Keel-A-Pie, the Chinuk Wawa operetta (fifth page)

quileute warriors

Not the first time the Quileutes have been used for dramatic effect (Image credit: New York times)

Today, “Chinuk Wawa operetta” gets real…

Here we get much more Chinook Jargon text. I’ll add explanatory notes & footnotes, as usual.

[…] beat me for loving you. What will you do about that? I’ll have no husband who is not a brave man.” Then she sings — 

“Aht-chee-dah [1] Moses! pe kah-tah [2] klah-how-yum [3]?
ʔáčəda Moses! pi qʰáta ɬax̣áwyam?
“[mild.surprise] Moses! and how miserable?
” ‘My gracious, Moses! Why (so) miserable?’ 

Ahn-kutty my-kah si-wash tee-hee tum-tum [4].
Ánqati máyka sáwásh  [tíhi]-tə́mtəm.
previously you Indian fun-heart
‘You used to be an Indian who was jolly.’ 

[5] Ten-ass klooch-man tum-tum [6] klat-a-wah si-yah,
Tənəs-ɬúchmən tə́mtəm ɬátwa sayá,
little-woman heart go far,
‘The girl(‘s) heart has gone away,’ 

Ha-lo pilton kloshe ko-pah ny-kah,
Hílu píltən ɬúsh kʰapa náyka,
no crazy(ness) good for me,
‘I don’t need a crazy (man),’ 

Ko-pet skoo-kum man, ny-kah tik-ee. 
Kápit skúkum mán, náyka tíki,
only strong man, I want,
‘it’s only a strong man I want.’ 

Pe-kah-tah my-kah hay-lo wah-wah? 
Pi qʰáta máyka hílu wáwa?
and how you not speak?
‘Why don’t you speak?’ 

Koly ten-ass man [7] ko-pah mah-mah.” 
Kúri tənəs-mán kʰapa mamá.”
run little-man to mother.”
‘Run, (little) boy, to Mama.’ “

* Translation of Mihmy’s song: [8] 

* My gracious, Moses! why are you sullen? 
You’ve always been a jolly Indian. 
If your sweetheart’s love has departed, 
Stop mourning and feeling downhearted. 
No coward for me; only a brave man 
Will I ever accept for my husband. 
Silent and glum! has the cat got your tongue? 
Run away little boy to your mama.

The five conspirators make a sudden rush upon them; two seize Mihmy, muffle her and drag her away. The others seize Moses, muffle and bind him securely, leaving him helpless. 

Enter Sampson: He releases Moses. 

Moses (Explaining): “Mihmy was here, and while she was upbraiding me five Quillayutes, armed with spears, dashed out of the forest, seized and muffled both of us; two ran away with Mihmy and the others tied me up. Quick! Get your weapons, and go with me to rescue Mihmy.” 

Sampson: “That is an absolute impossibility — only two of us against five armed men. If we could overtake them we would both be killed.” 

Moses: “Coward! If you are afraid of Quillayutes, I will go alone.” 

Runs to his wigwam for weapons; reappears with two tomahawks and a knife. Runs in pursuit. 

(Curtain down.) 


Assemblage of villagers on the grass plat. The six venerable Councillors sitting as a tribunal. 

President of the Council: “We will hear Moses and Sampson state the grounds of their pretensions as rivals for Mihmy’s hand in marriage.” 

Moses: “God hearing me, I will speak words of truth. You shall know my heart, and the cause for deeds by which my hands are imbrued in blood. The Klallams would live in peace with neighboring tribes: never wantonly, or without just cause, engaging in strife. Nor yet are we of those who supinely submit to aggressive outrages. […]


[1] <Aht-chee-dah> (ʔáčəda) ~ ‘my gracious’ is a distinctly Lushootseed Salish exclamation, defined in the Bates-Hess-Hilbert dictionary as “an exclamation of mild surprise, often (but not always) about something that is unfortunate”. It’s previously unknown in Chinuk Wawa use. Once again we find a word from the Native language of the Seattle area, rather than the Klallam of “Keel-A-Pie”‘s Port Townsend setting, used in CW and treated as if it needed little or no explanation.

