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


E.B. Tylor (image credit: Wikipedia)

Another juicy slice of Keel-A-Pie!Look after today’s selection for my explanatory comments on its fascinating Chinuk Wawa. (A number of features that I’ve already commented in previous pages are left undiscussed here.)

[…] the loss as an omen that a conflagration will destroy their country, and all inhabitants must perish. 

Amidst consternation an old woman wails: 

“Oke-oke ten-ass kultus [1] boo hoo [2]
úkuk tənás kʰə́ltəs [bú hú]
that child idly [cry] 

” ‘That child only cried’ 

Sull-iks [3] pilton [4] mahsh [Ø] [5] Ko-pah pi-ah
sáliks píltən másh Ø kʰapa páya 
violent lunatic throw it in fire 

‘(And) a violent lunatic threw it in the fire’ 

Ickt [6] kull-a-kully hy-ack chah-ko
íxt kə́ləkələ áyáq cháku 
one.certain bird quickly come 

‘A bird quickly came’ 

Is-kum ten-ass lo-lo [Ø] [7] sok-a-ly
ískam tənás lúlu Ø sáx̣ali 
get child carry it upward 

‘To take the child(, and) carried it high’ 

Al-kie hy-ass pi-ah ko-pet hay-lo [8]
áɬqi háyásh páya kʰəpít hílu 
eventually big fire Relative.Clause finish nothing(?) 

‘A blaze is going to finally end things’ 

Ten-ass lay-ly mah-muk meh-sat-chee.
tənəs-líli mamuk-mas(h)áchi 
little-while make-evil 

‘Soon (it) will cause evil.’ 

Ko-pet mit-lite si-wash ill-a-hee.
kəpít-míɬayt s(h)áwásh-íliʔi 
stop-exist Indian-land 

‘Indian country will be no more.’ 

Kon-o-way klax-tah hy-ass klah-how-yum
kánawi-ɬáksta hayas(h)-ɬax̣áwyam 
all-who big-pitiful 

‘Everyone will be miserable’ 

Kah-hwah pilton kon-o-way till-i-kum
kákwa píltən kánawi tílixam 
like lunatic all people 

‘Everyone will be like lunatics’ 

Hi-yu wah-wah cha-ko meh-sat-chee [9].[“]
hayu-wáwa cháku mas(h)áchi. 
much-speak come evil.
‘Saying, “An evil has happened.” ‘ “

Mary wails: 

“Keel-a-pie ten-ass [10] ko-pah ny-kah
k’ílapay tənás kʰapa náyka 

return child to me 
‘ “Return(,) child(,) to me’ 

Keel-a-pie ten-ass [Ø] [11] ny-kah ticky
k’íl̓apay tənás Ø náyka tíki 
return child Relative.Clause I want 

‘Return(,) child who I love’ 

Keel-a-pie ko-pah my-kah mah-mah
k’ílapay kʰapa mayka mámá 
return to your mother 

‘Return to your mother’ 

Ko-pet ten-ass kloshe ko-pah ny-kah.”
kʰəpít tənás ɬúsh kʰapa náyka.
only child good for me
‘Only (my) child is (what’s) right for me.’ ” 


“Pi-ah tyee lo-lo Ø sok-a-ly
páya-táyí lúlu Ø sáx̣ali 
fire-chief carry it upward 

‘The chief of fire carried it high’ 

Kon-o-way klootch-man hi-yu boo hoo
kánawi ɬúchmən hayu-[bú hú] 
all woman much-[cry]  

‘All the women are crying’ 

Sick tum-tum kon-o-way till-i-kum
sík-tə́mtəm kánawi tílixam 
hurt-heart all people 

‘Everyone is sad(,)’ 

Ull-tah de-late hy-ass klah-how-yum.”
álta dlét hayas(h)-ɬax̣áwyam. 
now really big-pitiful
‘(And) truly miserable now.’ “

Sampson proposes to propitiate evil spirits by performance of klale tah-man-ous [ɬíʔil t’əmánəwas, ~’black magic’] and sacrifice of dogs and children.

Moses silences him and commands decorous conduct saying: “With my hunting dog I will go into the forest and recover the child,” and he departs. 


The grassy plat with sounding board in place; villagers squatted in groups. In the absence of Moses they perform the klale tah-man-ous: 

Twelve men with clubs ranged along the sounding board beat upon it, while in a loud voice they utter incantations, the words of which are unintelligible; at the same time the women are howling. 

Sampson leaps upon the sounding board, and all noise is hushed. 

Six young men with faces painted red execute the Devil dance. This is a frantic performance without concert of movements, consisting entirely of shaking, wriggling, body contortions, whirling and leaping. 

When the dancers are exhausted, the pounding, incantations and howling are repeated. 


In a dense forest; a large rock jutting over the bank of a mountain stream; an eagle’s nest in a cavern beneath the rock. 

Moses, being familiar with the country, knew the location of the eagle’s nest. It was about five miles distant from the village, but no path led to it. He expected to find the baby there, and did […]


[1] < kultus > here seems well translated by ‘idly, randomly, happening to be so’. It seems to be an adverb, consistent with this word’s typical usage across all Jargon dialects. But interestingly, in the present context of exclaiming at the innocence of the infant victim’s behaviour, this < kultus > additionally functions very much like the Grand Ronde creole’s grammaticalized logical operator meaning ‘only’. I won’t claim that this word is further evidence for the southern origin of author Hanford’s Chinuk Wawa knowledge, but since we have seen some of that, it’s food for thought.

