many of the
static stems are obsolete and occur only with activating prefixes.

The second refers to the phonetic rendering of a close association of
ideas. The initial vowel of Dakota words is preceded by a glottal closure.
When, therefore, a word with terminal consonant precedes a word with
initial vowel there is a decided break following the consonant. The consonant
does not become glottalized but the glottal closure follows it.
When two such words become intimately associated and form a unit
concept the break disappears: napo'g.na 22 ‘a handful’, for nap-ʼo' g.na;
wali'topʻe ‘an oar’, from wa'l-ʼi-topʻa' (boat-rowing-instrument);
hą'papʻa'-ʼecʻų'pi ‘moccasin game’, for hąp-ʼapʻa' ‘moccasin striking’,
ʼecʻų'pi ‘they do’.

A distinction is made between verbs that take the prefix wa- which
expresses an indefinite object and nouns which contain the same prefix.
226The latter are unit concepts, the former express an indefinite object for
which a definite object may be substituted: waa'wąyaka ‘he stands
guard’, wa˙'wąyaka ‘a guard’. When verbs of this type assume a special
meaning they may also be contracted: waa'gli ‘he brings something
back home’, wa˙'gli ‘he comes back successful from a hunt’; wayu'ġa
‘he separates something from its covering’; wo˙'ġa ‘he husks corn’. The
same phenomenon occurs in the possessive pronoun, intimate possession
being expressed by contraction: tʻao'wį ‘his earrings’, i.e., those he
made, or those he happens to wear; tʻo˙'wį ‘earrings he always wears and
that nobody else has a right to wear’; tʻawo'wašte ‘his occasional good
acts’, tʻo˙'wašte ‘his goodness’ as a permanent quality.

These examples show a close parallelism between the concept of
psychological and phonetic unity. According to a communication of
Dr. Gladys Reichard similar phenomena occur in Navaho: hoʏan
13 ‘my home’; caʼaʏan ‘house in which I am living, not my property’;
citʼaʼ ‘my wing’ (a bird speaking), caʼatʼaʼ ‘my feather’ i.e., the
feather I use.

A third point is a curious contradiction between the ease of forming
new words by means of affixes and composition and the frequent failure
to treat such words according to their etymological structure. It must
not, of course, be assumed that new words are consciously built up with
an understanding of the meaning of the constituent elements, nor that
these are present in the mind of the speaker; but, so far as my knowledge
goes, their grammatical treatment follows the general rules of the language.
A question regarding the meaning of the compound may elicit
a folk etymology. Nevertheless in use the words are generally easily
understood. Contractions or abbreviations of words frequently used do
not seem unusual. Thus we have wičʻa' ‘raccoon’, understood as an
abbreviation for wičʻi'te g.le'ġa ‘striped face’; pʻežu'ta ‘medicine’, from
pʻeži'-hu'te ‘herbs-butt-end’; pʻetą'l ‘on the fire’, from pʻe'ta aką'l ‘fire-on-top-of’.
More remarkable are cases of metathesis like hąkpʻa' ‘moccasin
strings’, for hąpkʻa'; wąsma'hi ‘iron arrow head’ from mas- ‘iron’,
‘arrow’, hi ‘tooth’.

Sometimes the grammatical forms show a complete misunderstanding,
the phonetic form being more suggestive than etymology. Thus
ana'ġoptą ‘to obey’, stands evidently for ano'ġoptą (a ‘on’; no'ġe ‘ear’;
o'ptą ‘to turn toward’); na is taken for a prefix and the first person wa
227is inserted after na: ana'waġoptą ‘I obey’. In the same way ina'piskąyą
is treated as though na were a prefix, the pronoun wa preceding the p.
Still the derivation is i-nap-i-ską-ya ‘against-hand-by-means-of-move-cause’.

