LBDB: Prose, not lyrics (Part 3)

fire canoe

háyás(h) páya-kəním (Image credit:

More investigation into just how well Laura Belle Downey-Bartlett, author of a book of hard-to-sing Chinook Jargon songs, spoke the language…

…with some comments by me afterward, for those interested in details…

LBDB convo 01

Kla-how-yu [1] nika tilacum?
łax̣áwya(,) nayka tílikam(.)
hello(,) my friend.

DDR: ‘Hello, my friend.’
LBDB: ‘How are you, my friend?’

Kah mika klatawaw?
qʰá(x̣) mayka łátwa?
where you go?
DDR: ‘Where are you going to?’
LBDB: ‘Where are you going?’
Nika chaco pee nanitch mika
nayka cháku pi nánich [2] mayka.
I come and see you.
DDR: ‘I’m coming to visit you.’
LBDB: ‘I have come to see you.’
Nika youtl kehwa mika chaco
nayka yútł(ił) qʰíwa mayka cháku. 
I glad because you come.
DDR: ‘I’m glad because you came.’
LBDB: ‘I am pleased because you have come.’

Mika nanitch okoke hyas piah canim?
mayka nánich úkuk háyás(h) páya-kəním? [3] 
you see that big fire-canoe?
DDR: ‘Did you see that steamboat?’
LBDB: ‘Did you see that big steamer?’
Nah-witka nika nanitch; pee halo nika kumtux kopa kah yahka chaco
nawítka nayka nánich [Ø]; pi hílu nayka kə́mtəks kʰapa qʰá(x̣) yaka cháku.
indeed I see [it]; but not I know from where (s)he [sic] come.

DDR: ‘I sure did see it; but I don’t know where she [sic] came from.’
LBDB: ‘Yes I saw it, but I don’t know where it came from.’

Nika hyas olo pee tikegh muck-a-muck
nayka hayas-úlu pi tíki(x̣) mə́kʰmək. 
I very-hungry and want food/eat.
DDR: ‘I’m very hungry and want to eat.’
LBDB: ‘I am very hungry, I want food.’

Chaco mika, klatawa kopa nika ee-na-ti kopa lemon-ti
cháku mayka [4], łátwa kʰapa náyka ínatay kʰapa lamətáy.
come you, go with* me across on mountain.
DDR: ‘Come on, go along with me over the mountains.’
LBDB: ‘Come go with me over the mountains.’
Kloash, nika klatawa
łúsh, nayka łátwa. 
good, I go.
DDR: ‘All right, I’ll go.’
LBDB: ‘Good, I’ll go.’

LBDB convo 02

Kah mika tolth? (house)
qʰá(x̣) mayka t’úł* (háws) [5]?
where your house (house)?
DDR: ‘Where is your house?’
LBDB: ‘Where is your house?’
Kee-kwillie, wake siyah kopa chuck
kíkwəli, wik-sayá kʰapa chə́qw. 
below, not-far from water.
DDR: ‘Down below, near the water.’
LBDB: ‘Down near the water.’

Chaco chee sun
cháko(,) chí-sán(,)
come(,) new-day(,)
DDR: ‘Come at dawn,’
LBDB: ‘Come early in the morning.’
Pee klatawa kopa tupso illahee pee iskum ah-mo-tah olallie
pi łátwa kʰapa tə́psu-ílihi pi iskam amutʰi-úlali [6]
and go to grass-land and get strawberry-berry.
DDR: ‘And go to the field and get strawberry berries [sic].’
LBDB: ‘To go out on the prairie and get strawberries.’

Nika kuitan klatawa cooley, pee klonass kopa kah
nayka kʰíyutən łátwa-kúli, pi t’łúnas kʰapa qʰá(x̣). 
my horse go-run, and who.knows to where.
DDR: ‘My horse went running (off), and God knows where to.’
LBDB: ‘My horse has run away and I don’t know where he went.’

Nika sullux kehwa okoke mesachie tenas kwanisum chuck-kin nika kah-mooks
nayka sáliks qʰíwa úkuk mas(h)áchi tənás kwánsəm c’hə́qʰən nayka kámuksh. 
I angry because that evil child always kick my dog.
DDR: ‘I’m mad because that nasty child keeps kicking my dog.’
LBDB: ‘I am mad because that bad child is always kicking my dog.’

LBDB convo 03

Mika tikegh mah-kook nika olallies?
mayka tíki(x̣) mákuk nayka úlali-s?
you want buy my berry-s?
DDR: ‘Do you want to buy my berries?’
LBDB: ‘Do you wish to buy my berries?’
Konsee mika tikegh pee olallies?
qʰántsi mayka tíki(x̣) pi [2] úlali-s?
how.much you want and [sic] berry-s?
DDR: ‘How much do you want for berries?’
LBDB: ‘How much do you want for them?’
Nika tum-tum kloash spose mika potlatch sitkum dollah
nayka tə́mtəm łúsh spus mayka pátłach sítkum-dála.
I think good if you give half dollar.
DDR: ‘I think it’d be good if you gave a half dollar.’
LBDB: ‘I think half a dollar would be about right.’

