As I Remember It: Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder

Note on Linguistic Analysis—By Honoré Watanabe

The following is adapted from Honoré Watanabe, “A Note on the Sliammon Language,” in Written as I Remember It: Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder, by Elsie Paul, Paige Raibmon, and Harmony Johnson (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2014), xvi-xxii.

This book contains a number of stories narrated by Elsie in Sliammon. Three of these are accompanied by a full transcription and linguistic analysis. These three Sliammon narratives are excerpts of narratives that were told in the Sliammon language by Elsie, recorded by me, and subsequently transcribed and translated with the assistance of Marion Harry. Further clarification was provided by Elsie.

Elsie’s Sliammon narratives are presented in sets of five lines. A set usually corresponds to a sentence in English, or to a phrase or a “passage” that is separated by a pause. I hope that those who are not familiar with the technical terms employed in the third line will still review the fourth and fifth lines of each set to get an understanding of the scope of the differences between the Sliammon and English languages.

Here is a passage from one of the narratives:

1. [hʌhkʷɑʔɩːtʼᶿʌč nɛʔkʷ ʔɑsqʼ]  
2. hə-hkʷ-ayʼ-itʼᶿa ‿čniʔkʷ‿ ʔasqʼ
3. impf-hang-lig-clothes ‿1sg.indc.sbjbe.theredet‿ outside
4. hanging.clothes ‿Ibe.thereoutside
5. ‘I was hanging clothes outside.’  

Line 1 is the Sliammon language transcribed as Elsie pronounced it in the recording. This is called “phonetic transcription” and is placed between brackets ([...]). Sliammon is written this way by some community members who have received some training in phonetic symbols. Sliammon words appearing in the English-language chapters of the book are phonetically transcribed.

Line 2 is an analyzed line representing Line 1 in an “abstracted” spelling (for example, [nɛʔ] is written niʔ) called “phonemic transcription.” Linguists use this notation because certain patterns and rules emerge only by abstracting away from actual pronunciation. Words are separated into meaningful segments (roots, prefixes, and suffixes – called morphemes) by hyphens. (For example, the English word “unfriendliness” would be separated into “un-friend-li-ness”: “un-” is a prefix, “friend” is the root, and “-li” and “-ness” are suffixes.) The pieces with an underhook (“‿č” and “kʷ‿”) are those that usually do not occur on their own but must be pronounced as one group with the preceding or the following words. (They are called “clitics” in linguistics.)

Line 3 is for labelling (or glossing) each of the segmented pieces in Line 2. So, for example, in “hə-hkʷ-ayʼ-itʼᶿa ‿č,” “hə-” indicates an ongoing act (imperfective aspect); “hkʷ” (the base form is “həkʷ” but the vowel is dropped here) means “hang,” and it is the root of this word; “-ayʼ” is a suffix that connects the following suffix to the root; “-itʼᶿa” is a suffix that means “clothes”; and finally, “‿č” indicates that the subject is “I” (the first person singular).

Line 4 is more or less a word-for-word translation, provided in this book especially for non-linguists to get the gist of the Sliammon language. Note that one word in Sliammon often corresponds with more than one word in English. In such cases, the English words are connected with a period. Thus, “hə-hkʷ-ayʼ-itʼᶿa ‿č” is translated in this line as “hanging.clothes ‿I.”

Line 5 is a free translation in English, enclosed between single quotation marks (‘...’), corresponding to Lines 1 and 2 in Sliammon. The translations from Sliammon may not always be eloquently written in English because they are intended to reflect the Sliammon wording and phrasing as much as possible. It is worth mentioning that literary conventions vary widely from language to language; what may sound articulate or eloquent in English may not always sound the same in Sliammon and vice versa.

Honoré Watanabe’s research on the Sliammon language has been funded by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (KAKENHI) from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) and the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), and by the K. Matsushita Foundation.

Website development for the online "Sliammon Texts" project was supported by the Information Research Center (IRC) at the Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa (ILCAA), Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

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