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A Grammar of the Seneca Language

A Grammar of the Seneca Language

Wallace Chafe
Alberta Austin
Phyllis Bardeau
Marie Biscup
Leroy Button
Betsy Carpenter
Bill Crouse
Edward Curry
Lehman Dowdy
Sandy Dowdy
Lee Hemlock
Stanley Huff
Elsie Jacobs
Avery Jimerson
Fidelia Jimerson
Roy Jimerson
Albert Jones
Solon Jones
Doris Kenyon
Miriam Lee
Clayton Logan
Oscar Nephew
Myrtle Peterson
Warren Skye
Lena Snow
Tessie Snow
Raymond Sundown
Corbett Sundown
Pearl White
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 250
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt13x1hf0
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  • Book Info
    A Grammar of the Seneca Language
    Book Description:

    The Seneca language belongs to the Northern Iroquoian branch of the Iroquoian language family, where its closest relatives are Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Tuscarora. Seneca holds special typological interest because of its high degree of polysynthesis and fusion. It is historically important because of its central role in the Longhouse religion and its place in the pioneering linguistic work of the 19th century missionary Asher Wright. This grammatical description, which includes four extended texts in several genres, is the culminatin of Chafe’s long term study of the language over half a century.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96164-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
    Wallace Chafe
  4. TABLES
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  5. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. 1. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)

    Seneca is a member of the Northern Iroquoian branch of the Iroquoian language family, as outlined in Figure 1.1. Other languages of this family were spoken before the European invasion, but we know of them largely through references in missionary records (e.g., Thwaites 1896-1901).

    By the beginning of the 21st century the Seneca language was spoken fluently by no more than a few dozen individuals on three Seneca reservations (or ‘territories’) in western New York State. Two of these reservations, Cattaraugus and Allegany, are governed by a political body known as the Seneca Nation of Indians. The third, Tonawanda, is...

  7. 2. PHONETICS AND PHONOLOGY
    (pp. 7-22)

    Seneca is not only highly polysynthetic but also highly fusional. Numerous phonological changes, many of which evidently took place during the 18th century, obscured the boundaries of word-internal elements and thus obscured the structure of Seneca words. However, evidence that is internal to Seneca itself (Chafe 1959a), comparative evidence from related languages, and certain written materials permit the reconstruction of earlier stages of the language at a time when its morphology was more transparent and more tractable to analysis.

    Modern forms of the language cannot be explained adequately without reference to such reconstructions and the changes that led to the...

  8. 3. VERB MORPHOLOGY PART 1: THE MINIMAL VERB
    (pp. 23-35)

    Verbs constitute by far the most frequent word type in Seneca, as in the other Iroquoian languages. Based solely on internal morphological structure, in a sample of approximately 12,500 different words, different verbs constituted 85%, different nouns 9%, and different particles 6%. The number of different verb types is essentially open-ended. If all possible combinations of verb bases with prefixes and suffixes were counted, the number would be staggeringly high. When it comes to word tokens, however, the most frequently occurring words in actual speech are particles, since a small number of particles occur with great frequency.

    Verbs follow a...

  9. 4. VERB MORPHOLOGY PART 2: THE PREPRONOMINAL PREFIXES
    (pp. 36-55)

    Section 3.3 described the three modal prefixes that occur with the punctual aspect and are positioned before a pronominal prefix. A pronominal prefix may also be preceded by one or more other prefixes from a set labeledprepronominal. (Lounsbury 1953 included the modal prefixes under this term). Figure 4.1 outlines the structure of a verb that has been expanded in this way. One or more of these prepronominal prefixes may occur with or without the accompaniment of a modal prefix. When both are present, the ordering of the prepronominal prefix or prefixes relative to the modal prefix varies, depending on...

  10. 5. VERB MORPHOLOGY PART 3: EXPANDED VERB BASES
    (pp. 56-77)

    The verb root, as shown in Figures 3.1 and 4.1, may be expanded in one or more of the various ways that are sketched in Figure 5.1. The termbasewill be used for any or all of these expansions. A base may begin with a middle voice prefix (5.2) or a reflexive prefix (5.3), the verb root may be preceded by an incorporated noun root (5.4), and the root may be followed by one or more of a set of derivational suffixes (5.5).

