Re-evaluating Boas’s 1888 “Chinook Texts” (Part 2)

Investigating the next chunk of Jargon songs in Franz Boas’s 1888 paper, we find the pattern of missed details is consistent…

…I’ll just get straight to it:

SONG #4:

chinook songs 04

Good-bye, barkeeper! naika tlatowa 
< good-bye [1], barkeeper >! náyka łátwa
good-bye, barkeeper! I go
‘Good-bye, barkeeper! I am going’
DDR: ‘Goodbye, barkeeper! I’m leaving’

alta okok sun.
álta [2] úkuk sán.
now this day.
‘now to-day.’
DDR: ‘this very day.’

Dja! Potlatch patlem cocktail naika.
djá! [3] pátlach pʰáł-lám [4] < cocktail > náyka.
dja! give full-alcohol cocktail me.
‘Come! give me a full cocktail.’
DDR: ‘Hey! give a stiff cocktail to me.’

Comments on song #4:

< good-bye [1], barkeeper >! — Obviously taken straight from actually heard English in the local Victoria environment…which my readers know is a typical trait of actual Chinuk Wawa phrases. I’ve in fact found < gud bai > in an otherwise definitely 100% Jargon letter written by a BC Aboriginal person. And why wouldn’t ‘barkeeper’ be a Jargon word? The alternative, something like *lám-háws-mán, kind of lacks pizzazz in comparison. 

álta [2] úkuk sán (now this day) — I take this as a pretty clear expression of ‘this very day; right today’.  

djáa! [3] is a Haida attention-getting interjection jáa, defined in the Sealaska dictionary as ‘say! you there! hey!’

pátlach pʰáł-lám [4] < cocktail > náyka — here the adjective is not ‘full’ but ‘full of alcohol’, normally translated as ‘drunk(en)’ but here clearly the equivalent of slangy English ‘stiff’. 

Summary of song #4:

Again we find Boas translating from the Chinuk Wawa competently, yet without showing us the nuances that were consciously intended by the singer.


SONG #5:

chinook songs 05

Tlonas kada naika tumtum. 
t’łúnas-qʰáta [1] náyka tə́mtəm.
maybe (some)how my heart.
‘I do not know, how my heart feels.’ 
DDR: ‘Who can say how I’m feeling.’

Naika nanitch Godsroad tlatowa 
náyka nánich < Godsroad > [2] łátwa 
I see Godsroad go 
‘I have seen Godsroad (a steamer) leave,’
DDR: ‘I watched Godsroad leave, ‘

Pe Chali mitlait. Tlaqauya naika. 

pi cháli míłayt. łax̣áwya [3] náyka. 
and Charlie be.present. pitiful I. 
‘And Charlie on board. I am very unhappy.’
DDR: ‘with Charlie on board. I’m in a bad way.’

Comments on song #5:

t’łúnas-qʰáta [1] náyka tə́mtəm: the first two words here are a set expression, glossed in the Grand Ronde Tribes 2012 dictionary as ‘don’t know how (it will be); who knows what’s wrong’. The slippery word t’łúnas — a discourse marker indicating a speaker’s doubtful attitude — can be translated as ‘I don’t know’, kind of a synonym for wík náyka kə́mtəks, when it’s spoken by itself, but I see such an interpretation of it here as being a little nonsensical. 

< Godsroad > [2]: Interestingly, I haven’t yet been able to locate any references to a steamship God’s Road; it’s usually quite easy to find printed mentions of virtually every named vessel on the Coast. Could it be that the singer was lamenting losing a Native friend or sweetheart to Christianity? “God’s road” was a non-unknown trope in English-language Christian preaching of the 1800s, so perhaps Aboriginal folks were hearing it in church, maybe even in a steamboat metaphor. This hypothesis raises the possibility that Boas didn’t catch on to the fundamental premise of the song.  

łax̣áwya [3] náyka: ‘unhappy’ would typically be sík-tə́mtəm (hurt-heart), whereas this expression is more clearly ‘pitiful’. 

Summary of song #5:

This is another lyric that Boas conveys the essence of while leaving unclear whether he grasped the shadings of meaning present in it. I continue finding the same kind of discrepancy in his published “Texts” in various Pacific Northwest tribal languages — where it’s sometimes clearly due to his having used Chinook Jargon, often the only language he had in common with speakers, for getting the meanings of the Native words.


SONG #6:

chinook songs 06

Tlonas kada naika tumtum 
t’łúnas-qʰáta náyka tə́mtəm [1]
maybe-how my heart
‘I do not know, how my heart feels.’
DDR: ‘Who can say how I’m feeling;’

Kwansum naika tiki nanitch maika.
kwánisəm náyka tíki nánich máyka. 
always I want see you.
‘Always I wish to see you,’
DDR: ‘I’m always wanting to see you.’

Atlki naika wawa tlaqauya. Ya aya. 
áłqi [2] náyka wáwa łax̣áwya. yá áya. [3] 
eventually I say good. ya aya
‘(But) soon I (must) say good-bye. Ya aya.’
DDR: ‘Eventually I’ll be saying goodbye. How strange! What to do…’

Comments on song #6:

t’łúnas-qʰáta náyka tə́mtəm [1] — see comment 1 to the previous song.

áłqi [2] this word never means ‘soon’; it only signals an indefinite future time.

yá áya [3] — this is a sequence of two Haida interjections, ‘yáa ‘how strange! weird!’ and ‘áyaa ‘I don’t know’.

Summary of song #6:

Boas repeats his skewed interpretation of the discourse marker t’łúnas. He catches the essential paradox at the heart of the lyric, yet again misses details of verb tense and emotion that mattered to the singer. Note that Boas’s 1933 article, republishing this song, leaves the translation effectively unchanged.

Ikta maika chako komtaks?
What have you learned?

Advertisements