Re-evaluating Boas’s “Chinook Songs” (Part 12)

As we near the home stretch, we find some serious revisions necessary…

…Two of the three songs we look at today mean something quite different from what Franz Boas thought…


SONG #34:

chinook songs 34

Ah, you my dear!
< ah, you my dear > !
‘Ah, you my dear!’
DDR: ‘Ah, you my dear!’

Where have you been all day?

< where have you been all day? > 
‘Where have you been all day?’
DDR: ‘Where have you been all day?’

Kakoa Billy wawa naika.

kákwa bíli wáwa náyka.
like.that Billy say me.

‘Thus Billy said to me.’
‘DDR: ‘That’s what Billy says to me.’

Comments on song #34:

No important comments. The verb tense in the last line is open to conjecture.

Summary of song #34: 

Boas had an easy job here! Two-thirds of the lyrics are in English 🙂


SONG #35:

chinook songs 35

Aya, aya!
aya, aya! [1]
I.don’t.know, I.don’t.know!
‘Aya, aya!’
DDR: ‘My, my!’


Elip naika nanitch 

íləp [2] náyka nánich
before I see 
‘I have seen’
DDR: ‘I’ve already seen’


Sitka mesaika eli.
sítka msáyka íliʔi.

Sitka you.folks’s land. 
‘Sitka your country.’
DDR: ‘You guys’s country of Sitka.’


Kaltas spos naika memalos 

kʰə́ltəs spus [3] náyka míməlus 
unimportant if I die 
‘Never mind, if I die’
DDR: ‘It’d make no difference if I would’ve died’


Yakwa elip. 

yakwá íləp. 
here before. 
‘Now soon.’
DDR: ‘Here [in Victoria] first.’

Comments on song #35:

aya, aya! [1] Again with the Haida interjections of amazement etc…

íləp [2] is here an adverb ‘before’ with a sense of ‘already’ (for which there’s no special word in most dialects of Jargon). 

spus [3] introduces a counterfactual (hypothetical) clause. Those have no distinct form in Jargon, being identical to other ‘if’ clauses, but the context is the giveaway.

Summary of song #35:

Boas missed the point here — this song is a humorous insult to the Tlingits.


SONG #36:

chinook songs 36

[In Tlingit: ] Qat kawawetl! my dear! 
χàtˌkʰàːwàwáɬʼ [1] < my dear >!
I.have.become.broken my dear 

‘I broke down! my dear!’ 
DDR: ‘I’m all busted up over here, my dear!’

Wawa tlaqauya
wáwa łax̣áwya [2]

say hello
‘Say good-bye!’ 
DDR: ‘Say hello’

Naika alta. 

náyka álta.
me now. 
‘To me now.’ 
DDR: ‘To me now.’

Comments on #36:

χàtˌkʰàːwàwáɬʼ [1] means ‘I have become broken’ in Tlingit, according to Dzéiwsh James A. Crippen (personal communication, February 21, 2018). In a much later article on Chinook Jargon (1933), Boas seems to think instead that this was lower Columbia River CJ x̣áwqał ‘(I) can’t’ — perhaps the most spectacularly knowledgeable wrong guess we’ve seen here lately 🙂 (Incidental note — in the 1933 article, Boas revises his phonetic transcription of some samples from the “Chinook Songs”, and it shows the Victoria singers even more closely matching the phonology of the lower Columbia River area.)

Yes, łax̣áwya [2] means ‘hello’ when used as a greeting in north coast Chinuk Wawa.

Summary of #36:

Although this trilingual text is quite a short lyric, we wind up revamping our sense of the emotion behind it; instead of Boas’s pitiful deathbed lament, it looks like we just have here yet another “Chinook Song” based on sheer desire!


Ikta maika chako komtaks?
What have you learned?