Songs of LBDB (Part 3: “My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night”)

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The place that inspired the pop song (image credit: kyforky.com)

In my own defense, I’m not TRYING to provide you guys with a new drinking game…*

…I’m giving this Jargon translation of an old pop song the most charitable interpretation that I can.

But the usual result, you see, of trying to literally translate something that’s familiar to you in English is: hilarious crud!

And you can’t wave away Laura Belle Downey-Bartlett’s fondness for “Negro minstrel” songs. Folks in past generations had sometimes very different values from ours, as you’ll see from Stephen Foster’s lyrics below.

I can’t justify listing every faulty element in today’s lyrics. You can use my site’s Search function to look at odd word choices that LBDB tends to make in a lot of her writing. Asterisks (except the following one) indicate places where I feel obligated to say I’m unsure about LBDB’s intention.

On the other hand, LBDB remains a highly fluent genuine speaker of frontier-era Chinook Jargon, and there are elements in today’s translation that are solid new discoveries for us.

A mixed bag is what you get here.

* May I suggest taking a drink first, then start reading the following, and see how often you do a spit take!

ole kentucky 1

ole kentucky 2

OLE KENTUCKY ILLAHEE, KLOSH POLAKELY.
úl [1] kentə́ki* ílihi [2], (t)łush púlakʰli.
old Kentucky home.place, good night.
DDR: ‘Old Kentucky Home-Place, Good Night.’
LBDB: ‘My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night.’

Ict.
íxt.
one.
DDR: ‘First [verse].’
LBDB: ‘1’

Okoke sun konaway t’wagh, mitlite Kentucky illahee,
úkuk-sán kʰánawi t’wáx̣, míłayt Ø kentə́ki ílihi,
this-day all brightness, exist at Kentucky land,
DDR: ‘Today is all bright, being in Kentucky land,’
LBDB: ‘The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,’
Yah-ka wam, pee klale tellicum hy-iu hee-hee;
yaka [3] wám, pi (t)łíʔil-tílikam hayu-híhi;
he/she [sic] hot, and black-people much-laugh;
DDR: ‘He’s hot, and black people are laughing;’
LBDB: ”Tis summer, the darkies are gay;’
Yesolth sahale chaco klosh, kah-kwa tupso pee illahee;
ísałx̣ sáx̣ali [4] cháku (t)łúsh, kákwa tə́pso pi ílihi;
corn tall become-good, like grass and soil;
DDR: ‘The corn that’s tall is growing well, as are the grass and the soil;’
LBDB: ‘The corn-top’s ripe and the meadow’s in the bloom.’
Kah kula-kula kwanisum shunta, konaway sun.
qʰá(x̣) kə́ləkələ kwánsəm shánte, kʰánawi-sán.
where bird always sing, all-day.
DDR: ‘Where birds always sing, all day.’
LBDB: ‘While the birds make music all the day;’
Tenas man, pee kah-kwa kloochmen, keelapy kee-kwilla kopa house,
tənəs-mán, pi kákwa (t)łúchmən, k’íl̓apay kíkwəli kʰupa háws,
little-man, and that.way woman, return below from house,
DDR: ‘Boys, and thus women, come back underneath the house,’
LBDB: ‘The young folks roll on the little cabin floor,’
Hy-iu shunta, hy-iu hee-hee, hy-iu t’wagh,
hayu-shánte, hayu-híhi, hayu-t’wáx̣,
much-sing, much-laugh, much-bright.
DDR: ‘Singing, laughing, shining*,’
LBDB: ‘All merry, all happy and bright,’
Alki hy-as klaw-how-iam chaco ko-ko nika leport,
áłqi hayas-(t)łax̣áwyam cháku q’wə́ł-q’wəł* [5] nayka lapót,
eventually very-pitiful come hit-hit my door,
DDR: ‘Eventually a great pity will come knock on my door,’
LBDB: ‘By’n-by hard times comes a knocking at the door.’
Nika ole Kentucky house, klosh polakely.
nayka úl kentə́ki* háws [2], (t)łúsh-púlakʰli.
my old Kentucky house, good-night.
DDR: ‘My old Kentucky house, good night.’
LBDB: ‘Then my old Kentucky Home, good-night!’