A fourth trait of Dakota is its old consonantic sound symbolism. The
sets, s, š, and z, ž, ġ represent gradations, the s and z being the lowest,
š and ž the middle, and and ġ the highest grades. I have given many
examples in a previous paper. 14 A few of these will suffice to make the
essential point clear, sle'ča, šle'ča, ḣle'ča ‘to split things’; m.nų'za,
m.nų'ža, m.nų'ġa ‘to crunch’. With s or z it is done easily, with š or ž
with greater difficulty, with or ġ with great difficulty. The grades of
intensity are not always quite so clear. Sometimes the š series expresses
wetness: ska'pa ‘to slap’, ška'pa ‘to slap wet surfaces’; ski'ca ‘to compress
dry things’, škica ‘to compress wet things’. A few examples in addition
to the list mentioned are: ze'zeya ‘dangling’, apʻa'żeżeya ‘right on
the edge, almost falling over’; ġe'ġeya ‘hanging down’; wašte' ‘peculiar,
good’, waḣte'ṡni ‘bad (not good)’; šloka ‘to take out of a hole’, ḣlo'ka
‘to break a hole’; b.laska' ‘fiat and hard’, b.laška' ‘flat and flabby’, zi
‘yellow’, ži ‘tawny’, ġi ‘brown’. It may well be that the three stages have
reference rather to the consistency of material than to intensity. A good
many examples can be interpreted more easily in that way.

E. Kennard 25 has found a number of pairs of similar character in
Mandan: dusa'p ‘to pull a little’, duha'p ‘to tear’; se'ro ‘to jingle’,
hs'ro ‘to rattle’, etc.

Lipkind has discovered a considerable number in Winnebago. 36
Examples are: sqwq ‘to be melted’, sqwq ‘to be softened,’ hqwq ‘to be
moistened’ (Dakota spa, s'pq, hpq); siri ‘to be squeezed out’, hiri ‘to
be mashed’ (Dakota sit, hli); k'es ‘to be scraped bare’, k'eh ‘to be

This consonantic symbolism is similar to the diminutive and consonantic
shifts of some of the Pacific Coast languages. In Chinook we
have changes from sonants to glottalized sounds to express diminutives 47
and also changes in the place of articulation of palatal affricatives.
In Kwakiutl we find a limited number of words in which glottalization
228indicates smallness, e.g. kyapa' to embrace, ky'dpa' to take up with
tongs; qd'mkwa to snap together, q'd'mkwa to bite off. Quite
similar changes occur in diminutive forms in Sahaptin. 18 The
velar consonants become mid-palatal and n changes to /. In Wiyot, a
Californian language, the following changes are found in the diminutive:
d becomes ts, t > ts or tc, s > c, I > r. 29 In Coos 310 traces of a
similar process are found. It also seems to be a live process in Tillamook,
a Salishan dialect. 411

The fifth point refers to the demonstrative pronoun. It is a feature
that is not particularly characteristic of Dakota, but appears in many
North American languages. We are accustomed to a development of
the demonstrative pronoun parallel to position “near me” and “away
from me,” or to position “near one of the three personal pronouns.”
Many American languages have a strong feeling for localization,
and add to the fundamental ideas of position “near one of the three
personal pronouns” reference to the concept of visibility and invisibility.

This makes the exact definition of demonstratives particularly difficult,
because it is always necessary to reconstruct the position in which
the speaker images himself to be. In Dakota we have the fundamental
forms le, he, ka, to which express ‘near me’, ‘away from me’, ‘away from
me visible’, ‘somewhere’. The concepts ‘near thee’ and ‘near him’ are
not distinguished. The particular place in reference to two persons is
expressed by the suffix -k'i (after e > c'i). Thus le'c'i means ‘here and
away from you or him’, he'c'i ‘there and away from me’, ka'k'i ‘yonder
visible, away from me’. With the ending ya these forms express a region
rather than a spot.

The distinction of visibility and invisibility is made in a number of
languages. In Kwakiutl the glottal stop added to demonstrative forms
expresses invisibility t'e'sdmgya ‘this stone visible’ (-gya indicates ‘near
me’), t'e'sdmgya? ‘this stone invisible’. In Quileute 512 the independent
demonstrative pronouns for visibility and invisibility are distinct.
229Kutenai 113 has three positions: indefinite, here or previously referred to,
and absent. Each of these has one form for visible, one for invisible,
the latter distinguished by the insertion of an a, e.g. the prefix sn- means
‘here visible standing’, san- ‘here invisible standing’. In Chinook also
the independent demonstratives are divided into the classes visible and
invisible. 214

Reference to a third person is highly developed in Tlingit. We find
yd ‘this near me’, w£c ‘that near thee’, hi ‘that near him and nearer
than you’, yu ‘that near him and farther away than you.’ 315

In Coeur d'Alene 416 all expressions regarding movements are expressed
by means of prefixes. If only a speaker and the person addressed are
involved the terms hither and thither are sufficient. When a third
place is involved a definite position of reference must be included. If
this point is termed ‘there’, the expressions would mean: (1) from
beyond there hither and to beyond there, (2) from beyond there hither,
to there or this side of there, (3) from there or this side of there hither.
(4) from this side of there thither to beyond there, (5) from this side of
there thither to there or to this side of there, (6) from beyond there
thither to farther beyond there.

