1886: Victoria-style Chinuk Wawa song from Nuxalks in Germany, and a grammatical mystery

Thanks to Dale McCreery for this wonderful find.

A group of 9 Nuxalk people (“Bella Coola” Salish) from the British Columbia coast visited Germany in 1885-1886, performing various songs and dances that they knew.

They had been brought by Captain Adrian Jacobsen and his brother Philipp, who we have read about previously on my site. 

Page 409, translated by me ‘n’ Google: “Only [song number] I in the 1st part and IX seem to have an actual text, namely the former is not in the Indian language itself but in the Tschinuk [Chinook] jargon, which is composed of elements of different languages including English and in which only the Jacobsen brothers came to an understanding with the Indians. Dr [Franz] Boas has examined this mixed language and that of the Indians themselves more closely.”

Page 411: “Liebeslied” (love song) — this is today’s discovery, written in German-influenced phonetics: 


Ukuk naikas au mamuk sick naikas tomtom[,]
jakas iskum naikas swet-hat[,]
kja-kwa naika kelai okok sunt.
Jau eli eli aja[,] Jau eli eli aja

Page 414: “I just wrote the text as I heard it to give a precise idea of the sensual overall impression. Dr Boas provided me with the following text to be pronounced in English and the translation below:

Okook nikas ow mamock sick nikas tum-tum.
This is my brother; he made sick my heart.

Yah ka iskum nikas sweatheart Kah kwa nika cly
He took my love. So I cry

okook sun.
this day.

You can recognize individual English expressions: sick, sweatheart [sic], sun. Cly is the English cry, which was by the way pronounced kelai; also the melody wouldn’t use a monosyllabic word here.”

— from “Lieder der Bellakula-Indianer” (‘Songs of the Bella Coola Indians’) by C[arl] Stumpf, Vierteljahrsschrift für Musikwissenschaft II(405-426), 1886. 

On first seeing this song in Dale’s Facebook post, I recognized its topic and its phrasing as typical of Victoria (BC) Chinuk Wawa songs of the time, which we know got brought home from there to many coastal communities. Many of those songs use the English loanword ‘sweetheart’, and say ‘I’m crying’. 

I thought the “vocables” in the final line might, as is typical of that genre, turn out to be from Haida, but the only resemblance I find is with Alaskan Haida áyaa ‘I don’t know’. 

Make no mistake, though, today’s find by Dale is a noteworthy addition to our knowledge of Chinuk Wawa music by Indigenous people!

Bonus fact:

The one really notable peculiarity of the above song lyric is its use of the quite rare Chinook Jargon possessive pronouns naikas & jakas, i.e. the usual CW nayka and yaka with the English possessor marker -s.

Such forms have been noted just a few times in the known documentation of the Jargon, and even more rarely found in actual use. As far as I can tell, it’s a usage limited to the northern (non-Columbia River region) dialect of CW, and it appears to be a late innovation, like so many other wholesale borrowings from English. 

Rena V. Grant (1945:232) refers to Edward Harper Thomas (1935:96), who appeals to the authority of Myron Eells to claim that

this mode is used only when the pronoun is the last word in the sentence, thus: Okoke kiuitan nikas, that horse is ours.*

Now…that example only confuses the issue!

We’re led to expect that the -s suffixed pronoun makes a possessive predicate, meaning ‘it’s mine / yours / hers’, etc. — which would be neat, because that’s actually a difficult thing to express without ambiguity in the Jargon. (Other than by explicitly saying ‘that horse is my horse’.)

And yet the translation supplied makes it seems as if the suffix has turned the 1st-person singular nika into a 1st-person plural, a synonym for nsayka ‘we, us, our(s)’!

We still need more data to accurately describe the use(s) of this rare CW -s suffix.

*  (This is quoted by George Coombs Shaw 1909:18 as well. I would have guessed he was quoting from Eells’s manuscript dictionary, but I happen to have been given a version of that, and in it I only find kopa yaka etc. for ‘it’s his’ and so on. Almost certainly Thomas is quoting Shaw. Crediting your sources was not traditional in Chinook Jargon scholarship ’til recently lol, and sometimes it gets frustrating.

Anyway, since none of you has seen Eells’s manuscript, you can read a description of it in Coombs’s dictionary:

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?