Konaway Shunta.
kʰánawi shánte.
all sing.
DDR: ‘Everyone sing.’
LBDB: ‘Chorus.’

Kopet cly nika t’sladie,
kʰəpit-kʰláy nayka tsłádəy,
finish-weep my lady,
DDR: ‘Stop crying, my lady, ‘
LBDB: ‘Weep no more, my lady.’
Nah, wake cly okoke sun;
ná, wík kʰláy úkuk-sán;
hey, not weep this-day;
DDR: ‘Hey, don’t cry today;’
LBDB: ‘Oh, weep no more to-day!’
Nesika shunta ict sante, pee ole Kentucky illahee,
nsayka shánte íxt shá(n)ti, pi úl kentə́ki* ílihi,
we sing one song, and old Kentucky home-place,
DDR: ‘We’ll sing a certain song, and (it’ll be) the old Kentucky home-place,’
LBDB: ‘We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,’
Pee ole Kentucky illahee, si-yah.
pi úl kentə́ki* ílihi, sayá.
and old Kentucky home-place(,) (is) far.away.
DDR: ‘But the old Kentucky home-place is far away.’
LBDB: ‘For the old Kentucky Home, far away.’

Mox.
mákwst.
two.
DDR: ‘Second [verse].’
LBDB: ‘2’

Yah-ka kopet klatawa poo, ict possum, kah-kwa coon,
yaka [6] kəpit (t)łátwa pú(,) íxt pásəm*, kákwa kʰún*,
he [sic] finish go shoot(,) one opossum, thus raccoon,
DDR: ‘They’re done going shooting, one opossum, thus a racoon,’

LBDB: ‘They hunt no more, for the ‘possum and the coon.’
Kopa kee-kwilla, lemoti, pee chuck illahee,
kʰupa kíkwəle*(,) lámətáy, pi chə́qw ílihi,
in under(,) mountain, and water place.
DDR: ‘Down there, (on) the mountain, and (on) the shore,’

LBDB: ‘On the meadow, the hill, and the shore.’
Nesika kopet shunta, kopa t’wagh pee okoke moon.
nsayka kəpit-shánte, kʰupa t’wáx̣ pi ukuk mún.
we finish-sing, in brightness and this moon.
DDR: ‘We’re done singing in the light and that moon.’

LBDB: ‘They sing no more by the glimmer of the moon,’ 
Lashase klah-hanee kopa house leport;
lashə́s(h) Ø* (t)łáx̣ani kʰupa háws-lapót;
chair outside from house-door;
DDR: ‘The chair is* outside of the house door;’

LBDB: ‘On the bench by the old cabin door;’ 
Ict sun klatawa, nika tum-tum hy-as sick;
íxt sán (t)łátwa, nayka tə́mtəm hayas-sík;
one day go, my heart very-hurt;
DDR: ‘One sun goes, (and) I’m very sad;’

LBDB: ‘The day goes by like a shadow o’er the heart,’ 
Tenas ankutta nika kwanisum hy-iu hee-hee;
tənəs-ánqate* nayka kwánsəm hayu-híhi;
little-long.ago I always much-laugh;
DDR: ‘A while ago I was always laughing;’

LBDB: ‘With sorrow, where all was delight;’ 
Ict sun chaco, konsi tellicum klatawa kah,
íxt sán cháku, qánsi(x̣) [7] tílikam (t)łátwa qá(x̣),
one day come, when* people go somewhere,
DDR: ‘One sun comes, when* people go somewhere,’
LBDB: ‘The time has come when the darkies have to part.’
Nika ole Kentucky house, klosh polakely.
nayka úl kentə́ki* háws, (t)łúsh-púlakʰli.
my old Kentucky house, good night.
DDR: ‘Myt old Kentucky house, good night.’

LBDB: ‘Then my old Kentucky Home, good-night!’
Konaway Shunta. Kopet Kly,
kʰánawi shánte*. kəpit-kʰláy,
all sing. finish weep.
DDR: ‘Everyone sing, “Stop crying.” ‘
LBDB: ‘Chorus, Weep no more, etc.’

