The Maniac Collector's Inbox (172)
September 18, 2005
Native American Translation
By Don Hobbs
I was having dinner alone in Redmond, OR, population 17,000 when I noticed a newspaper with a funny looking name. The newspaper was called Spilyay Tymoo. As I read through it, I found out that this is the newspaper of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Oregon. It is a bi-weekly publication, consisting of 16 pages of typical small-town America "news" stories. The only difference was this one was located in central Oregon has a more ethno-centric flavor.
The newspaper was full of articles about local tribesmen and women. There was not much outside news. What really caught my eye was a feature on page 15. This feature is called "The Confederated Tribes Language Lesson". The language lesson gives sentences in Paiute, Sahaptin, and Wasq'u and their English translations. This week's article was titled "Final Foods & Ending the Season". In my warped mind, I soon saw endless possibilities.
I envisioned finding some old, lost unrecorded case where Holmes says, "Come Watson, togapono'a moasoo natsapoka" which is Paiute for "Come Watson, it's time to pick huckleberries." Then Watson would reply in Sahaptin, "T_' aaxw tanan itmaanisha wiwnuna anwichtash" which in English is "All people are picking huckleberries at this time of the year for the Winter." Then I would say "O' God" but it would come out "O' Shaxel Ishtamx" because I was able to speak Wasq'u for no apparent reason. Which seems to also explain this paragraph.
Actually what I did was write to the editors and explained that I was a collector of non-English translations of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I further explained that I had been actively seeking a Native American translation without success until recently. I did not go into great detail but I did let it be known, and truthfully so, that I had someone in Tulsa that had serious connections with the Cherokee Nation and the Cree Nation and thought he could spark the interest in a couple of graduate student to translate two of the stories. I did not mention to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs that the stories chosen were The Adventure of the Dancing Men and Silver Blaze, but I did ask them if they thought there would be any interest among the Confederated Tribes to translated a story in Paiute, Sahaptin, or Wasq'u. I am still waiting on their reply.
When I visited their website, I did find some disarming facts about the three languages. It says despite extensive efforts, the languages are in danger of becoming lost. There are only five fluent speakers in Wasq'u and five in Paiute, all elders. There are only about fifty speakers of Sahaptin and none are under fifty years old. The Tribal Language Program has taken various steps to bring language back to their community. Maybe translating Sherlock Holmes will appeal to them, after all their website already quotes another famous Holmes. "Language is a solemn thing, it grows out of life, out of its agonies, and its ecstasies, its wants and its weariness. Every language is a temple in which the soul of those who speak it is enshrined." - Oliver Wendell Holmes.
So I thought I would start a fund and send the money to their language program to help keep their language alive but also nudge along the idea I have of seeing a true Native American translation of Sherlock Holmes!