In movement Dakota distinguishes between thither and hither,
completion of movement thither and hither, movement thither and
hither to a place formerly occupied (i.e., return); completion of movement
thither and hither to a place previously occupied (i.e., arrival
returning). The combinations of the verbs of arrival and motion express
the concept of starting, e.g., he went to arrive there, i.e., he started going
thither, etc. 517

Dakota is also remarkable for the tendency to express by means of
particles, conjunctions, and adverbs the general emotional state accompanying
the statement. Thus, k{, k\ and wq (definite present, definite
past, and indefinite) at the end of the sentence express respectively
230annoyance, the feeling that a statement is unnecessary because known
to the person addressed, and pleasant agreement. Thus in a sentence
meaning ‘I'll finish this first’ the addition of k{ implies the speaker's
annoyance at being interrupted; with k'y, the implication is that the
person addresses knows that the speaker wishes to finish first; with wq
that there is pleasant agreement. Similarly in ‘I gave it to him, but he
did not take it’: if for ‘but’ yesq is used, the implication is that he ought
to have taken it; if tk'a's, that the offer ought not to have been made;
if k'eyas, an indifferent attitude is implied. Similar implications can be
made by varying the translation of ‘instead’ (eha', k'es, iye's, e'e') in
sentences such as ‘he gave me a stone instead of bread’, ‘bread instead of
meat’, ‘meat instead of bread’.231

11 Language, vol. 13, no. 2 (1937), pp. 137-141.

22 According to the customary orthography of Dakota ą, į, ų are nasalized vowels;
ž, š correspond to French j and English sh; č to English ch, medial; ġ, are velar

31 c = sh English.

41 “Notes on the Dakota, Teton Dialect,” International Journal of American
, vol. 7, nos. 3-4 (1932), p. 112.

52 “Mandan Grammar,” International Journal of American Linguistics, vol. 9,
no. 1 (1936), p- 32-

63 Personal communication.

74 Edward Sapir in F. Boas, Handbook of American Indian Languages, part 2
(Washington, 1911), p. 638.

81 Melville Jacobs, A Sketch of Northern Sahaptin Grammar, University of Washington
Publications in Anthropology, vol. 4 (1931), pp. 136, 139.

92 Gladys Reichard, Wiyot Grammar and Texts, University of California Publications
in Anthropology and Ethnology, vol. 22 (1925), p. 29.

103 Leo J. Frachtenberg, Coos, in F. Boas, Handbook of American Indian Languages,
part 2 (Washington, 1922), p. 383.

114 May Edel, The Tillamook Language, International Journal of American Linguistics,
vol. 10 (1939), p. 16.

125 Manuel J. Andrade, “Quileute,” in Handbook of American Indian Languages,
part 3 (J. J. Augustin, 1933-38), p. 246.

131 Pater Philippo Canestrelli, S.J., annotated by Franz Boas, “Grammar of the
Kutenai Language,” International Journal of American Linguistics, vol. 4 (1927),
p. 57-

142 Franz Boas, “Chinook,” Handbook of American Indian Languages, part 1
(Washington, 19n), p. 617.

153 Franz Boas, “Grammatical Notes on the Language of the Tlingit Indians,”
University of Pennsylvania, The University Museum Anthropological Publications,
vol. 8, no. 1 (i9i7),p. 113.

164 Gladys Reichard, “Grammar of Coeur d'Alene,” in Handbook of American
Indian Languages
, part 3 (1933-38), PP- 597 et seq.

175 Franz Boas and Ella Deloria, “Notes on the Dakota, Teton Dialect,” International
Journal of American Linguistics
, vol. 7, nos. 3-4 (1932), p. 117.