Nika tikegh mika chaco lolo piah stick kopa nika house
nayka tíki(x̣) mayka cháku lúlu páya-stík kʰapa nayka háws. 
I want you come bring fire-wood to my house.
DDR: ‘I want you bringing [sic] firewood to my house.’
LBDB: ‘I want you to come and carry fire wood in my house.’
Konsee chicamin mika potlatch nika pee lolo mika stick
qʰántsi chíkʰəmin mayka pátłach nayka pi [2] lúlu mayka stík(?)
how.much money you give me and bring you wood?
DDR: ‘How much money will you give me and I bring you the wood?’
LBDB: ‘How much money will you give me to carry the wood.’
Nika tum-tum ikt dollah kloash
nayka tə́mtəm íxt dála łúsh.
I think one dollar good.
DDR: ‘I reckon a dollar is good.’ [Note — no more words, so nothing corresponding to the second LBDB sentence.]
LBDB: ‘I think a dollar would be right. What do you think?’
Kloash kahkwa, nika mamook
łúsh kákwa, nayka mámuk [Ø].
good like.that, I do [it].
DDR: ‘That’s fine, I’ll do it.’
LBDB: ‘That is good, I’ll do it.’

Comments on the above:

The unusual spelling < Kla-how-yu > [1] was probably intended by LBDB to suggest a schwa (“uh”) sound at the end. Americans of her generation, who were adults in the mid-1800s, had a tendency toward this strategy when they wanted to make sure you didn’t turn a written < a > into the “ay” sound. You can relate that to the folksy and/or jokey pronunciations “Ioway” and “Californiay”. Did you incidentally notice that LBDB uses a question mark, and translates this word for her readers as ‘How are you?’ It’s the old “Clark, how are you?” linguistic myth… You can further connect the preceding to one eventual consequence, which was that folks who knew their Jargon mainly from reading it sometimes wrote and said < Cla-how-you? >!!! If I were prone to fun tangents, I’d mention here how one settler remembered her silly dad answering Native people’s greeting of < Klahowya six > (‘Hello friend’) with < Klahowya seven! >

cháku pi nánich [2] this is a synonym of what I’ve much more often seen as < chako nanich > / < klatwa nanich > for ‘visit’ up around Kamloops. (Literally ‘go or come see’.) The pi is rather unexpected, in other words. For further unusual uses of “pi” — at times apparently synonymous with lower Columbia River pus ‘in order to’ — see later in today’s installment, and in the next one. Many such occurrences closely match how Ulrich E. Fries records spoken Chinuk Wawa in his memoir of 1880s north-central Washington life, “From Copenhagen to Okanagan”, and ways that folks spoke farther north into the southern interior of British Columbia around that same era. But my gut inclines me to suspect LBDB was actually just a bit rusty at talking Jargon, as I’ve expressed in previous installments of this mini-series, and was trying to dredge up a previously clear distinction between spus ‘if’ and pus ‘in order to’. (Which is not my original observation; it was pointed out to me by a friend, and I’m ashamed I can’t recall who exactly without a deep dive into my files!) 

háyás(h) páya-kəním [3] — literally ‘big fire-canoe’, this is a fairly rare old expression for ‘steamboat’! The English expression as borrowed into Jargon, stin-put, is way more common. Also known is paya-ship, literally ‘fire ship’.

cháku mayka [4], I suspect, was a set expression in late 1800s Jargon. Literally ‘come you’, this command is still known to us as the name of a mall in Nelson, BC.

t’úł* (háws) [5] — a pair of synonyms where LBDB must’ve taken the first member, actually an old Chinookan word for the large multi-family plank houses, from John K. Gill’s dictionary, perhaps from its 1909 busting-at-the-seams edition. The second word has been the only word for ‘house; home’ throughout virtually all of Chinuk Wawa’s history.

amutʰi-úlali [6]. literally ‘strawberry-berries’, is a redundancy both in Jargon and in English. The word for ‘strawberries’ here is uncommon at best, hardly found beyond early stages of the Jargon, so it’s possible LBDB snagged this word too from Gill!

Summary of the above:

I feel safe in once again evaluating LBDB’s Chinuk Wawa prose as truly fluent, just with a sprinkling of hesitations and overcorrections — as if she were out of the habit of talking the language by the late date at which she wrote her dictionary.

A couple of her expressions here are most likely dictionary words that she had never known as a Jargon-speaking kid around Steilacoom, WA, e.g. the lower Columbia River < kehwa > ‘because’ and < ah-mo-tah > ‘strawberries’.

Stay tuned for the next installment in this mini-series, featuring more didactic dialogues!

What have you learned?