Songs of LBDB (Part 2: “America”)

Now switching over to Laura Belle Downey-Bartlett’s “Chinook-English Songs” book…

…where do I begin?

With song #1, I reckon.

But I’m heaving a sigh, because the more that LBDB tries to closely translate well-known songs from English, the clunkier her Chinuk Wawa gets.

And that’s a shame, since I’ve prove that she was a genuinely fluent speaker.

But I suppose her purpose is served anyway, in giving Pacific Northwesterners of the post-frontier era some music to sing that’s both familiar and uniquely their own.

I have to say, though, JUST TRY SINGING THIS! It’s murder.

Just as it’s rare to be able to rhyme in Jargon, it’s dead hard to copy the poetic rhythm (meter) of English, as you’ll learn here…

And the unintended result is that we have here some “atrocious music“. For any of you who don’t know this USA patriotic hymn that so many of us here were indoctrinated with, the original English lyrics come after our examination of the Jargon translation…

america 01

america 02



Nika illahee, kah-kwa mika,
nayka ílihi, kákwa [1] máyka,
my land, you.SINGULAR,
‘My country, it’s like you,’

T’see illahee, wake e-li-te,
t’sí ílihi, [2] wík-iláytʰi(x), [3]
sweet land, non-slave,
‘Sweet land that’s not a slave,’

Kah-kwa mika, nika shunta.
kákwa máyka, nayka shánte*. you, I sing.
‘It’s like you, I sing.’

Illahee, kah nika papa mamoloos,
ílihi qʰá(x̣) nayka pápá míməlus,
land where my father die,
‘Land where my father died,’

Illahee, klosh tellicum chaco;
ílihi(,) (t)ɬush tílikam cháku; [4]
land(,) good people come;
‘Land, good people coming;’

Kee-Kwilla konaway lemoti,
kíkwile* kʰánawi lámətáy,
below every mountain,
‘Below every mountain,’

Mamook wake e-li-te tin-tin.
mámuk wík-iláytʰi(x)-tíntin.
make non-slave-bell.
‘Ring(ing) a non-slave bell.’


Nika Boston illahee,
nayka bástən-ílihi,
my American-land,
‘My America,’
Illahee, klosh wake e-li-te;
ílihi, (t)ɬúsh [5] wík iláytʰi(x);
land, good non-slave;
‘Land (that) better not be a slave;’
Mika nem, nika tikegh.
mayka ním, nayka tíki(x̣).
your name, I like.
‘It’s your name that I like.’ 
Nika tikegh, mika stone, pee chuck,
nayka tíki mayka stún pi chə́q(w),
I like your rock and water.
‘(And) I like your rocks and rivers,’
Mika stick, klosh house pee lemoti,
mayka stík, (t)ɬúsh háws pi lámətáy,
your tree(s), good house and mountain,
‘Your forests, good houses and mountains,’ 
Nika tum-tum chaco kwann,
nayka tə́mtəm chaku-q’wán*,
my heart become-happy,
‘I become happy,’
Yah-kwa mitlite sahale.
yákwá míɬayt sáx̣ali.
here be.located above.
‘Here being on top.’


Mamook tin-tin konaway pee wind,
mamuk-tíntin kʰánawi pi wín(d),
do-bell all and wind,
‘Ring everything and the wind,’

Kah-kwa kopa kanaway stick,
kákwa kʰupa kʰánawi stík,
be.that.way in every tree(s),
‘It’s like that in every forest,’

T’see wake e-li-te shunta;
t’sí wík-iláytʰi(x)-shánte*;
sweet non-slave-song;
‘A sweet non-slave song;’

Tellicum la-lang kopet moosum,
tílikam laláng kʰə́pít músum,
people tongue finish sleep,
‘People(‘s) tongues are done sleeping,’

Kah-kwa mitlite klosh mamook,
kákwa míłayt (t)łúsh mámuk,
that.way exist good work,
‘So there’s good work,’

Kopet okoke stone, wake mamook,
kʰə́pít úkuk stún, wík-mámuk,
only* that rock, non-work,
‘Only those rocks are non-working*,’ 

La-tlah klatawa kah.
latlá (t)łátwa qʰá(x̣).
noise go somewhere.
‘The noise goes somewhere.’


Nika papa, Sahale Tyee pee Mika,
nayka pápá, sáx̣ali-táyí pi máyka,
my father, above-chief and you,
‘My father, God and you,’

Kah, chaco wake e-li-te:
qʰá(x̣), cháku wík-iláytʰi(x):
where, come non-slave:
‘Where do the non-slaves come from?’

Kopa Mika nesika shunta.
kʰupa máyka nsáyka shánte*.
to you we sing.
‘To you we sing.’

Yoult-cut nesika illahee te-wagh,
yúłqat [6] nsayka ílihi t’wáx̣,
physically.lengthy our land brightness,
‘Elongated is our land(‘s) shine,’ 

Mitlite wake e-li-te chaco tah-manawis,
míłayt wík-iláytʰi(x) cháku(-)t’əmánəwas,
exist* non-slave come spirit.power,
‘There’s a non-slave becoming a spirit power,’

Nanich nesika, kah-kwa mika skookum,
nánich nsayka, kákwa mayka skúkum,
see us, as you strong,
‘See us, as you are strong,’

Sahale Papa, nesika Tyee.
sáx̣ali-pápá, nsáyka táyí.
above-father, our chief.
‘Heavenly father, our chief.’


kákwa [1] máyka ‘it’s like you’ occurs twice or more in the translation. Seemingly, LBDB meant to say kʰupa máyka ‘to you’. A really odd mistake for a fluent speaker. 

t’sí ílihi [2] ‘sweet land’ is flowery, overly metaphorical talk, which I’ve shown is just not part of Chinuk Wawa culture. It’s a literal transaltion from English, and it would only make sense if you were acquainted with English literary traditions. 

wík-iláytʰi(x) [3] is kind of interesting for its creative attempt at saying ‘free’, but that’s a foreign concept so it really comes across just as a literal expression, ‘non-slave’.

ílihi(,) (t)ɬush tílikam cháku [4] appears intended as ‘land where good people came’ / ‘land that good people came to’. Such a relative clause hinging on a prepositional phrase / oblique argument (linguistics talk) would more naturally be understood if said as *ílihi(,) qʰá(x̣) (t)ɬush tílikam cháku ‘land where good people came’.

ílihi, (t)ɬúsh [5] wík iláytʰi(x) — This is just bizarre to me: ‘land that better be non-slave’???

…I’m running out of patience for trying to make sense of LBDB’s contorting the Jargon to be like poetic English…one more note…

yúłqat [6] nsayka ílihi t’wáx̣ — Here LBDB is unexplainably confusing the physical dimension of length (yúłqat) with the common word for ‘long time’ (líli). As we’ve seen in other things she wrote, she had become out of practice at talking Jargon in her older years. 

Summary of the above:

The translation is grammatically flawed, and it takes on the unattainable task of giving a literal rendition of the English lyrics. The result is worse than doggerel.

Here are those original lyrics:

america e 01

america e 02


My country ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
     Of thee I sing:
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride;
From every mountain side,
     Let freedom ring.

My native country thee.
Land of the noble free —
     Thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture thrills
     Like that above.

Let music swell the breeze.
And ring from all the trees
     Sweet freedom’s song;
Let mortal tongues awake.
Let all that breathe partake.
Let rocks their silence break —
     The sound prolong.

Our fathers’ God! to Thee,
Author of liberty,
     To Thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light; 
Protect us by thy might,
     Great God, our King!

So there you go. Do you think you could sing this in Jargon?

Will you please share a video of your attempts?!?!?!