billy frank

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Today’s treaty Article language later got litigated in the momentous Boldt Decision of 1974. That’s how important questions of translation can be…

(Back to: Part 1Part 2; Part 3; Part 4)

úkuk lákit íkta ɬáska wáwa
this four thing they talk

‘The fourth thing that was discussed.’

The right of taking fish at usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further
pi wə́x̣t kwánisəm áɬqi ɬúsh pus
and also always later good if
‘And also it will always be all right if’

secured to said Indians, in common with all citizens of the United States; and of
úkuk s(h)áwásh-tílixam ɬáska tíki t’ɬáp kʰánawi-íkta písh pi sámən qʰá kwánisəm
these Indian-people they want get any-kind fish and salmon where always
‘these Indian people want to catch any kind of fish or salmon where’

ánqati ɬáska tílixam t’ɬáp Ø, dlét kákwa ɬúsh pus bástən-tílixam ɬáska tíki t’ɬáp Ø;
formerly they get it, exactly as good if American-people they want catch them’
‘their people always caught them, the same as Americans can catch them;’

pi ɬúsh pus
and good if
‘and it will be all right if’

erecting temporary houses for the purpose of curing; together with the
úkuk s(h)áwásh-tílixam ɬáska tíki mámuk yawá íxt-íxt tənəs-háws kopa mamuk-tláy
Indian-people they want make there one-one little-house for make-dry
‘these Indian people want to build some huts there for drying’

písh pi  sámən; pi wə́x̣t
fish and salmon; and also
‘fish and salmon; and also’

privilege of hunting and gathering roots and berries on open and unclaimed
ɬúsh pus úkuk s(h)áwásh-tílixam ɬáska tíki ɬátwa nánich kʰánawi-íkta máwich pi íɬwəli-
good if these Indian-people they want go see any-kind deer and meat-
‘it will be all right if these Indian people want to hunt any kind of deer and meat’

íkta, pi x̣úqməɬ kʰánawi-íkta úlali pi kʰánawi-íkta lakamás pi lalasín-íkta, kʰapa
thing, and gather any-kind berry and any-kind camas and root-thing, on
‘animals, and gather any kind of berries and any kind of camas and root items, on’

kʰánawi ílihi qʰá hílu bástən-tílixam míɬayt háws pi q’əláx̣ən.
any land where no American-people have house and fence.
‘any land where no Americans have houses or fences.’

lands. Provided, however, That they shall not take shell-fish from any beds
pi wík-ɬúsh pus úkuk s(h)áwásh-tílixam ɬáska t’ɬáp kʰánawi-íkta ləkwəchi pi sáltsəqw-
and not-good if these Indian-people they get any-kind clam and saltwater-
‘But it will not be all right for these Indian people to get any kind of clams or sea-‘

ílihi mə́kʰmək kʰapa qʰá
land food from where
‘shore foods from where’

staked or cultivated by citizens.
bástən-tílixam ɬáska mámuk-q’əláx̣ən íkta sáltsəqw-ílihi.
American-people they make-fence kind saltwater-land.
‘Americans have enclosed some seashore.’

Here again you can see, even in such a brief Article, enormous differences between languages in domains such as:

  • verbal modality (‘shall (not)’)
  • the specificity and implicatures of prepositional constructions (‘in common with’)
  • the assumptions behind English boilerplate legalisms (‘the right to’, ‘usual and accustomed’, ‘secured to’, ‘staked and cultivated’) versus the great lengths you need to go to in order to say similar ideas in the Jargon

To a lifelong speaker of English within an anglophone cultural context, asking what the meanings of any of these expressions are may seem the height of absurdity — they’re self-evident to us, aren’t they?

But to a translator, let alone to a non-speaker of English such as approximately 99% of the Native people at the Point No Point treaty council, every word has to be considered, as must its relation to those around it, and its history. Far from all languages possess expressions equivalent to ‘the right of’, or even ‘or’. Those languages that share with Chinook Jargon a lack of such terms must find alternative ways of conveying a comparable meaning, such as adjusting the complex balance among syntax, semantics, and grammar in ways that establish a joint understanding of reality.

Do you think the result of translating the US government’s English into Chinuk Wawa for people who only spoke the latter as a foreign language would have been an ironclad mutual understanding?