Re-evaluating Boas’s 1888 “Chinook Songs” (Part 13, the finale)

We finish up with two last Chinook Jargon songs, plus a Tlingit mystery bonus.

The upshot is clear — we gain a lot of new understanding by coming back to this important 1888 lyric collection and analyzing it with all the new knowledge linguists have contributed about the Jargon since then.

SONG #37:

chinook songs 37

Kaltas kopa naika 
kʰə́ltəs kʰupa náyka 
unimportant to me
‘I don’t care’ 
DDR: ‘I don’t care’

Spos maika mash naika. 

spus máyka másh náyka. 
if you leave me.
‘If you desert me.’
DDR: ‘If you desert me.’

Haiu puty boys kuli kopa town.

háyú púti* bóys kúli [1] kʰupa tʰáwn. 
many pretty boys run.around in town. 
‘Many pretty boys are in the town.’ 
DDR: ‘Many pretty boys get around town.’

Atlki weqt naika iskum [Ø].

áłqi wə́x̣t náyka ískam Ø [2].
eventually again I take it/one.
‘Soon I shall take another one.’
DDR: ‘Some time I’ll get another one.’

Wek k’al kopa naika.

wík-q’ə́l kʰupa náyka. 
not-hard for me. 
‘That [3] is not hard for me!’
DDR: ‘It’s not hard for me.’

Comments on song #37:

kúli [1] once again has primarily a metaphorical / slang use in north coast and BC Chinuk Wawa, as ‘run around, get up to no good’. This point adds to our understanding that the singer is really taunting their ex-lover. 

Ø [2] is a 3rd person pronoun (an un-pronounced pronoun) that you can almost always translate as ‘it’. But fundamentally, as I wrote in a 2007 paper that pointed this pronoun out for the first time, it’s got a constellation of interrelated meanings: inanimate, non-specific, indefinite. So, here it functions as ‘one’. 

‘That’ [3] is less precise as a translation here than a non-specific (some linguists would say (“dummy”) pronoun ‘it’. The same thing is going on, by the way, in the first line, where kʰə́ltəs kʰupa náyka literally means ‘it is unimportant to me’. 

Summary of song #37:

As is usual in his English translations of the “Chinook Songs”, Boas gives us a really serviceable impression of the lyrics’ meaning — but he doesn’t convey a number of the subtler points, which I argue make a difference in our grasp of what the song means to say. Note that Boas re-presents this song in his 1933 paper, feeling a need to change the translation after 45 years, and it comes out even worse there, e.g. ‘…Soon (one will) take me again / It is not hard on me.’!

SONG #38:

chinook songs 38

Dja! Tlos kakoa Billy! Aya.
dja! (t)łús kákwa(,) bíli! aya.
hey! good thus(,) Billy! I.don’t.know.

‘Dja! That is all right! Billy! Aya.’ 
DDR: ‘Hey, go ahead, Billy. Whatever.’

Iskum Chinaman Kiddie! ya aya.

ískam cháyna-mán kʰíti! ya aya. 
take China-man Kittie! how.strange I.don’t.know.
‘Take Chinese Kiddie! ya aya.’
DDR: ‘Chase after Chinese Kittie! My oh my.’

Yeke way up kopa maika. 

yáka < way up > kʰupa máyka.
she way up from you.
‘She is far better than you.’
DDR: ‘She’s way above you.’

Comments on song #38:

More meaning-bearing Haida interjections. Again with the ‘I give up’ (t)łús kákwa. We learn that cháyna-mán is gender-neutral, as an adjective. ‘Kittie’ is one of the recurring stereotypical names for Jargon song characters. 

Summary of song #38:

Boas’s decent translation here is another one that can be improved on, with knowledge gained since 1888.


chinook songs tlingit naika sister

This song in Tlingit is given by Boas at the end of his 1888 article, to demonstrate how various languages sometimes get mixed in this genre of song. I haven’t been able to decipher much of the first two lines, but the third line is of course another good example of north coast Chinook Jargon < sister > meaning ‘sweetheart’. (But as far as I can tell, not ‘with my sweetheart’!)

What have you learned?
Ikta maika chako komtaks?