Klone.
(t)łún.
three.
DDR: ‘Third [verse].’
LBDB: ‘3’

Lagh nika letate, kah-kwa emeek chaco kee-kwilla,
láx̣* nayka latét, kákwa imik* [8] cháku(-)kíkwəle*,
lean* my head, as backside* become low,
DDR: ‘My head leans, as the back sinks down,’

LBDB: ‘The head must bow and the back will have to bend,’ 
Konsi kah, klale tellicum klatawa;
qʰánsi(x̣) [7] qá(x̣), (t)łíʔil-tílikam (t)łátwa;
when* somewhere black-people go;
DDR: ‘When somewhere the black people go;’

LBDB: ‘Wher’ever the darkey may go;’ 
Wake hy-iu sun, tum-tum chaco halo sick,
wík-háyú sán, [8] tə́mtəm chaku-hílu-sík,
not-many day, spirit become-not-hurting,
DDR: ‘(For)* several days the spirit gets healed,’

LBDB: ‘A few more days and the trouble all will end.’ 
Kopa illahee, kah sugar stick mitlite;
kʰapa ílihi(,) qʰá(x̣) shúkwa-stík míłayt;
at place where sugar-tree exist;
DDR: ‘At the place where the sugar tree is;’
LBDB: ‘In the field where the sugar-cane grow;’
Wake hy-iu sun nika klatawa lo-lo ictas,
wík-háyú sán [8] nayka (t)łátwa lúlu íkta-s,
not-many day I go carry thing-s,
DDR: ‘(For)* several days I go to carry things,’

LBDB: ‘A few more days for to tote the weary load.’
Kwanisum lo-lo ictas, mamook nika till,
kwánsəm lúlu íkta-s, mámuk [9] nayka tʰíl,
always carry thing-s, make me tired,
DDR: ‘Always carrying things, making me tired,’

LBDB: ‘No matter, ’twill never be light,’
Tenas hy-iu sun, nika hul-hul kopa o’e’hut,
tənəs-háyú sán, nayka x̣ə́ləl-x̣ələl* kʰupa úyx̣at,
little-many day, I shake* on road,
DDR: ‘(For) a few days, I shake* on the road,’

LBDB: ‘A few more days till we, totter on the road,’ 
Nika ole Kentucky house, klosh polakely.
nayka úl kentə́ki háws, (t)łúsh-púlakʰli.
my old Kentucky house, good night,
DDR: ‘My old Kentucky house, good night,’

LBDB: ‘Then my old Kentucky Home, good-night.’ 
Konaway Shunta, Kopet cly etc.
kʰánawi shánte*, kəpit-kʰláy
all sing, finish-weep …
DDR: ‘Everyone sing, “Stop crying”…’
LBDB: ‘Chorus, Weep no more, etc.’

Comments:

úl [1] — I’m not the first to claim that this word typically references animate entities, like humans, domesticated animals, and such. More specifically, the far more frequent compound úl-man mostly applies to males. George C. Shaw’s 1909 dictionary repeats George Gibbs’s (1863; 1850s data) sense that < oleman > means ‘worn-out’ when applied to inanimate items. (And Gibbs was working off of Father Lionnet’s 1853/1848ish data, which in turn echoes Demers, Blanchet, & St Onge’s 1871/1838ish data.) I’m accustomed to hearing a different adjective for ‘old’ in the sense of ‘former’ or ‘long-ago’: ánqati, which would better fit the sentimental tone of today’s popular song.

BONUS: Need I point out, Chinuk Wawa parallels what the local Indigenous source languages such as the Southwest Washington Salish ones do, with separate terms for ‘old (man)’ and ‘old (woman)’, just as the Jargon has a unique expression lamiyay for ‘old woman’. If I were hellbent on turning this footnote into a Chinuk Wawa lesson, I’d go on to say that there’s a beautiful contrast between CW úlman-tílixam ‘elders’ & ánqati-tílixam ‘ancestors’!

