Traditional Narratives

An Introduction

By Dr. Bruce L. Pearson

(NOTE: Due to limitations of printing and viewing special characters on websites, Dr. Pearson’s concerns as stated in this introduction in section 2.6, applies here as well. Words in Wandat used throughout this introduction will be incorrectly displayed because of these limitations.)

1. General. To fully appreciate the forty tales collected here, one should understand something of their background–how and by whom they were collected, the usual circumstances of their telling, and the history of the people to whom they belong.

The stories were collected and transcribed phonetically in Wyandotte by the Canadian anthro-pologist and folklorist Marius Barbeau (1883-1969) in the years 1911-12. The forty stories in this collection, along with others collected only in English, were published in an English version Huron and Wyandotte Mythology in 1915. This work appeared in a French translation Mythologie huronne et wyandotte in 1994, a quarter century after Barbeau’s death.

Barbeau studied originally for the priesthood at the College de Ste-Anne-de-la-Pocatiere but eventually took a law degree at the Universite de Laval in Quebec City and then received a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, where he completed a degree in anthropology in 1910. Early in 1911 he became an assistant ethnologist, joining the noted linguist Edward Sapir in the newly established anthropological division of the Geological Survey of Canada. The fledgling anthropological division has since evolved into the Canadian Museum of Civilization, located in Hull, Quebec, across the Ottawa River from the capital, Ottawa.

Barbeau’s first assignment as ethnologist was to collect Huron songs from an old friend of his, the Abbe Prosper Vincent This he did in April and May of 1911. In June and July of that year he collected additional ethnographic material from Mary McKee, a Wyandotte Indian living in southern Ontario. From September 14 through November 18 he undertook fieldwork in northeast Oklahoma, where he collected the first of these stories. The following year, 1912, from April 20 though August 3, he continued his field work and story collection in Oklahoma. Thus the material making up this collection is the result of slightly less than six months of linguistic work.

Barbeau never returned to Oklahoma. His later career centered on the Northwest Coastal Indians of Canada and on French-Canadian folklore. Nonetheless, he brought his Wyandotte material together for publication in English in 1915 and probably began work on the bilingual edition of the forty stories at about the same time. However, the bilingual edition, eventually published as Huron-Wyandotte Traditional Narratives, did not appear until 1960, eleven years after his formal retirement and only nine years before his death.

There were surely reasons for this delay. Barbeau had many other duties, and the audience for a bilingual edition of Wyandotte folk tales was no doubt limited. Moreover, Barbeau had transcribed the language in intricate phonetic detail for which type fonts were not readily available. The 1960 edition, therefore, is reproduced photographically from hand-copied Wyandotte text on the left hand side of each page, accompanied by a typed word-by-word translation in English on the right hand side.

2. This edition. The text presented here consists of six parts. (1) At the top of each page is a smoothly flowing translation in English. I have tried to make this translation as faithful to the original as possible, consistent with the grammatical requirements of normal English. The reader interested only in the story line can read this and ignore the Wyandotte original. However, much is to be gained from occasionally looking at the Wyandotte original, and some readers will want to make a serious study of the Wyandotte text. For this purpose, the lower part of each page consists of five lines presenting the Wyandotte original.

(2) The first line is a normalized transcription of each Wyandotte sentence with standardized word divisions. There is no indigenous tradition for writing Wyandotte, so I have had to use my own best judgment in arriving at this, in consultation with present day members of the Wyandotte community. The resulting transcription, I believe, is very close to what would have developed if spoken Wyandotte had remained in use to the present day and if the community had developed its own tradition for writing the language. Thus the first word in the opening story is hoteye’ aha’. It means ‘they were siblings’. (A complete list of phonetic symbols is found on page 7.)

(3) The second line presents a morpheme-by-morpheme breakdown of each Wyandotte word. This kind of analysis is important for a language like Wyandotte because words typically consist of many parts providing specific kinds of information. Most English words are rather simple in this respect We sense that words like cat-s and dog-s contain two meaningful elements (morphemes), but native speakers of the language seldom give this conscious thought For the speakers of Wyandotte who provided these stories, the manipulation of word elements was probably equally unconscious and automatic. To return to the example given above, we note that it consists of four morphemes: ho-at-eye’ a-ha’. Each morpheme contributes to the overall meaning. The careful reader will notice that there is one more letter in this line than in the first line. This often happens because, as certain sounds come together, they cause contractions of one kind or another. Thus the second line presents what linguists term an UNDERLYING REPRESENTATION of the surface form given in the line above. The SURFACEFORM is the one actually pronounced. A comparable English example might be do not as the underlying representation of the surface form don’t.

(4) The third line indicates the meaning of each morpheme. In the example we are looking at there are four abbreviations separated by hyphens, and two or more elements within each unit are separated by periods. The example in question looks like this:

3m.pl-sref-sibling-hab

Each part can be analyzed as follows:

3m.pl – third person masculine plural (this is a common verbal prefix, denoting the subject)

sref – semi reflexive (a prefix denoting that the subject is somehow affected by the action

sibling – the verb root, always printed in italics; here it describes a state, or relationship

hab habitual (a common verbal suffix indicating that something occurs habitually)

Thus the overall meaning ‘they were siblings’. Note that tense is not treated the same as in English. The form above could also mean ‘they are siblings’. Tense often has to be inferred from the circumstances. Wyandotte (and the other Iroquoian languages as well) are more concerned with whether something occurs habitually, whether it occurred only a single time, or whether it is already completed. (A full list of abbreviations is found on page 9.)