[2] The verb < boo hoo > is previously unknown in Chinuk Wawa’s documentation. It’s likely a brand-new appropriation from colloquial English, whether unique to Hanford or also said by other people. By a wild coincidence (or else Hanford was quite well read!), early anthropologist Edward B. Tylor‘s classic 1871 book “Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art, and Custom” (volume 1, page 170) uses this English word as an example, going on to relate it with certain phenomena in Chinuk Wawa as reported in George Gibbs’s 1863 dictionary:

In tracing the progress of interjections upward into fully developed language, we begin with sounds merely expressing the speaker’s actual feelings. When, however, expressive sounds, like ah ! ugh ! pooh! are uttered not to exhibit the speaker’s actual feelings at the moment, but only in order to suggest to another the thought of admiration or disgust, then such injections have little or nothing to distinguish them from fully formed words. The next step is to trace the taking up of such sounds into the regular forms of ordinary grammar. Familiar instances of such formations may be found among ourselves in nursery language, where to woh is found in use with the meaning of to stop, or in that real though hardly acknowledged part of the English language to which belong such verbs as to boo-hoo…Good cases may be taken from a curious modern dialect with a strong propensity to the use of obvious sound-words, the Chinook Jargon of North-West America. Here we find adopted from an Indian dialect the verb to kish-kish, that is, “to drive cattle or horses”; humm stands for the word ” stink,” verb or noun; and the laugh, heehee, becomes a recognized term meaning fun or amusement, as in mamook heehee, “to amuse” (i. e., “to make heehee “) and heehee house, “a tavern.”

[3] < Sull-iks > most generally means ‘angry’, but it’s got a widespread secondary use as a verb ‘to fight’. The word’s use here holds onto that expanded meaning and reverts it to an adjective, thus ‘violent’.

[4] Author Hanford keeps using < pilton > as a noun ‘lunatic, crazy person’. This is fairly different from the adjectival usage that we hear nowadays from Grand Ronde. But sure enough, the early documentors who give a noun sense ‘fool’ for this word are a pretty coherent set: the Columbian newspaper in 1853, Alexander Anderson in 1858, George Gibbs in 1863, and Theodore Winthrop in that same year — all of which can be arguably characterized as reflecting southwest Washington and lower Columbia River usage. So here we have another piece of evidence to suggest Hanford’s Jargon was both authentically learned in pioneer days and was strongly influenced by what we can call the Fort Vancouver speech community.

[5] [Ø] is the inanimate (!) 3rd-person object pronoun, here applied to the baby, perhaps under influence from English ‘it’. This form is not pronounced, but not to be ignored. See footnote [11] for a similar concern.

[6] < ickt > means not just literally ‘one’ but, in fluent Chinuk Wawa, ‘a particular one, a specific one (whose identity the speaker is aware of)’. Thus, more indication of author Hanford’s good Jargon skills.

[7] < kull-a-kully…chah-ko Is-kum ten-ass lo-lo [Ø] >, literally ‘bird…came took the child carried it’, is comparable with what linguistics calls serial-verb constructions. These are multi-verb sequences having just one subject expressed, thus amounting to a single clause. I mention this because SVC’s aren’t much of a thing in English or Chinuk Wawa, but some exist in Coast Salish languages. Perhaps SVC’s are used in Lushootseed — the Salish language that we’ve already shown to have influenced Keel-A-Pie‘s Chinook Jargon — and their influence perhaps is seen here. Alternatively and more likely, this particular string of verbs just shows the Jargon being forced into another literary English construction, a sequence of gerunds. (“Bird…coming, taking the child, carrying it.”)

[8] < ko-pet hay-lo > is clear enough from context, but your guess is as good as mine about how to grammatically parse it. It doesn’t match any phrasing I’ve previously found in the Jargon.

[9] In < cha-ko meh-sat-chee >, context makes it seem as if the first word is a fully stressed verb ‘to come; to happen’ and the second word is intended as a noun, the latter being a somewhat rare but documented usage. That reading (‘an evil thing has happened’) makes more sense than the alternative with aspectual chaku- and adjective masháchi (‘(it’s) become evil’). This is a case where it would help to know the intended stress and intonation. Related to that observation, note that as is typical for written Chinuk Wawa, it’s unclear if this clause was intended as a direct (“Saying, ‘X’ “) or an indirect quotation (“Saying that X”).

[10] We might be tempted to parse < Keel-a-pie ten-ass > as a transitive ‘return the child (to me)’. There are excellent reasons not to. First, there is a well-established transitive form of this verb in Chinook Jargon: mamuk-k’ílapay, literally ‘make return’, while the plain form k’ílapay found here is normally intransitive. Second, later in the mother’s lament, she is clearly addressing her baby rather than the eagle that would the agent that could mamuk-k’ílapay the child. So author Hanford is still displaying very good command of fluent Jargon grammar. Stylistically, though, he repeats an artistic move that we noted a few pages back, by injecting a literate European-language element of placing the vocative < ten-ass > ‘child’  between the main verb and its indirect object ‘to me’.

[11] The [Ø] (null) in this setting indicates the start of a relative clause. In most dialects of Chinuk Wawa, there exists no word marking relativization the way English ‘which’, ‘who’, and ‘that’ can do. The Grand Ronde creole dialect has developed a robust word in that function, though: the normally unstressed uk. And in some northern pidgin dialects, I have found a tendency to use ɬaksta / < klaxta > (‘who’) as an animate relativizer. My main reasons for taking the trouble to overtly label the Jargon’s null relativizer are (1) not so much that there exists a choice among specific relativizers in some dialects, but more that all varieties of Chinuk Wawa have multiple overt forms including pus ~ ‘if, when, in order to’ to indicate subordination generally; and (2) if learners and researchers don’t *notice* the null forms in a language, they’re going to have flawed speaking skills and linguistic understanding.