Re-evaluating Boas’s 1888 “Chinook Songs” (Part 4)

greetings from victoria

(Image credit: Pinterest)

Spoiler alert…
…from mistaken gender to verb tense blindness, you are in for more revision of Chinuk Wawa history today.

SONG #10:

chinook songs 10

Ya, tlos kakoa!
yá [1], (t)łus(h) kákwa! [2]
how.strange! IMPERATIVE thus!
‘Ya, that is good!’
DDR: ‘How strange! Oh, well!’

Ya, tlos kakoa!

yá, (t)łus(h) kákwa!
how.strange! IMPERATIVE thus!
‘Ya, that is good!’
DDR: ‘How strange! Oh, well!’

Kaltas tlotchman 

kʰə́ltəs łúchmən [3]
worthless woman
‘That worthless woman’
DDR: ‘(My) worthless woman’

Wek tiki naika. 
wík tíki [4] náyka.
not want me.
‘Does not like me.’
DDR: ‘Doesn’t love me.’

Comments on song #10:

yá [1]— in the absence of other evidence, I take this as a known Haida interjection of wonderment occurring in yet another of the “Chinook Songs”. I should mention that many of the 38 songs in Boas’s article have a definite Haida or Tsimshian accent, for example with “K” sounds being pronounced as “KY”. 

(t)łus(h) kákwa! [2] — this is a very well-known set phrase in Jargon, literally saying ‘may it be so’. Common uses of it range from the translation of the Christian ‘amen’ to the equivalent of a resigned ‘whatever!’ Tone of voice is everything. What these two words nearly certainly do not mean is Boas’s indicative-mood “That is good!”

łúchmən [3] — this word generically means ‘woman’, just as Boas translates it, but in the context of the singer being surprised at not being loved, I somewhat incline toward its usual specific meaning, ‘wife’. Note that, to make our interpretations understandable to the reader, both Boas and I are forced to add a determiner, either ‘that’ or ‘my’. 

tíki [4] means generically ‘want’ or specifically ‘love’. Which meaning would you go with in this context?

Summary of song #10:

There’s once again more evidence in the Chinuk Wawa lyric for a nuanced translation than one might surmise from reading Boas’s English version. 

SONG #11:

chinook songs 11

Haias tlaqauya
hayas-łax̣áwya [1]
‘Very unhappy I was’
DDR: ‘It was miserable’ 

Kunamokst naika oleman, 
kʰanumákwst [2] náyka úl[-]mán [3],
together.with my old-man,
‘With my wife,’
DDR: ‘With my husband,’

Kopa Bictoli.
kʰupa biktóli.
in Victoria.
‘In Victoria.’
DDR: ‘In Victoria.’

Helo tlaksta 
DDR: ‘Nobody’

Wawa tlaqauya nesaika 
wáwa łax̣áwya [4] nsáyka
say hello us
‘Said good-day to us’
DDR: ‘Says hello to us’

Kopa Bictoli.
kʰupa biktóli
in Victoria.
‘In Victoria.’
DDR: ‘In Victoria.’

Comments on song #11:

hayas-łax̣áwya [1] is a frequent set expression for ‘miserable’; note that with no expressed subject, the default interpretation in Jargon is with a 3rd-person inanimate / indefinite subject ‘it’ — not Boas’s ‘I’. 

kʰanumákwst [2] — this preposition, we should make clear, is not what you’d use to express ‘unhappy with someone’ (i.e. upset at someone). Instead, it’s restricted to a sense of ‘together with’, of physical proximity. 

úl[-]mán [3] — here we have a genuine howler of a mistake; this expression always means ‘old man’ including, as appropriate, ‘aged husband’. It never means ‘wife’ in Jargon.

wáwa łax̣áwya [4]  — here the verb tense, which is unmarked as normal in Chinook Jargon, becomes apparent, because of the possible readings of łax̣áwya, ‘said goodbye’ would be nonsense when the singer is located in Victoria, so we have to instead take it as ‘say(s) hello’. The other occurrences of łax̣áwya (in songs #22, #33, and #36) are either clearly ‘hello’ or at least not clearly ‘goodbye’. Note too that in the “Chinook Songs” the usual way to say ‘goodbye’ is with the borrowed English expression, as in songs #4, #15, and #31.
(An interesting contrast, by the way: inland, in Kamloops Chinuk Wawa, we only have evidence for < klahawiam > meaning ‘goodbye’!)

Summary of song #11:

This song is perhaps the clearest illustration yet in our mini-series of Boas definitely missing out on certain small but important details of Chinuk Wawa lyrics. Note: in his 1933 article, Boas republishes this song, changing over to ‘Nobody / Said good-bye to us’.

SONG #12:

chinook songs 12

yaya. [1]
DDR: ‘Yaya.’ 

Spos maika iskum tlotchman 
spus máyka ískam łúchmən 
if/when you take woman
‘When you take a wife,’
DDR: ‘When you get a wife,’


DDR: ‘Yaya,’

Wek maika soleks naika. 

wík máyka sáliks [2] náyka. 
not you angry me.
‘Don’t become angry with me.’
DDR: ‘(Then) you won’t be angry at me.’ 

Kaltas kopa naika. 

kʰə́ltəs kʰupa náyka. [3]
worthless to me.
‘I do not care.’
DDR: ‘See if I care (then).’ 

Comments on song #12:

yaya [1] — I don’t feel I have a way to establish whether this is the Haida interjection of amazement seen above, but doubled up; so I’m leaving it as an untranslatable song vocable.

wík máyka sáliks [2] — it is indeed possible in Chinuk Wawa to give a command of exactly the same form as the 2nd-person indicative, here ‘you aren’t/won’t be angry’. But it’s pretty rare, and the context here doesn’t really push us to find an imperative verb. Instead, I’m opting for the default indicative reading. See the next note. 

kʰə́ltəs kʰupa náyka. [3] — ‘I don’t care if you’re mad at me’ strikes me as hardly a thing you’d say to someone you’d just ordered not to be mad at you. I feel that this last line of the lyric supports my view of the preceding line as a statement rather than a command.

Summary of song #12:

While Boas holds up his workmanlike level of translation here, we’re looking at still another instance where he’s consistently lacking an awareness of the subtle, and very real, workings of Chinook Jargon.

What do you think?