[2] < pe kah-tah> , starting a sentence with a conjunction “and”, as seen also in the next-to-last line of Mihmy’s song. This is actually a fluent set expression, a stock phrase in Chinook Jargon to express ‘why?’ Note that questioning the reason for things is one of the most highly variable mechanisms across all of the world’s languages. The word(s) for ‘why?’ tend to have transparent literal meanings unlike other “WH-words”, a fact that suggests the recency of these expressions. I’m not saying languages used to not try or be able to ask “why?”, just that there’s a fascinating, ongoing swirl of creativity among speakers that’s often reflected in a given language having multiple competing ways of expressing the concept. Thus Chinuk Wawa is not a terribly odd language in having several synonyms for this < pe kah-tah >: pus-íkta, íkta-pus, íkta mámuk, < kata >, etc.

[3] < pe kah-tah klah-how-yum > ‘why are you sullen’, without a subject ‘you’, is most definitely non-fluent. The omission has to have been motivated by the meter of the song and the above-mentioned attempt to fit Jargon into a preconceived English form.

[4] < si-wash tee-hee tum-tum > ‘a jolly Indian’ seems like backwards word-order for the Jargon, Noun then Adjective. It can be understood as a relative clause (‘an Indian ( < si-wash > ) who is jolly ( < tee-hee tum-tum > )‘), but that structure is not the first interpretation my mind turns to unless a good deal of context is given.

[5] You can read this line as “The girl’s heart has gone away”, and that’s fairly unproblematic. But, if we’re to understand it as an attempt to reflect Hanford’s given English translation, starting a Conditional sentence without the conjunction “if” (pus, or I reckon < spose > for author Hanford) is non-fluent Jargon, and is very hard to understand without the supplied English “translation”. See preceding comments.

[6] < Ten-ass klooch-man tum-tum > translated as ‘your sweetheart’s love’, and formed with no possessive pronoun, seems non-fluent. (We would expect a third-person singular pronoun yaka (i.e. tənəs-ɬúchmən yaka tə́mtəm, ‘young woman her heart’.) Here I’m forced to admit a counter-argument: author Hanford’s Jargon on previous pages has displayed traits that I see as betraying an early-frontier, southwest-Washington-influenced dialect of the language. And some SW WA Jargon bore traces of a yaka-less possessive construction for inalienably possessed items. Your own heart is an inalienable possession, in human languages. So there is some chance that this explains Hanford’s possessor-omission here. But: I doubt that, given the song’s several other indications of having been forced into an approximation of English lyrics.

[7] The sequence of an Imperative verb, plus Vocative noun, plus Prepositional Phrase, is odd for such a predominantly colloquial and oral language as Chinuk Wawa or other pidgins, which hardly ever have a literary register such as this English “Run away little boy to your mama”. That’s because it’s so rare to find examples of a command being given to someone who’s overtly addressed in the same sentence. (Perhaps not same clause, depending on your linguistic theoretical orientation, but in any event a jarring interpolation since the PP is one argument of the Imperative verb.)

[8] The English text of Mihmy’s song rhymes, and that shows us that it’s probably the original material that the Chinuk Wawa version was translated from. It should be understood that songs are the very hardest genre to translate simply by virtue of their limited vocabularies and artificial formal restrictions. But I see the self-imposed task of sticking to this foreign-language model as the most illuminating factor helping to explain the relative non-fluency of the Jargon in this text, compared with what we saw spoken in previous pages of “Keel-A-Pie”.

IN SUMMARY: It’s very interesting to contrast the scattered Lushootseed words in this operetta, which the author treats as if the audience understands them, with today’s stilted Chinuk Wawa song lyrics, which he does make sure to clarify! I think that means something interesting about the local CW dialect.