Re-evaluating Boas’s 1888 “Chinook Songs” (Part 3)


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Onward to three more of the “Chinook Songs”…

…and we continue to find discrepancies between the lyrics and the translations given.

I want to re-emphasize the fact that the hardest texts to translate from one language to another are the shortest one. Short = scant context to help the translator. Franz Boas did a very fine job with these songs, all things considered. Any improvements I feel able to suggest are due to my having access to greater context, in the form of far more raw data and linguistic analysis of this language than anyone had in 1888.

SONG #7:

chinook songs 07.PNGHayaleha, hayaleha, hayaleha!
hayaleha, hayaleha, hayaleha! [1]
[doo-wop vocables]
‘Hayaleha, hayaleha, hayaleha!’

Spos maika nanitch naika telhum 
spus máyka nánich nayka tílixam [2]
if you see my people
‘If you see my friends’
DDR: ‘If you see my people,’

Wek saia naika memalos alta
[. — I think the period here is a typo]

wík-sayá náyka míməlus álta [3]
not-far I die/dead now
‘(Say), that I had almost died’
DDR: ‘(Say that) I’m just about dead now’

Kopa Kunspa eli. Yaya.

kʰupa kúnspa*-íliʔi [4]. yaya. [5]
at Queensborough-place. yaya.
‘In New Westminster  [Queensborough]. How strange, how strange…’
DDR: ‘In Queensborough country. Yaya.’

Comments on song #7:

hayaleha, hayaleha, hayaleha! [1] These syllables don’t match any interjections I’m finding in dictionaries of Haida, Tsimshian, or Tlingit, perhaps the major Native languages of folks in the Victoria waterfront community. I’m guessing that they’re not intended as meaningful words. 

nayka tílixam [2] is indeterminate between the more specific ‘my friends’ and the more generic ‘my people’ (including ‘relatives’), so I feel the latter is a translation that conveys its sense more straightforwardly. 

álta [3] ‘now’ adds a crucial shade of meaning; Boas’s translation of this line makes it seem as if the singer is envisioning being already dead by the time their people are told the news, but I’m seeing a more prosaic request to report a present factual condition. 

kúnspa*-íliʔi [4] — the second word here turns the preceding place name into a less specific locale, as if to say ‘in the Queensborough country/area’. Recall that in referring to a precise urban place, Jargon can instead put tʰáwn after the place name. So I’m feeling that Boas missed, or is leaving out, a detail in the lyrics here. 

yaya [5] — I admit I’m only guessing here, but this could be a repetition of the Haida interjection for ‘how strange! weird!’ that we’ve already seen in song #6. I’m not finding anything of similar form in Tsimshian or Tlingit, whereas already in this song collection it’s looking as if Haida supplied a fair amount of words to Victoria-area First Nations Chinook Jargon. To see how weak my analysis of this yaya as Haida is, compare the following song, where ya is probably not ‘how strange’. 

Summary of song #7:

I have no arguments with Boas’s take on the hayaleha‘s and yaya‘s, and I agree with his idea that the third line is the message to be delivered on behalf of the singer. Boas again delivers the gist of the song in a recognizable way, just minus certain finer points that the singer demonstrably intended. (As with the other songs documented by Boas in this paper, this one is in recognizably fluent and expressive Chinuk Wawa, by no means as clumsy as some think pidgin speech is.)

SONG #8:

chinook songs 08

Ya kanowe sun naika sick tumtum[. — another punctuation typo, I think — DDR]
yá kánawi-sán [1] náyka sík-tə́mtəm [2]
YA every-day I hurt-heart
‘Ya, always I long’
DDR: ‘Ya, I’m sad every day’

Kopa naika man kopa Caliponia. 
kʰupa nayka mán [3] kʰupa kʰalipónia*
for my man in California.
‘For my husband in California.’
DDR: ‘For my man in California.’

Comments on song #8:

kánawi-sán [1] — as we saw in a previous song, this isn’t ‘always’ (which is kwánisəm) but instead ‘every day; all day’.

náyka sík-tə́mtəm [2] — this is definitely the generic ‘sad’, and less arguably the specific ‘long for’.

nayka mán [3] — here too we have a phrase that, while defensible in a generic reading ‘my man’, doesn’t necessarily signify the more precise ‘my husband’.

Summary of song #8:

Keeping up the trend, Boas here delivers a serviceable “gist” yet can be seen as unsure of the finer workings of the Jargon.

SONG #9:

I won’t dwell on the fact because it’s tangential here, but this song is classic BC Chinook Jargon in that it includes a recently borrowed & more precise English word ‘leave’, replacing the old Jargon másh.

chinook songs 09

Haias lele naika sick tumtum, 
hayas-líli náyka sík-tə́mtəm,
very-long.time I hurt-heart,
‘A long time I felt unhappy,’
DDR: ‘For a long time I’ve been sad,’

Pe okok sun elip haias k’al, 

pi úkuk-sán íləp-hayas-q’ə́l, 
and/but this-day most-very-hard,
‘But to-day is the hardest day,’
DDR: ‘But today is the toughest,’

Kada Entelplaize yaqka leave naika.

qʰáta [1] entəlplayz* [2] yáx̣ka lív nayka[.]
how Enterprise it leave me
‘For the Enterprise has left me.’
DDR: ‘How is it that the Enterprise could leave me?’

Comments on song #9:

qʰáta [1] — this word, in my experience, never functions to express ‘because; for’, as Boas takes it. Instead, as my dissertation shows, in BC Jargon it’s an expression of wonderment. (Which helps explain why a few older commentators claimed qʰáta means ‘why’, a concept that has notoriously varying expression among Jargon dialects.)

[2] I can’t really dispute that the Enterprise was a pelagic seal-hunting vessel, but so far my poking around in old BC newspapers of the time has only revealed a (passenger) steamer of that name, which would paint a somewhat different picture from the background Boas describes. (Okay, I have to admit I’ve got some improving to do in my maritime research skills.)

Summary of song #9:

Boas does a good job putting across the sense of the lyrics. It’s just the one word in the last line that seems to have thrown him into a more impressionistic than accurate translation.

What do you think?