Chinuk Wawa in a Stó:lō hymn book (Part 4)

stain remover

First Google result when I searched for “What can wash away my stain” (image credit: Amazon)

indian methodist 40



Ikta kumtux mash siah
íkta kə́mtəks másh sayá [1]
what know throw far
‘What knows how to throw away’
Konaway nesika masat-chie,
kʰánawi nsáyka masáchi, [2]
all our evil.thing,
‘All our badness?’
Ikta kumtux mamook delate
íkta kə́mtəks mamuk-dəléyt [3]
what know make-right
‘What knows how to repair’ 

Konaway nesika tumtum.
kʰánawi nsáyka tə́mtəm. 
all our heart.
‘All our hearts?’
Kopet Jesus pilpil
kopit djísəs* pílpil [4]
only Jesus blood
‘Only Jesus’s blood’ 

Wash nika kaw-kwa snow;
wásh nayka kákwa snó; [5]
clean me like snow;
‘Cleans me like the snow;’ 

O hyas klosh pilpil,
ó hayas-(t)łúsh pílpil,
oh very-good blood,
‘Oh, the wonderful blood,’
Halo hul-oima ikta.
hílu x̣lúyma íkta. [6]
not other thing.
‘It’s no strange thing.’


Ikta mamook Jesus mash
íkta-mámuk djísəs* másh
what-make Jesus throw
‘Why did Jesus spill’
An-kutte yahka pilpil?
ánqati yaka pílpil? [7]
long.ago his blood?
‘His former blood?’
Yahka tikke mamook delate
yaka tíki mamuk-dəléyt
he want make-right
‘He wanted to repair’
Konaway nesika tumtum.
kʰánawi nsáyka tə́mtəm.
all our heart.
‘All our hearts.’

Comments on the above:

íkta kə́mtəks másh sayá… [1] ‘What knows how to to throw away…’, we can tell from the original English lyrics that were being translated (see below), is an attempt at ‘what can wash away…?’ It’s as awkward-sounding in Chinuk Wawa as my literal translation here suggests. (A) There’s a clash of inanimate/non-agentive ‘what’ vs. animate/agentive ‘know how’. (Although in more southerly dialects than BC, kə́mtəks did develop into a habitual-aspect marker on verbs, which is somewhat similar to ‘can; be able’.) (B) ‘Throw away’ here is odd vs. the intended ‘wash away; get rid of; clean up’. Note that English- and French-speaking newcomers often wrestled with trying to express ‘can’ in Jargon, sometimes coming up with phrasings like skúkum (pus) VERB ‘strong enough (to) VERB’, but typically missing the fact that Jargon for a long time had been saying (h)áyáq VERB ‘quickly/soon VERB’ for ‘can’.

nsáyka masáchi [2] is neither awkward nor confusing, as masáchi had been used as a noun ‘badness’ and ‘sin’ for some time. But this word choice to translate the idea of ‘stain’ is, well, interesting, if more or less understandable.  A more literal word like t’sə́m ‘spot; mark’ wouldn’t have had the negative emotional connotations in Jargon that it carried in English. 

mamuk-dəléyt [3] is a phrase that’s new to us, not found in any references I’ve looked through. Its meaning ‘make right’ is crystal-clear, making it an excellent translation. 

djísəs* pílpil [4] — Here again we have the unusual possessive formation without the possessive pronoun yaka ‘his’, which is however typical of preachers’ Jargon. We might see it as part of a “hymn register” in Chinuk Wawa, equally as much as certain modified pronunciations found in Kamloops-area Catholic hymns, where a vowel can be added or dropped to make a line fit the music it’s sung to. (A similar thing goes on in a well-known Protestant hymn, where d(ə)léyt gets mutated to díleyt.) 

wásh nayka kákwa snó [5] — Unfortunately this line gives an unintended impression to a Jargon-speaking listener. ‘Washes me like snow’ strikes me as summoning the image of using snow, melted or not, for bathing oneself. The reason for this is that Chinook Jargon lacks the sort of resultative-adjective construction that’s typical of English, where ‘to beat black & blue’ = ‘to beat until one is black & blue’, and ‘to wash like snow’ would = ‘to wash until one is as clean/white as snow’. Need I point out how problematic it is to expect the Northern European metaphor WHITE::CLEAN, especially when referring to skin tone, to work for Native North Americans? 

hílu x̣lúyma íkta [6] — This is another mixed result, due to the slippery semantics of x̣lúyma ‘different; strange, odd’. It’s equally well understood by a Jargon speaker as either ‘no other thing’ or the unintended ‘it’s no strange thing’! 

másh ánqati yaka pílpil [7] — Technically, this can be read the way the translators meant, as ‘spilled long ago his blood’. But it’s more common and more clear in Jargon to put the adverb before the whole phrase, or after it. (ánqati másh yaka pílpil / másh yaka pílpil ánqati.) As a result, the line as given to us can also be read as a known fluent adjectival usage expressing ‘former, previous’ (ánqati yaka pílpil / yaka ánqati pílpil).

Compare with the original 1876 English lyrics, which are substantially different:


What can wash away my stain?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.


O precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.


For my cleansing this I see —
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
For my pardon this my plea —
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.


Summary of the preceding:

Yet again we find that despite the involvement of 3 translators (or maybe because there were so many), the Chinuk Wawa of this hymn leaves something to be desired. So far, these missionaries’ language work isn’t of a terribly high quality.

What do you think?