The Optative


The optative is a modal (like the future or the factual), meaning that it takes the punctual aspect.  It means ‘would’ or ‘should.’  The optative sounds very much like the factual, only the initial a- is somewhat longer.  In Jesuit Father Pierre Potier’s writing in the 1740s, he used -â- to represent the vowel (as opposed to using just  -a- for the factual.  It is difficult to see in the writing in the Narratives whether the optative is used. This is one of only four examples in all of the Narratives in which the greater vowel length is clearly shown by using -aa-.


aarendiˀ               He would pass.


aa-                   optative

-r-                    masculine singular agent – he

-endi-               verb root – to pass

-ˀ                      punctual aspect


ąn        tawatǫˀ                         d          aarendiˀ                        nęh      awatenyǫrǫˀ

not       it is not possible          the       he would pass              now     my uncle

“It is not possible that my uncle would pass.”

A clear example in which we definitely have the optative, but the Narratives only have an -a- is with the verb root -yę- ‘to be’, which uses the optative, but not the factual.  Potier writes the word as â,enk (Potier 1920:30).

ayęh           It would be.


a-         optative

-yę-      verb root – to be

-h         punctual aspect


Use with the Repetitive

Like with the factual, when it is used with the repetitive prefix, the optative appears twice in one word, before and after the repetitive.  In Potier’s writing of the 18th century, the optative and repetitive part would be -âonsa-  as opposed to the -onsa- used with the factual.  In only one of the 12 times in which this combination appears in the Narratives is there a form that matches Potier’s.  None of the five instances of the dualic and the optative, which have a similar doubling of the optative, have this Potier’s reported form.  There are no instances of the optative appearing with the cislocative, in which the same doubling of the prefixes is involved.

aǫhsanyǫkyeraˀtaˀ One would still be caused to do it.


aǫ-                   optative

-s-                    repetitive

-any-               optative

-ǫ-                    Indefinite agent – they (ind)

-ky-                  semi-reflexive voice

-era-                 verb root – to do

-ˀt-                    causative root suffix

-aˀ                    punctual aspect

ąh        tawatǫˀ                                daeˀ      d          aǫhsanyǫkyeraˀtaˀ                                    tuh

not       it is not possible               that      the       one would still be caused to do it        there

aˀšaˀ                 daeˀ      ǫngya[n]diˀ      n          aǫmąˀtakyaˀtayetęh

at a time           that      it is good         the       we would carry ourselves, support ourselves

n          ǫmąˀdeˀ            n          ǫmaˀtiˀ

the       at this time       the       a long time ago

It is not possible that one would use that which was good, when we supported ourselves a long time ago.


usahšarahskwah  You (s) would leave again.


u-                     optative

-s-                    repetitive

-ah-                 optative

-š-                    2nd person singular agent – you (s)

-arahskwa-       verb root – to leave

-h                     punctual aspect

ahęhąǫˀ                        dae       nǫh      yawastih                      d          usahšarahskwah

he said                         that      maybe  it is good                     the       you should leave again

d          istęˀą    tahǫmae[n]daǫ             ˀ                                   ahǫmąrendarahahs       ahayaręngyaˀ

if          not       when they (m) would not seize him    they would trap him    He would get away

He said, “If they would not seize him, trapping him, he would get away.“


It is often used when a wish is expressed:


ahažaˀturęhąˀ         He would find me.


a-                     optative

-haž-                masculine singular agent + 1st person singular patient – he – me

-aˀt-                  noun root – body

-ure-                 verb root – to find

-hą-                  inchoative root suffix

-ˀ                      punctual aspect

awehǫˀ                         ahažaˀturęhąˀ                                       de        ˀižaˀaha

she wished                   he would find me                                who     one (is) a child





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