    When the middle voice (Lounsbury’ssemireflexive) prefix is present, it is the first element in the...

  11. 6. VERB MORPHOLOGY PART 4: EXTENDED ASPECT SUFFIXES
    (pp. 78-85)

    The three aspect suffixes that were introduced in 3.2 and 3.3 (habitual, stative, and punctual) may be extended by the addition of any of four postaspect suffixes that carry additional meanings related to aspect or tense. They include the following:

    stative-distributive (6.2)

    past (6.3)

    progressive (6.4)

    continuative (6.5)

    This suffix adds a distributive meaning to the stative aspect, extending the meaning of the word to cover multiple varied entities. Its meaning thus overlaps with that of the distributive derivational suffix described in 5.5.6. The first examples below show its most common form,*-’s, which replaces a final*h or*’...

  12. 7. NOUN MORPHOLOGY
    (pp. 86-93)

    The morphology of Seneca nouns is considerably simpler than that of verbs, although the two bear some resemblances. As shown in Figure 7.1, a morphological noun is built on a noun base, which in the simplest case consists of a noun root. The base is preceded by a pronominal prefix, whose form resembles that of certain verbal pronominal prefixes but whose function is different. The pronominal prefix may be neutral in the sense that it contributes no specific pronominal meaning, or it may indicate the alienable or inalienable possessor of whatever is denoted by the base. The base is followed...

  13. 8. CLITICS
    (pp. 94-99)

    A Seneca verb or noun may be supplemented with a final clitic. Clitics are distinguished from the extensions of aspect suffixes described in Chapter 6 by the fact that they do not take their own aspect suffixes, but also by their ability to attach more loosely to a variety of words. They are discussed under the following labels.

    augmentative (8.2)

    diminutive (8.3)

    characterizer (8.4)

    populative (8.5)

    decessive (8.6)

    directional (8.7)

    nominal distributive (8.8)

    intensifier (8.9)

    nativizer (8.10)

    Sequences of two or more clitics are described in 8.11.

    The augmentative clitic,*-kowa:h (> -go:wa:h) adds a meaning of large size and/or...

  14. 9. KINSHIP TERMS
    (pp. 100-111)

    The traditional way of referring to relatives in the Seneca language followed a classification system quite different from that with which English speakers are familiar.⁷ At the present time, however, with everyone speaking English most of the time, the English kinship system is more familiar and is replacing the traditional one.

    As an example, in the traditional Seneca system ha’nih included not only one’s biological father but also all his male relatives of the same generation as him. Similarly, no’yëh included not only one’s biological mother but also all her female relatives of the same generation as her. Age:hak included...

  15. 10. SYNTAX PART 1. AMPLIFYING A PRONOMINAL MEANING
    (pp. 112-126)

    A description of Seneca syntax must take into account the fact that the polysynthetic verb morphology of this language includes within a single word a number of elements which, in many other languages, would appear as separate words within a clause. The traditional view of syntax as describing constructions inside and outside the clause is difficult to apply in this language because so much of what would elsewhere be inside a clause is included here inside a word. Chapters 10-12 are organized on a different basis, describing ways in which elements inside a word, or sometimes an entire word, are...

  16. 11. SYNTAX PART 2. AMPLIFYING A SPATIAL, TEMPORAL, OR MODAL MEANING
    (pp. 127-140)

    The last chapter described ways in which the meaning of a pronominal prefix can be amplified with several kinds of pronouns, as well as with the more open possibilities introduced by the particle neh. It is also possible for the meaning of a prepronominal prefix or an aspect suffix to be amplified with an adverb. This chapter reviews adverbs of that sort, with examples of their use. They may locate an event or state in space (11.2), in time (11.3), epistemologically (11.4), or in degree (11.5).

    asdeh ‘outside, outdoors’

    ö:gyeh ‘inside, indoors’

    dosgëh ‘near, nearby, close’

    ga:o’ ‘this way, in...

