Re-evaluating Boas’s 1888 “Chinook Songs” (Part 7)

steamboat hope websters building

Webster’s Building, the first stone building on the BC mainland, built by the steamer Hope‘s owner (image credit: Opposite the City)

Today’s installment of this mini-series brings us a Chinook song that’s my favorite of the bunch due to its humour…

…which — are you surprised? — I’m going to claim that Franz Boas may have detected.

SONG #19:

chinook songs 19

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

Kopa Johnny. 

kʰupa djáni.
to Johnny.
‘Towards Johnny.’
DDR: ‘About Johnny.’

Okok tenas man, mamuk pelton naika. 

úkuk tənəs-mán mamuk-pʰíltən náyka. 
that little-man make-foolish me.
‘That young man makes a fool of me.’
DDR: ‘That boy is making a fool of me.’


aya [2].
DDR: ‘I don’t know what to do.’

Comments on song #19:

t’łúnas-qʰáta [1] náyka tə́mtəm, as I’ve pointed out in a previous installment of this mini-series, is actually a fixed expression within a fixed expression. The first two words conventionally indicate confusion. (Note lower Columbia River Jargon’s t’łúnas-qʰáta ‘don’t know how (it will be); who knows what’s wrong’, and compare that same dialect’s (kánawi-)qʰáta ‘every which way; messed up’).  The last two words refer to one’s thoughts or feelings, not necessarily the more literal ‘heart’. Altogether I understand this line as ‘God only knows how I’m feeling / Who can say how I’m feeling’. 

aya [2]as in other of the “Chinook Songs”, is a Haida-derived interjection having a definite meaning.

Summary of song #19:

Boas’s translation is quite adequate. However, I see no indication that he was aware of the nuances of t’łúnas-qʰáta [1] náyka tə́mtəm, in any of the songs where it occurs. Nor does he acknowledge the distinctly desperate emotional overtone of the final line. Any other differences between his translation and mine are stylistic only. 

SONG #20:

chinook songs 20

Kyiti Apples haias tlaqauya 
kíti ápəls [1] hayas-łax̣áwya [2]
Kittie apples very-pitiful
‘Kittie Apples is very unhappy’
DDR: ‘Kittie Apples is really pitiful’

Okok kol eli. 
úkuk kʰúl-íliʔi. 
this cold-land.
‘This winter.’
DDR: ‘This winter.’

Tlonas tlaksta iskum yeke?

t’łúnas-łáksta [3] ískam [4] yáka?
maybe-who take her?
‘Who will take her away?’
DDR: ‘God only knows who will take her.’

Hope steamboat. 
húp* stím-bút.
Hope steam-boat.
‘The steamboat Hope.’
DDR: ‘The steamboat Hope will!’

Comments on song #20:

kíti ápəls [1] is a personal name worth commenting on, both for its northern BC coastal accent (“Kyiti” strikes me as a Haida or Tsimshian-style pronunciation), and for the Jargon word “apples”, possibly indicating she was a seller of that fruit. 

hayas-łax̣áwya [2] K, as I’ve pointed out in a previous “Chinook Song”, doesn’t necessarily convey a sad emotion, but it absolutely means ‘really pitiful; in a bad way’. I read it here as telling us she’s not a great catch, since most of these collected songs are about people’s relationship prospects. 

t’łúnas-łáksta [3], analogous to t’łúnas-qʰáta in the previous song, is better understood as a bemused ‘who knows who?; God only knows who’. 

ískam [4] yáka is a use of the conventional Jargon expression ‘to take a woman’, meaning for a man to get married. Therefore, the following line is a pun — the only thing that’s going to ‘take’ Kittie Apples is the steamboat Hope headed out of town and up the mainland’s Fraser River.

Summary of song #20:

Here, Boas has done a very decent job of translating the point of the lyrics into English. Nonetheless, there are finer points that he may have missed.

SONG #21:

chinook songs 21

Kaltas kopa naika, 
kʰə́ltəs kʰupa náyka 
unimportant to me
‘I do not care,’ 

Spos maika hehe naika 

spus máyka híhi náyka 
if you me
‘If you laugh at me’ 

Dirty boy!

də́ti* bóy!
dirty boy
‘Dirty boy!’

Comments on song #21:

I have no points to add. I just hope you notice that hihi can indeed be a transitive verb, ‘to laugh at‘ someone. In addition, I can report that English “boy” is found in BC Jargon contexts, as in Father Le Jeune complimenting an Interior fella with < skukum mamuk, mai boi! > ‘Good work, my boy!’, and in Kamloops Wawa’s word < kaw boi > ‘cowboy’.

Summary of song #21:

The translation by Boas is flawless.

All in all, what do you think?