Chinook hymn, or, why songs are hard

When you’re called on to translate Chinuk Wawa stuff, hope for a big job.

Epigraphers, people who decipher ancient languages, know this.

Rosetta Stone

Champollion was able to crack the code of the Egyptian hieroglyphs because (1) there were lots of them, and (2) because the Rosetta Stone gave him a ton of clues.  (These days, a computer could get mighty far with just #1.)

When there’s only a handful of words to work with, as with North Picene, you’re going to be doing a lot of guesswork.  (Even if you’re a computer.)

I’ve run into the same need for context, with various Chinook Jargon projects.  It’s pretty easy to translate the “Chinook Bible History”, because it’s over 100 pages long.  That gives you plenty of redundancy to verify your understandings of the words, phrases and sentences.

On the other hand, the hardest things to translate from Jargon have been the weather-worn pine grave markers of southern interior BC.  Of the few that remained recognizable until someone photographed or sketched them (early 1970s to early 2000s), almost none are undamaged.  And all of them are very, very brief Chinuk pipa shorthand carvings.

It took me weeks of work to decipher those.  That’s longer than it takes me to process several issues of Kamloops Wawa.

Between these two extremes you have a range that goes something like this:

high-context / easy-to-understand…

  • Chinook Bible History 
  • Chinook catechism
  • letters 
  • articles in Kamloops Wawa 
  • prayers
  • songs
  • snippets of Jargon quoted in newspapers or books
  • grave markers
  • random words found in isolation

…low-context / hard-to-figure-out

So you can understand that it’s paradoxically kind of hard to give a translation of some newly found Chinuk Wawa song.  Even though I recognize all the words, it can be a challenge to figure out the way they’re used in lyrics.

That’s my story about this “Chinook Hymn”:

Chinook hymn

Naika tiki shanti tlus Shosif iaka mamuk:
I want to sing (about) blessed Joseph’s acts: 

Iaka drit tlus tanas kopa Sahali Taii.
He was a really good child to God.

Tlus wik sik maika tomtom ol man Shikop;
Don’t be sad, old man Jacob; 

Sahali Taii tlus nanich Shosif kwanisim.
God will take care of Joseph always.

Naika tiki shanti tlus Shosif iaka mamuk
I want to sing (about) blessed Joseph’s acts: 

Iaka drit tlus tanas kopa ST.
He was a really good child to God.

Rifrĩ           ╒      Tlus wik sik maika tomtom ol man Shikob;
(Refrain)     Don’t be sad, old man Jacob; 

ST tlus nanich Shosif kwanisim.
God will take care of Joseph always.

Ikta Shosif mamuk kopa ukuk ilihi,
What Joseph did on this earth

Wiht alki ShK iaka mamuk drit kakwa.
Jesus would later do just the same.

Shikop iaka tanas klaska tatilam pi mokst:
There were twelve children of Jacob:

Wiht tatilam pi mokst alki klaska lisapotr.
There would later also be twelve of the apostles.  

Shuda iaka wawa pus klaska sillim Shosif,
Judah suggested selling Joseph, 

Pi Shudas drit sillim ST tanas.
And Judas really sold God’s child. 

Shosif iaka mitlait tlun sno kopa skukum haws
Joseph was in prison for three years

Pi ShK mitlait tlun son kopa ilihi.
And Jesus was on the earth for three days.

Pus kopit skukum haws Shosif chako drit taii;
Once out of jail, Joseph became a real leader; 

Wiht ShK taii kopa kanawi tilikom.
Jesus too was a leader to all people.

— page 77 of Kamloops Wawa #152 (May 1897)

Do any of you recognize this tune, or know an original in French or English that the hymn was modeled on?

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