ílihi [2] — Here’s another nuance of actual Jargon usage that needs pointing out. < Illahee >, when possessed as it is here, primarily means ‘home place, place where you come from, hometown, home Indian community’. That sense nicely fits this song. When LBDB goes on to write < Nika ole Kentucky house >, though, that’s clunky as the last word there fundamentally denotes a physical edifice — only secondarily and unsentimentally a ‘home’. Quite recent Grand Ronde Jargon fills this lexical gap with a newer English loan, hóm

yaka [3] wám — Here’s a very 2020 comment: It’s important to use your pronouns right. I won’t stop reminding Chinuk Wawa learners that yaka indicates an animate, normally a human, subject in a sentence. ‘It’s warm / it’s hot’ would be expressed more grammatically with the ever-popular (I hope) “silent it”: wám / wám álta (‘it’s warm (weather) now’), or as wám úkuk ‘this (physical item) is warm / hot’. 

ísałx̣ sáx̣ali [4] — Technically, in order to reflect LBDB’s intended compound meaning of ‘the corn-top’ (the tassels of the growing cobs), I should write this hyphenated. “Yeah, only…”, as Junie B. Jones would say: I don’t have data to back up the idea that < sahale > can be a noun, ‘the top’! So the only way I can salvage some sense from her phrasing here is to go with the known usage of that word as an adjective or adverb. The first of those options makes some sense, and it results in my glossing as ‘the corn that’s tall’, keeping us somewhere in the vicinity of the ripening-maize idea. 

áłqi hayas-(t)łax̣áwyam cháku q’wə́ł-q’wəł* [5] nayka lapót — Again we come face-to-face, if you’ll allow me that joke, with the concept of inanimate things. Because normal known Jargon usage strongly dislikes making an inanimate noun(-phrase) the subject of a sentence. It’s nowhere near as easy to do in fluent CW as it is in English. (CW is more like the average human language, in this stricter adherence to an “animacy hierarchy”.) So, it sounds bizarre to say in Chinuk Wawa what translates literally as ‘Eventually a great pity will come knock on my door’! And I’m really bummed about that, because it makes it harder to translate Daniel Johnston’s brilliant “Despair Came Knocking…” See also note 9. I’ll write a separate post about LBDB’s < ko-ko > ‘knock’, which is a nice early-creolized verb reduplication…

yaka [6] kəpit (t)łátwa pú — Let’s give huge credit to LBDB here. She uses yaka, typically understood as the 3rd person singular, in a plural sense of ‘they’. And that, my good readers, is super-fluent Chinuk Wawa as known from everywhere north of Grand Ronde. (I hypothesize it was never a usage on the lower Columbia, as the grammars of the influential Chinookan source languages’ — which gave us the CW pronouns — strike me as making clear distinctions of plurality in subjects. Animate ones, anyway.)

qánsi(x̣) [7] tílikam (t)łátwa — Because expressing ‘when’ is a slippery business in Jargon, and because qánsi(x̣) has more than one meaning, this phrasing here will be tricky for many readers. It could legitimately be taken as ‘when the people go’ or ‘several/a number of people go’. 

imik* [8] — I’ve noted before that this is a somewhat rare old word in Jargon. I’m skeptical that LBDB ever used it or knew it in her childhood and young adult days speaking the language in western Washington.

kwánsəm lúlu íkta-s, mámuk [9] nayka tʰíl — As in note 5, we have here an attempt to make an inanimate thing (“always carrying things”) be the subject of a Jargon sentence. It’s hard to understand LBDB’s phrasing, as a result of her violating Chinuk Wawa’s dislike of such structures. What could have worked better would to invert this sentence so the animate ‘I’ is the subject: *nayka tʰíl kʰapa kwánsəm lúlu íkta-s ‘I’m tired from always carrying things’.

SUMMARY:

The issue here is not LBDB’s already proven high fluency in the language. Instead, her attempts to stick closely to the expressions used in the English original lyrics of this song doom her to producing some incomprehensible Jargon that’s sometimes unintentionally ridiculous.

Again, I would love to hear someone sing her CW lyrics.

my old 1

my old 2

What do you think?