De-romanticizing the so-called “Annawillee’s Lament”

Scioness of the pioneers of Seattle, Eva Emery Dye, wrote as if she were personally familiar with this uncredited early hit song…

In a popular-audience article, Dye quoted this Chinuk Wawa text and English translation:

Annawillee later

— from “Oregon Native Son and Historical Magazine” Volume 1 Number 1 (May 1899), pages 208-209

But the same song appears earlier in “An International Idiom” (Horatio Hale 1890, page 24).

And Rena V. Grant, in a 1944 scholarly article on Chinook Jargon, points out that the source for both of these is James G. Swan’s 1857 recollection (page 201) from Shoalwater Bay, Washington, complete with musical notation.

By the way, this may well be the first Jargon song ever written down with musical notation…

annawillee swan

Grant also observes differences among the published versions. You can see the spellings and the English translation are at variance.

One difference that actually reflects facts about Jargon is the change from < kly > to the later < kely > by Hale. It’s well-documented that this verb has a variant pronunciation kʰiláy, which is the norm at Grand Ronde; I’ve even heard modern speakers say kʰíiiláaay for emotional emphasis. Hale could have heard the kʰiláy version around Fort Vancouver in the early 1840s (although his 1846 publication has just < klai >), then “corrected” Swan’s lyrics for his own 1890 book, maybe to fit the number of notes in a line.

As with most short Chinook Jargon texts, there’s so little context available that these lyrics are quite hard to interpret. (Expect many more posts on this site from me re-examinining the dozens of known Jargon songs and prayers.)

But one detail I can offer that hasn’t been pointed out before about this mid-1850s lyric: it’s straight-up early lower Columbia River creole Jargon.

  • It’s got that Progressive/Imperfective Aspect prefix that evolved quite early from the word háyú ‘much; many’ in its  < hiu kly > (hayu-kʰláy ‘crying; weeping; lamenting’).
  • It’s got the early-grammaticalized Intensifier prefix created from háyás(h) ‘big’ in its  < hias cla hai am > (hayas-łax̣áyam ‘very pitiful’).
  • The last-mentioned word, < cla hai am >, shows the typical lower Columbia pronunciation with no “W” in it (compare other regions’ < klahowya(m) >).

Another detail that hasn’t been pointed out before:

Oh my! Is < An-na-wil-lee > really a person’s name?!  I don’t think so.

It looks like a previously unrecognized  interjection, most likely originating from Lower Chinookan or Lower Chehalis, of dismay, and maybe misspelled by the typesetters as was frequent with old-time publications of Indian languages. Compare the shape of Lower Chehalis Salish ʔənáhəʔa and ʔədičəna for example.

My experience of Pacific Northwest Indigenous songs leaves me woefully unaware of any tradition of singers referring to themselves in the third person — that’s more of an “Ugh!” racial stereotype than any parallel to “Papa’s gonna buy you a diamond ring” diction. James Swan is unusually excellent about including Native people’s names in the Index to his book, and there is mention of one of the “little girls, Anwillik…who was not over twelve years old” (page 200) — thus not a grown woman with a husband. Swan doesn’t imply that there was any person called “Annawillee”, but his bestselling book inspired at least one later fiction writer to create one.

Let’s also keep in mind that published Chinuk Wawa in the 1800s was heavily prone to mis-punctuation, and it’s entirely possible that Swan meant for “An-na-wil-lee” to be set off by a comma, as exclamations might be in his first-language literacy (English).

Having examined these questions, and compared versions of the song, I think Swan’s understanding is more on track, as ought to be the case since he lived among the singer’s people for a good stretch of time. His published English rendering of it impressionistically conveys the sense of the song.

For what it’s worth, I’d like to set forth my view of a stricter interpretation of the lyrics:

Where do you go, where do you go every day? (I’m constantly) crying. Oh my!

Oh, my child is miserable, crying every day, my child is.

Our food is all gone, my child is nearly dead.

As we often discover, even the shorter “finds” of Chinuk Wawa can reflect quite a bit of information, with the application of a bit of Linguistic Archaeology™. That’s what we see today.


What do you think?
qʰáta msáyka tə́mtəm?