1902: Chiefs, coyotes, lapses, and excellent Bible translation

Here’s another minor mistake in Chinook translation, but it’s one that generates an awesome bit of Bible reading.


(Image credit: Wikipedia)

When Father JMR Le Jeune was translating the well-known “beware of false prophets” passage in the biblical book of Matthew, he started out by following its original wording about a wolf “in sheep’s clothing”.

It’s easy to talk about “sheep” in Kamloops, BC Chinook Jargon, where they use the more recent English loanword ship, which had replaced the earlier Canadian French word limuto.

“Wolves”, however, seem to have been already an uncommon sight in the southern BC landscape by 1902, so Le Jeune instead went with the more locally relevant kayuti, ‘coyote’. (He did this quite a lot, in fact; he wrote more about coyotes and foxes, and of course dogs, than about other canids.)

Le Jeune accidentally made Matthew 7 even more relevant, when he made a Freudian slip, turning Chinook Peipa shorthand ship into the visually similar chif — that is, a recent English borrowing, ‘chief’! That word was surely in the local linguistic environment, and familiar to Jargon speakers and readers. Indigenous chiefs were prominent personalities, typically very well known to English speakers.

And the chance mistake works! The warning against leaders who don’t have your best interests in mind works even better, for my mind, when it’s phrased as someone posing as a ‘chief’. There’s also his use of olali ‘berries’, and the bushes that they grow on, as the best equivalent to the biblical ‘fruit’, ‘figs’, ‘grapes’, etc.

Read and see what you make of it.


<H. Gospel. Matt. 7.>

Ankati ShK wawa kopa lisapotr:
‘Long ago Jesus Christ said to the apostles:’

= Tlus nanich kopa tliminwit profit
‘Be careful about lying prophets’

klaska chako kopa msaika kakwa chif, pi kopa
‘who come to you folks like chiefs, but in’

klaska tomtom klaska drit kakwa kayuti:
‘their minds they are really like Coyote:’

kopa klaska mamuk msaika komtaks klaska.
‘by their actions you folks will recognize them.’

Wik nsaika tlap tlus olali kopa kaltash
‘We can’t get good berries from a no-good’

stik. Tlus stik lolo tlus olali, pi
‘bush. A good bush carries good berries, and’

kaltash stik lolo kaltash olali.
‘a no-good bush carries no-good berries.’

Wik kata tlus stik lolo kaltash olali,
‘A good bush can’t carry no-good berries,’ 

pi wik kata kaltash stik lolo tlus olali.
‘and a no-good bush can’t carry good berries.’ 

Kanawi stik ilo lolo tlus olali, alki
‘Any bush that doesn’t carry good berries, eventually’ 

klaska kyut iaka, pi mash [“silent it” here] kopa paia.
‘it will be cut down, and tossed onto a fire.’ 

Kakwa, kopa klaska olali msaika komtaks
‘So, from their berries you folks will recognize’ 


— page 174 of the “Chinook Book of Devotions throughout the Year” (Kamloops, 1902)

For comparison, look at a typical English-language version of that passage:

True and False Prophets

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

— from BibleGateWay.com

Bonus fact:

The Chinook passage above is also excellent practice in how we say “can’t” and how we express passive verbs like ‘be cut down’ and ‘be tossed’!

What do you think?