How much can you really translate into Chinook Jargon?

tl’onas marks tiki tlatwa kopa bisi mamook-kumtuks kopa tilikum ḵata yaka komyoonist-mamook?

Often, both in historical documents and in modern writing, you see the idea thrown around that Chinook Jargon is incapable of expressing difficult concepts. Typically this comes up when discussing treaty negotiation or other settler legal concepts, and missionary work. Well just for fun we thought we would put this claim to the test by attempting to translate something extremely difficult – and what’s more difficult (not to mention boring) than jargon-filled Marxist theory?

So I grabbed a translated copy of Das Kapital and got to work. This was the result:

The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities,” its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity.

kanawei iktas kopa okok ilahi ḵaẖ kapitalist-mamook mitlait, kakwa “dleit haiyoo iktas nesaika hoihoi, kanamokst”, nesaika mamook-ḵansiẖ kopa iht okok “ikta”. alta tloosh nesaika chako-kumtuks ikta okok “ikta nesaika hoihoi”.

All stuff in those lands where the capitalist business exists, are like “really lots of things which we trade, (put) together”, and we measure them with one of those “things”. Now we should learn what those “things we trade” are.

Already you can see it has to depart slightly from the exact wording of the English there. I do think you can get the sense across and actually the Jargon forces you to cut to the heart of the issue – no hiding behind fancy jargon in this Jargon! Just because the word “commodity” does not exist in Chinook per se, doesn’t mean you can’t express the basic concept!

As for my use of “kapitalist”, of course the word “capitalist” is not an attested word in Chinook Jargon, but in fact there are attempts at explaining it in Chinook Jargon which you can read here. For the purposes of this translation and expediency, I’m assuming that you, dear reader, are up on the basics of ‘kapitalist-mamook’ (capitalist doings / capitalist business) and ‘komyoonist-mamook’.

If you weren’t familiar with Capitalism, then the problem is not so much that Chinook Jargon is somehow unable to express it – it’s just that the concept itself is foreign to you. You can actually see people using words like “populist” or other political terms in historical documents. Chinook Wawa can freely borrow such terms if speakers understand them just like it borrowed Indigenous concepts that many settlers would not likely understand (for example ‘klokwolly‘ / ‘tɬukwana‘ as Jimmy John says it – wolf dance society, see here and here).

Let’s continue:

A commodity is, in the first place, an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another. The nature of such wants, whether, for instance, they spring from the stomach or from fancy, makes no difference. Neither are we here concerned to know how the object satisfies these wants, whether directly as means of subsistence, or indirectly as means of production.

ilep “ikta” heilo mitlait insaid kopa nesaika. okok “ikta” patlach ikta nesaika tiki kopa nesaika. kultus kopa naika ikta nesaika tiki: pos nesaika olo pos kultus ikta nesaika tiki. pi wuẖt heilo naika tiki kumtuks ḵata okok “ikta” patlach nesaika ikta nesaika tiki. kultus kopa naika pos okok “ikta” paltach kopa okok ‘ikta’ yaka itlooil. kultus kopa naika pos okok “ikta” mamook-tloosh nesaika pos nesaika mamook okok “ikta”

Firstly a “thing” is not inside us. That “thing” gives what we want to us. It doesn’t matter to me what we want: if we are hungry, or if it’s a worthless thing which we want. But also I don’t want to know how those “things” give us what we want. It doesn’t matter to me if that “thing” gives it with that “thing’s” body. It doesn’t matter to me if that “thing” makes us good when we make that “thing”.

This was getting to be quite difficult at this point. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t want to have to be on the spot in a time crunch and have to translate this off the cuff. I think, though, that the above gets the point across, but it is obviously not a word for word translation.

Every useful thing, as iron, paper, &c., may be looked at from the two points of view of quality and quantity. It is an assemblage of many properties, and may therefore be of use in various ways. To discover the various uses of things is the work of history. So also is the establishment of socially-recognized standards of measure for the quantities of these useful objects. The diversity of these measures has its origin partly in the diverse nature of the objects to be measured, partly in convention.

This is where my head started to spin and I gave up. Again, with enough dedication and lots of time, a very skilled speaker who understood this text well would probably be able to get this across. But the real question is, with a pidgin language that was mostly learned imperfectly as a second language and given the conditions often faced in courts, treaty negotiations, etc. how often would the interpreter be given enough time? How often would they have been highly skilled speakers? How often would they be intimately familiar with the text or the concepts being discussed? Not as often as they should have been, I wager.

So, in my opinion, the way people approach the topic of the difficulties of using Chinook Jargon in such situation is incorrect. They focus too much on the faults of Chinook Jargon itself, rather than the difference in worldview between speakers, skill of the interpreters, knowledge of what’s being discussed, etc.. It is not Chinook Jargon itself that necessarily causes the issue, rather it’s all these other factors combined!

Anyway, let me know what you thought of the above translation. Think you can take on the last paragraph? Comment below!

4 thoughts on “How much can you really translate into Chinook Jargon?

  1. It’s a little out of my comfort zone as I’m not super confident on BC versus southern wawa – I’d appreciate suggestions or alternatives!

    Konaway klosh ikta, pus naika nanich okok, alhqi naika nanich qenchi hayu okok, alhqi nayka nanich qata okok. Alhqi pus naika nanichi ikta, naika tumtum qata ankhati nayka yus okok, alhqi qata naika milhait okok kopa wayhat, alhqi nayka chako kumtux klaksta mamook okok. Nesaika, nesaika tilikum, pii ikt ikt nesaika kakwa konaway tilikum, nesaika (wawa?) syatsm. Pii dliit hayu ikta okok nesaika syatsm, pus nesaika wawa okok. Kakupus nesaika wawa, nesaika chako kumtux kakwa klosh pus nesaika naanich kanawi iktas, pii kakwa nesaika tiki naanich qunchi hayu okok nesaika klosh iktas. Halo ikt ikt nesaika naanich pii wawa qenchi hayu okok iktas – alhqi kakwa, kehwa halo ikt ikt nesaika naanich okok iktas, alhqi halo ikt ikt nesaika syats’m.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’d be a weird thing to say in Chinook. Not something you would say at all in my opinion. I suppose you could say “tlus pus lili linin mitlait!” (lit. “good if long.time Lenin exists” = “let Lenin live for a long time”), but it’s not typical to use that sort of metaphorical talk in Chinook.

      When you say “long live Lenin!” in English you aren’t literally saying it- he’s already dead- rather you’re saying some vague translation of the Latin “vivat” / other Romance “vive” or “viva” / “ave” / etc.

      That sort of interjection just doesn’t exist in Chinook so it’s gonna come off as weird. You’re gonna sound like a delate boston man if you go around talking like that.

      For example, “Hail Mary” in Chinook (“hail” in English or “heil” in German is another way of translating this idea of “vivat” / “ave”), just goes untranslated in Chinook. They just say “tlus mari” = “good Marry” (“tlus” is her common epithet like “Blessed” Marry in English).

      In general, it’s just sorta weird formal language- the sort of thing that Chinook is not.

      You would probably just yell out his name by itself if anything imo. Not everything is translatable. I’d direct this question to David Robertson though, he might have more thoughts on it.

      Liked by 1 person

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