Sunday, June 14, 2015



Jaime de Angulo (1887-1950), Indians in Overalls (San Francisco: Turtle Island Foundation, 1973), pp. 13-15 (ellipses in original; one misprint corrected):
I said: "Jack, a while ago you called to me in English. You said 'let's eat.' Now, how would you say that in Indian?"


I wrote it down in my notebook. Then I asked, "Which part in it means 'eat'?"

Jack looked at me with a very puzzled expression on his face. "I dunno what you mean, Doc, what part you eat...."

"All right....Never mind....How do you say 'I eat'?"


"And how do you say 'You eat'?"


"And how do you say 'He eats'?"


I thought to myself: Of course! That's what the grammarians call pronominal prefixes. The s..., k..., and y... stand for the pronouns, I, you, he. I felt very proud of myself. I was getting along fine. "And now, Jack, how do you say 'We eat'?"

"How many of us eat, Doc?"

"What's that got to do with it? If I say 'we' I mean more than one. That's what we call singular and plural."

"I dunno what you call 'em things. I never went to school. But in Pit River talk it makes a lot of difference whether it's one man, or two people, or more than two people. For instance, you and me sit here, and here comes another fellow, and he says: 'You fellows eat already?' Well, we answer in Indian: Sahaama. That means: 'Yes, we two eat already.' But if we had been more than two, like for instance you and me and Lena, then we would say: Sahammiima. 'Yes, we all eat already.' Just like you say to a fellow if you invite him to eat: Tamma. That means: 'You eat!' But if you are talking to two people you say: Dzammi. And if it's more than two you say: Dzamma. Savvy now, Doc?"

I was jubilant. "Why yes, Jack. It's what they call the dual. That's the way it is in Greek!" Jack had a very kind face, and it was now wreathed in smiles. He evidently felt very proud of the Greeks. He said: "Well, well. What do you think of that now! I always thought them Greeks were nice people."

I was astounded. "What do you know about the Greeks, Jack?"

"They was a couple of them had a restaurant here a while back. I used to listen to their talk, but I couldn't get a word of it, although I know some Mexican too. I didn't know they talk like us."
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

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