Fieldwork in Louisiana: Part 2

After the first few elicitation sessions, it seemed to me that Koasati’s semantic alignment system was, as Kimball described, based on control/volition, but the distinction is very subtle.  A lot of verbs can take more than one set of affixes, and when asked to explain the difference between them, most speakers that I worked with would say that they meant pretty much the same thing, or that it depended on context.  Since it’s their native language, they know naturally which one sounds right in which situation, but explaining why that’s the case was usually difficult.  As a result, I created a number of sentences to elicit to get at the distinction.  For example, the verb limitka “to swallow” can be conjugated with either the cha- or the –l set of affixes to indicate the first person singular:  both chalimitk and limitkal mean “I’m swallowing.”  However, when I asked them to translate “I accidentally swallowed it,” limitka would only take the cha- prefix, not the –l suffix, because the action was not something controlled/intended by the subject.  This seems to be good evidence that the distinction is based on control/volition.

Another part of my project was trying to create a book with the conjugations of common Koasati verbs, and maybe get recordings of people saying the different conjugations to be used on the Coushatta Heritage Department’s website.  Unfortunately, this part was not as simple as I had expected.  Some of the speakers had trouble thinking on the spot of what some verb forms were, and were resistant to using the second person forms in a statement because it only sounds natural in a question (e.g. saying “Are you eating?” is common, but in actual conversation you would rarely just say “You are eating”).  I wasn’t prepared for this dilemma, so I didn’t get as much done with this as I would have liked.  As it is, I will continue to work on this as much as I can while at W&M.

Aside from my project, seeing what life was like in this little corner of southwest Louisiana was certainly a cultural experience.  The Coushatta Tribe’s reservation is in the middle of Cajun country, so Louisiana’s French culture had a big influence on them, especially on their food.  Boiled crawfish, shrimp po’ boys, and fried boudin balls were among the many delicious parts of the local cuisine that I got to sample.  The Coushatta Tribe has only about 1,000 people in it, so it has a very distinct small town feel.  The people were incredibly friendly and welcoming, and I had a great time getting to know them throughout my two weeks there.  In addition to working with them on my project, I was able to spend a lot of time chatting with them, eating meals with them, and listening to them tell stories.  Many of the tribal members are extremely dedicated to preserving their language, especially at the Heritage Department, so they were often happy to volunteer their time to work with me and Professor Martin.  I certainly hope to be able to go back someday to do more fieldwork or just to visit!

I left Louisiana last Friday, June 9th, and moved back in to W&M the following Sunday.  Here I’ll continue to work with the data that I collected in Louisiana to see what more conclusions I may draw.