Translation is tricky

Building a Hanis wordlist has been tricky, in part because several words appeared only once. And in those cases it is hard to know if that word was translated accurately, or recorded accurately.

I accidentally stumbled on two words that I thought originally had separate meanings. Now I think they are slight variations of the same word.

The word hemkwatis appears just once, in the creation story Jim Buchanan told to Leo Frachtenberg. Frachtenberg translated it as ‘heavy waves’. Here is the relevant bit of the story (early on, as the two arrow young men are dropping blue clay down to make land):

Hekwa’in lowii heux ilwechis, I lau qapiiyachiiye

Their hearts were awfully glad, when that (land) began coming up from water.


Helmiihis asuu yixei ux tuuwiitits

The next day again they (2) dropped one [disk of clay]


enek lo tl’ta

The land sticks out


ux kwina’iiwat ho hemkwitis

They (2) were looking at the heavy waves.

Then in Harrington’s notes, Frank Drew gave he’mek’was which he said ‘swells on the ocean that don’t break’. These two words – hemkwitis and he’mek’was – are similar enough in meaning and structure so I think they are the same word (which Frank may not have quite recalled correctly, or it is a variation, an ‘allomorph’). The meaning ‘swells’ rather than ‘heavy waves’ would make sense in the story. Early on, there are no breakers. Breakers (qaitlawas) were created near the end of the story, when some people were in a canoe and needed help getting to shore. So, I might have to change the English line in the story from ‘heavy waves’ to ‘swells’.


About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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