Saturday, February 04, 2006

Do you know the Koasati? (paca)

It is easy to think that your home, wherever it is, is totally boring with no one interesting anywhere around you. To experience new cultures and languages, you have to go far away. Of course, this is usually false. For instance, though I grew up in Northeast Louisiana, I had never heard of the Koasati, also called the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana. This is a group of about 350 Native Americans that live near Elton and Kinder, Louisiana, to the east of Lake Charles and west of Baton Rouge. Their language is Muskogean and is related to Alabama (most closely), Creek, Mikasuki, Choctaw, and Chickasaw.

Now, I have a Koasati Grammar sitting on my desk and since this blog has a lot of Louisiana readers, I thought I would introduce you a bit to their language.

My Grammar was written in 1990 and the little history section ends thus: "Prospects for the amelioration of the financial situation depend entirely on the vagaries of national politics. The community does not have the resources to be economically self-sufficient, and the local economy has been in a depression for nearly a decade. Although the prospects for the Koasati are not very promising at present, these people have shown great strength and endurance in overcoming obstacles to their survival in the past, and there is no reason why they should not overcome their present difficuties and endure as a distinct group for many years to come." (Kimball, 1990)

Well, I did a quick Google search on Koasati, and it looks like they have found a way to survive economically. It 1995 the Coushatta Casino Resort opened in Kinder, along with the Koasati Pines golf course. So, many of you may have been thinking, "yeah, I know them; they advertise the casino everywhere on I-10." If so, this is a bit about those people before they ran a gambling operation.

The Koasati were orginally from the Upper Tennessee valley, with the Yuchi and Cherokee to their East and the Alabama and Creek to their south. This is how De Soto recorded things in 1540. They don't show up in written history again for 200 years, when they now live in central Alabama. It looks like they were among a series of different refugee villages from wars to the north. The Koasati began to play a role in the Creek Confederacy and traded with the Spanish in New Orleans and Mobile. In 1795, however, the Koasati opposed a war between the Creek Confederacy and the Chickasaw. As a result, many of them moved to an area around the Mississippi and Red Rivers junction. The remaining Koasati in Alabama had their town destroyed once by Creeks, once by the U.S., and then were finally removed to Oklahoma with all the Creek nation, with which they eventually assimilated, becoming Creek.

This left the Red River group as the remaining Koasati. They soon moved towards the Sabine River in 1806 and some further west to the Trinity River in Texas. They continued good relations with the Spanish and traded in Galveston. In 1840, the Congress of the Republic of Texas granted two reservations. However, when the surveryor went out three years later, one town had been occupied by whites who refused to leave. The other town was purchased by a white man, though he allowed the Koasati to continue living there. The result was they never got a reservation. Some remaining Texas Koasati joined the Alabama on their reservation near Livingston, Texas, where they still live. The rest moved to SW Louisiana to get away.

In 1860, there were about 250 Koasati living near the present day town of Indian Village. However, the land they were living on was sold, so they homesteaded the area just north of Elton. Various things happened, from emigration to disease to land being seized, but this is where the Koasati remain today.

Here are some interesting things about their language:

1) Koasati is the only Muskogean language that retains pitch accents on words. This means that certain words are marked with a pitch. There will be some words that sound exactly the same except you speak the word with a high pitch or a low pitch. This is rare in European languages, so it is hard for us to hear, but it's not rare in the world. Swedish and Japanese are famous pitch accent languages. Even more robust use of pitch in language is called tone and is found all over the world, including Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Hausa, and various other North American, meso-American, ad African languages.

2) Koasati (and other Muskogean languages) have very complicated verb forms, putting simple things like German and Spanish to shame. There can be up to 9 different prefixes all on a verb. They also have what are often called verb grades. An example is that to make a question in Koasati, you stick a consonant in between the last and next to last syllable. A different grade is when you stick an h in the same place to indicate that two actions occur in a sequence.

3) There are seven different grammatical cases, which are markers on nouns to indicate the role the noun plays in the sentence; i.e., is it a subject, object, etc. Lots of European languages do this. One interesting Koasati case is called the Inessive and indicates the location of the object in a certain area. There is also a case (you add "p" to the end) which says this is a new topic. I haven't talked about this noun before.

4) In pronouns, they have I, you (singular), we, you (plural), but only one form to designate he, she, it, and they all at once.

5) Languages borrow words all the time. English has borrowed heavily over and over. We borrowed "wine" from the Romans; "sky" and "skirt" from the Vikings; a billion words from French with the Battle of Hastings (cardiac is French; heart is Old English); sushi and tsunami recently from Japanese; and kahuna and taboo from Hawaiian. However, in English, there is no way to tell what word was borrowed and what not. Well, no obvious way. Koasati marks borrowed words with a suffix "ka" so truck is borrowd as trukka, tea as tiyka, motorcycle as motosikilka, etc.

6) Heh-heh is an interjection indicating giggling. No problem there. But just Heh means "go on" and xe means "bad dog". (The x there is the sound from German, indicated in English with spellings like night for nicht. Also, there is a cry of surprise "ga!" but it is only used by men. Inappropriate for a woman to go "Ga!"

If anyone is still reading, here is a link to some basic words in Koasati as well as several related languages.


Killer Llama said...

Thai has a singular and plural for "I" but not "you" or "he/she/it"

Singular I: "Phom"/"Chan"
Singular you: "Khun"
Singurar he/she/it: "Khao"

Plural I: "Rao"

But Thai also has a word that can go infront of other words that basically means "a group of things"... so:

"Puak khao" means "they"; "Puak rao" is a more formal way of saying "we"; "Puak khun" is a formal way of saying "you(plural)".

Is this true with the Koasati as well?

naughtyloki said...

I fully understand the concept of the plural "you." I believe that the literal English translation is "y'all."

What, exactly, is a plural "I"? I'm fairly certain that this particular beast will not feel constrained in the slightest by Grimm's Law.

I'll check back later, I just started disc ten of Pimsleur's Esperanto. I'll soon be able to enjoy Shatner's performance in "Incubus" without being distracted by those annoying subtitles.

pacatrue said...

I am still reeling in disbelief after hearing the words:

"enjoy Shatner's performance".

llama, I can't answer your question without more reading than I am willing to do. The chapter on pronouns never says how to distinguish singular from plural for third person. I did find one really useful example sentence. Haven't you ever wondered how to say 'As for me, I did not use to own flying squirrels?" Well, of course, you have. Haven't we all? So here is the answer:

anap amiksohcoolik palok

If you gloss it morpheme by morpheme that is apparently:

I-newtopic 1singulardativecase-notExist-custom-conjugation4-PastTense FlyingSquirrel-Subject.

So palo would be the word for flying squirrel. Are there a lot of them around south central Louisiana?

naughtyloki said...

Flying sqirrels RULE! They do not, however, rule as much as Shatner. The very fact that one can own a flying squirrel proves as much. No one can own Shatner. Well, maybe a nation of grateful patrons of fine cinema can own Shatner in some kind of communal non-materialistic sense, but he still gets to vote and we don't have to pay property tax on him.

-E said...

i wish english had an inclusive and exclusive "we" and we had something better than y'all, yous, or you guys for a plural you. or maybe we (inclusive) could just start using thee and thou again.

Anonymous said...

Don't have ANY idee what the Sam Hill hella part of Louisiana all y'all are from, but where I'm from, EVERYone knows the plural of "y'all" is "ALL y'all"!! Just sayin. But aside from such tee-niney grammatical glitches,I'm just thoroughly lovin what all y'all are sayin here.