What is that mystery phrase anyway?

So I have been working on translating a Siuslaw story that Jim Buchanan told to Harry Hull St Clair in 1903, and was published years later by Leo Frachtenberg in Coos Texts. It is the last story in the book and you can find “Coos Texts” on the blog sidebar and look up “The Man Who Married the Bird”.

In the story there is a poor man who goes far up Qa’aich (North Fork Siuslaw) to some rapids and finds a bufflehead duck. The duck becomes a woman, and by the end of the story he returns home, wealthy, as the duck-woman becomes his wife and wealth power.

Here is the line with the mystery word or words in St Clair and Frachtenberg, with St Clair’s own translation written underneath his and mine under Frachtenberg’s:

From St Clair, page 67 lines 15 through 16:

Tsógwê yî´xân tsxátskwe lâ tsm̥´ma taqa´aitc tcîmītckwêɫa

so one.day he.got his fish.spear + North.Fork.up he went.

Frachtenberg page 186:

Tsō kwe yîxen tsxats kwe lä tsm̥´ma ta qayáatc tcî´mītc kwe ɫa.

So (perhaps) once got (perhaps) his fish.spear and North.Fork ? (perhaps) go

tcî´mītc is the mystery word or words. St Clair wrote it all together with kwe (perhaps) and ɫa (go). tcî´mītc does not appear in the Hanis wordlist I have compiled (neither to variations like ch’im- or tsim or ts’im). I have a guess at the moment that this may in to one of three possibilities.

One is that it was a word or phrase not recorded elsewhere, so we can no longer be sure of the meaning.

Second is that it is based off of the word chii, there. -im/-om and -iich or both locative suffixes; the former meaning ‘the part of, the side of’ and the latter meaning in, at or on. So if that were the case, the phrase would mean something like ‘at that place there’ (on North Fork). However, there are not many examples of -om/im but of the ones that are, Frachtenberg noted it always affixed to adverbs – never nouns like “North Fork”. It’s possible that it could and did affix to nouns, and Frachtenberg just didn’t happen to elicit such an example. Also, per his grammar, -om/-im never appears before -iich, it is the other way around. So it should have been chiichom, rather than chimiich. However, again Frachtenberg didn’t elicit many examples so it is possible that the order of these two locative suffixes has more flexibility than Frachtenberg realized.

The third possibility is that both St Clair and Frachtenberg erred in separating tcî´mitc from the word for North Fork, Qa’aich. These might be the locative affixes -om (part of, side of) and -iich (in, at, on) affixing directly to Qa’aich, and St Clair mistakenly wrote the suffixes along with the final consonant of Qa’aich (a geminant, meaning doubled, consonantal sound) at the start of a ‘word’. So it should have looked like this: Qa’aich:imiich, meaning something like North Fork-part/side of-at, because the youth walked a long way up North Fork before reaching the head of a certain rapid. All in all, at the moment I am leaning towards this explanation.

Let me know what you think, or if you have an alternate explanation, in the comments!

Also, as a quick note, I thought I had written of this one aspect before of the texts collected by St Clair versus those written down by Frachtenberg, but for reasons I have never figured out, all of the St Clair texts have copious use of the particles kwa and kwe, which mean ‘as if, kind of, like’ and ‘perhaps’. These particles are in numerous lines in St Clair’s stories, but he never translates these particles. They don’t appear nearly as often in the texts Frachtenberg collected, though he does preserve them without comment in his reprints of St Clair’s materials. I don’t know why this is – was Buchanan unsure of his memory of the tales when he spoke to St Clair, but a decade later when he worked with Frachtenberg he wasn’t unsure? It is true that with the exception of one story, all the stories he told to the two men are different stories. But I have puzzled over why this is, and still have no idea.


About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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