LBDB: Prose, not lyrics (Part 5)

chinook ten commandments

Another Chinook 10 C’s (image credit: me)

Today, in our examination of Laura Belle Downey-Bartlett’s rusty pioneer Chinook, let’s look at her contribution to a popular genre…

…Back in the day, there were quite a few Jargon translations of the Christian Bible’s 10 Commandments. We find a number (so to speak) of these in various Chinook Jargon dictionaries, in popular books, and in newspapers, all in the post-frontier period. (Similarly, between about 1918 and 1938, lists with titles like “The Indian Ten Commandments” or “The American Indian’s Ten Commandments” and promoting a Boy Scout-ish form of nature worship began to show up in newspapers.)

I promise that the next post I’ll write here will be a comparison of various Chinook 10 Commandments … but for now, let LBDB present her own version of Moses’ instructions, from page 81 of her published dictionary.

Any comments I have on these will appear after this clipping.

Note that LBDB called Chinuk Wawa the “Intertribal” language, and English “American”. I’ve placed her CW & English versions of each commandment together, for easier reference, and I’ve silently changed any pesky 19th-century punctuation typos in my contributions below. Any italicized CW pronunciation here with two accent marks has varying stress. The lines labeled “DDR” are my back-translations from Jargon to show in English what they mean. (As opposed to whatever LBDB intended them to mean.)

lbdb ten commandments 01

lbdb ten commandments 02

táłlam sáx̣ali-táyí yaka wáwa
DDR: ‘Ten of God’s Sayings’

1. Nika Sah-ah-lie Tyee kopa mica. Kopit ikt mika kumtux Sah-ah-lie Tyee.
     náyka sáx̣ali-táyí kʰupa [1] máyka. kʰúpit(-)íxt [2] mayka kə́mtəks [3] sáx̣ali-táyí.
     I above-chief to you.SINGULAR. only-one you know above-chief.
DDR: ‘I am God to you. You only know one god.’
LBDB: 1. I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.

2. Wake cultus wau-wau, Sah-ah-lie Tyee nem.
     wík kʰə́ltəs-wáwa sáx̣ali-táyí(-)ním. [4]
not worthless-talk above-chief name.
DDR: ‘Don’t say God’s name for fun.’
LBDB: 2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

3. Kloash nanitch kwanisum sacra kopa Sunday.
     (t)łúsh-nánich kwánisəm sákra* [5] kʰupa sánti. 
good-watch always sacred(?) on Sunday.
DDR: ‘Pay attention(,) it’s always sacred (?) on Sunday.’
LBDB: 3. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

4. Kloash kumtux mika Papa pee mika Mama.
     (t)łúsh-kə́mtəks [6] mayka pápá pi mayka mámá. 
well-listen your father and your mother.
DDR: ‘Listen well to your father and your mother.’
LBDB: 4. Honor thy Father and thy Mother.

5. Wake mamook mamaloose klaxta.
     wík mamuk-míməlus (t)łáksta. 
not make-dead anyone.
DDR: ‘Don’t kill anyone.’
LBDB: 5. Thou shalt not kill.

6. Wake mamook ikta shem kopa mika itlwillie, pee kopa klaxta.
     wík mámuk íkta shím kʰupa mayka í(t)łwəli, pi kʰupa (t)łáksta. 
not make any.kind shame with/to your body, or with/to anyone.
DDR: ‘Don’t do anything shameful with/to your body, or with/to anyone.’
LBDB: 6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

7. Wake kapswalla.
     wík kapshwála.
     not steal.
DDR: ‘Don’t steal.’
LBDB: 7. Thou shalt not steal.

8. Wake Kleminawhit.
     wík t’łəmínxwət.
not tell.lies.
DDR: ‘Don’t tell lies.’
LBDB: 8. Thou shalt not lie.

9. Wake kumtux, pee wake tikegh ict [sic] shem kopa holoima Kloochman.
     wík kə́mtəks, pi wík tíki(x̣) íxt [7] shím kʰupa x̣lúyma (t)łúchmən. 
not know(?), and not want one [sic] shame with/from strange woman.
DDR: ‘Don’t know/listen to, and don’t want (even) one shameful thing with/from strange women.’
LBDB: 9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors House, his wife or servants.

10. Wake tikegh klaxta mika tikegh ikta.
     wík tíki(x̣) (t)łáksta mayka tíki(x̣) íkta. [8]
     not want anyone you want anything.
DDR: ‘Don’t want anyone (if???) you want something.’
LBDB: 10. Thou shalt not covet that which is not thine.


sáx̣ali-táyí kʰupa [1] máyka — ‘God to you’ is kind of odd-sounding to my ear, as the simpler ‘your God’ (máyka sáx̣ali-táyí) feels way more straight. But in legit Jargon, I’ve definitely seen and heard expressions parallel to this, e.g. táyí kʰupa Kamlups ‘the chief at/of Kamloops’. 

kʰúpit(-)íxt [2] — This early on became the conventional Jargon expression for ‘alone’. If you take each word individually instead (‘only one’), well, that makes sense too. You tell me which one LBDB meant. Or did she mean both?

mayka kə́mtəks [3] sáx̣ali-táyí — For me the verb here is harmlessly ambiguous; kə́mtəks obviously can mean ‘to know; to recognize’, but also in pioneer Jargon it commonly served as ‘to hear, to listen to’. 

sáx̣ali-táyí(-)ním. [4]  — Turns out, it was really widespread practice for folks to use special grammar, when it came to God or Jesus possessing stuff! Normal Jargon is sáx̣ali-táyí yaka ním (God his name).

sákra* [5] LBDB seems to have made up this word. It’s not known in any of the Jargon reference material I’ve looked at. It may reflect Latin sacra ‘holy things; holy (feminine)’. She may have had in mind French sacré ‘holy’, since much of the Jargon’s Christian vocabulary comes from priestly Canadian French.

(t)łúsh-kə́mtəks [6] — This is an elegant way to say ‘pay attention (to)’, which I feel is a reasonable way for LBDB to express ‘honoring’. You might equally well say łush-q’wəlán (a synonym for ‘listen well’) or ískam łaska wáwa (‘accept their words’), which was common in BC Jargon. 

wík tíki(x̣) íxt [7] shím — This wording can kind of work OK, but what LBDB did here was to make a common writing mistake, mixing up < ict > ‘one’ with the intended < ikta > ‘thing’. Correcting for that, she meant ‘…don’t wish for anything shameful with/from other (people’s) women.’ My question is, what happened to the house and the servants in her translation?

 wík tíki(x̣) (t)łáksta mayka tíki(x̣) íkta. [8] — Something went seriously goofy here. I can’t make head or tails of LBDB’s Jargon version of Commandment 10. 

Summary of the above:

LBDB’s translation of the commandments is mostly quite clear. There are a couple of spots where she seems hesitant or vague about the exact word she wants. All of this is in line with our ongoing evaluation of her Jargon prose as fluent, but rusty.

What do you think?