  17. 12. SYNTAX PART 3. AMPLIFYING THE MEANING OF AN ENTIRE VERB
    (pp. 141-146)

    This chapter describes ways in which the meaning of a main verb can be amplified by the addition of a subordinate verb which is introduced by a subordinating particle. Spatial subordination is described in 12.2, temporal subordination in 12.3, manner subordination in 12.4, and purposive subordination in 12.5. Attribution of speech is described in 12.6, and attribution of thought in 12.7. Embedded questions are described in Chapter 15.

    By far the most common spatial subordinator is hë:öweh ‘where’. The subordinate verb may amplify the meaning of the translocative prefix in the main verb, expressed by the initial h-in the following...

  18. 13. SYNTAX PART 4. WORD ORDER
    (pp. 147-148)

    Seneca is a language that might be described as exhibiting ‘free word order’, which is to say that its words are not ordered in a familiar pattern such as subject-verb-object, subject-object-verb, or the like. In Chapters 10-12 we saw how words and phrases that amplify the content of a verb quite naturally follow that verb. The manner in which the ordering of words within phrases is determined by a variant of ‘information flow’ was described in Chafe (1994c: 156-159). That discussion is summarized here.

    While describing a birthday celebration at the Longhouse, the person being celebrated said

    The first two...

  19. 14. SYNTAX PART 5. COORDINATION
    (pp. 149-152)

    This chapter describes ways in which two or more constituents of a sentence may be conjoined.

    Two verbs may be simply juxtaposed with no overt marker of coordination.

    The conjunction koh ‘and’ makes the coordination explicit and joins constituents of equal importance. It is frequently postposed, as in the first example.

    Whereas koh joins constituents of equal weight, háé’gwah ‘also, too’ is attached to a constituent that supplements preceding information.

    In the following example the role of the mother and grandmother, who are conjoined with koh, is shown with háé’gwah to be supplementary to the role of the speaker (who saw him first).

    Corresponding...

  20. 15. QUESTIONS
    (pp. 153-158)

    Questions fall into two major classes: ‘yes-no questions’ which ask the addressee to confirm or disconfirm an assertion, and ‘information questions’ which ask the addressee to provide the kind of information specified by a question word.

    Unlike the other Five Nations languages, Seneca lacks a particle that would signal a yes-no question, which is distinguished from a declarative sentence by intonation alone. The final syllable of a yes-no question is pronounced with a level (as opposed to falling) pitch, which may be either in the middle of or near the bottom of the speaker’s range, as illustrated in the following...

  21. 16. IMPERATIVES
    (pp. 159-164)

    The minimal imperative verb structure is shown in Figure 16.1. It is identical with the minimal structure containing the habitual and stative aspects shown in Figure 3.1 except for the presence of the imperative suffix.

    The form of the imperative suffix is identical with that of the punctual suffix (3.3.3), except that wherever the punctual has a final ’ (glottal stop), the imperative has h.

    sahdë:dih ‘go!’, cf. o’gáhdë:di’ ‘I went’

    dwatgwe:nih ‘let’s win!’, cf. edwátgwe:ni’ ‘we won’

    snönö’dotših ‘peel the potatoes!’, cf. o’knönö’do:tši’ ‘I peeled the potatoes’

    snegeäh ‘drink it!’, cf. o’knégeä’ ‘I drank it’

    sajë:h ‘sit down!’, cf....

  22. 17. INTERJECTIONS
    (pp. 165-166)
  23. 18. EXAMPLE TEXTS
    (pp. 167-230)

    The four texts that follow were chosen to be representative of several different Seneca genres. Extended examples of ceremonial language are available in Chafe 1961.

    Text 1 is a short extemporaneous description of Ed Curry’s gardening activities, invented on the spot when he was asked in early fieldwork to provide an example of the Seneca language. He was a master orator, accustomed to delivering ritual speeches and telling stories, and here he showed his ability to create a short piece of unplanned language on the spot.

    Text 2 is taken from a conversation between two friends, Lee Hemlock and Stanley...

  24. REFERENCES
    (pp. 231-234)