(5) Separated by a blank line there are two additional lines. The first of these is an English translation, which serves as the basis for the smoothly flowing translation at the top of the page. It is sometimes less polished and more literal, however, serving as a link between the morpheme-by- morpheme translation in the third line and the final, more polished translation at the top of the page.

(6) Finally, the last line attempts to reproduce Barbeau’s 1960 published Wyandotte text. However, this is not entirely possible because of printing constraints. For example, Barbeau sometimes uses a combination of diacritics above certain characters, and the computer-generated text used here can handle only one diacritic per character. Diacritics are marks placed above or below letters such as the following: a, a, a. The first, called breve, denotes a vowel whose pronunciation has a shorter than usual duration. The second denotes what Barbeau calls main stress, corresponding to a rising pitch. The third denotes what Barbeau calls minor or weaker stress. He often combines a breve with one of the stress marks, but in the text used here we are able to show only the stress mark.

3. Numbering of words. Barbeau numbers each word with superscript numerals. His practice is preserved here. At the start of each page in this edition the page number from Barbeau’s 1960 edition is presented in brackets, making it possible to refer to every Wyandotte word by two numbers, the first specifying the page and the second the word on that page. This is illustrated by the first word of the text:

hoteye’ aha’

ho-at-eye’ a-ha’

3m.pI-sref-sibling-hab

They were siblings

[59] hote eye a ha

This word can be cited in notes as 59.1 since it is the first word on page 59. A close look at this word requires comment on other diacritics that should also be noted. Several letters have a diacritic something like a hook underneath them. This denotes a nasal quality. The raised dot denotes a vowel pronounced with longer than usual duration; this is often a characteristic of stressed vowels. Barbeau also wrote many vowels as superscript characters to indicate a “brief, sometimes unvoiced” articulation. Again, because of printing problems, this handwritten feature is replaced here by a bow-shaped diacritic under the letter thus: e.

Several other matters are worth noting. In the process of hand copying the text, Barbeau sometimes utilizes a conventional symbol adopted by editors to close an unintended space:

[67] du.sa(37) cate’ ewa(38) [74] deyawi no(3)

These marks have no special significance and could have been eliminated but are retained simply to preserve the flavor of the 1960 edition. Barbeau sometimes numbers two parts of what he presents as a single word, and at other times he runs two words together with a single number, as can be seen in the above examples

On some pages Barbeau inadvertently skips numbers. This gap is marked by a double asterisk following the last number before the gap:

[138] huwa’ ati’ ces(16) ** ne(27)

In other cases numbers are repeated on the same page. When this happens, the first set of numbered words is marked with the usual superscript numerals. The repeated numbers that follow on the same page are marked with an underline, as illustrated below:

[140] a’ ayehao’(16)

If a word is divided from one page to the next in the 1960 edition, this is indicated with a hyphen showing where the division occurs, followed by the page indication, with the superscript numeral after the word as usual:

Hume’- [138] tse’ ti’ a(1)

In a few cases I have inserted words for clarity. Since these words are not part of Barbeau’s text, there is simply a blank space with no numbered word in the line representing the 1960 text. The inserted words are glossed but bracketed. These editorial insertions are infrequent and are based on patterns found elsewhere in the narratives. The rationale for insertions is given in the Notes using the last referenced superscript number followed by a letter of the alphabet

In a few instances, words and sometimes-longer passages from the original field notes were omitted, perhaps inadvertently, from the 1960 edition. These have been incorporated in the present text with superscript letters added to the last number preceding the inserted material:

[156] hometse’ ti’ a(9) tu(9a)

In the case of one story (No. 36 “An Old Hunter’s Reminiscences”) several pages from the field notes were left untranslated and were omitted from the 1960 edition. Here the page numbers have been repeated as 291a and 291b, with individual words numbered up to 99.

[191a] dae’(1)

Thus, in the present edition, every word from Barbeau’s 1960 edition as well as additional material incorporated from the original field notes has a unique page and word number for ease of reference based on the 1960 edition.

4. The tradition behind the stories. Story telling must surely be as old as language itself. Story telling was the principal entertainment, especially on long winter evenings as family and friends gathered around a warm fire. This was certainly part of the English and American tradition until modern time brought books, television, and other diversions. Even after books and widespread literacy became fairly common, many families spent time together reading stories aloud or recounting tales they had heard and stored in their memory.

The stories collected here reflect that tradition, as preserved by elderly members of the Wyandotte community living in northeastern Oklahoma in the second decade of the twentieth century. The youngest of the narrators, Catherine Johnson, was 66 at the time Barbeau began his work. The oldest, Smith Nichols, was 83. Both represent an oral tradition they learned during their formative years between 1828 and the mid 1860s.

They and the other narrators were descended from people who were living east of Lake Huron in the 1600s when they came into contact with French speaking traders and missionaries. By 1650 the community had been disrupted in the wake of conflict with other Iroquoian tribes, who were allied with the English rivals of the French. One group returned to Quebec City under the protection of Jesuit missionaries while another group fled farther west, joining other displaced Iroquoian people and eventually settling in locations around Detroit and northeastern Ohio.

From this location, the Wyandotte people were removed with other tribes native to the United States to locations west of the Mississippi River, first to the Kansa city area and ultimately to northeastern Oklahoma, where the tribe is now based in the town bearing the tribal name.

Neither the Canadian nor the American descendents of the original community use the term Huron to describe themselves. The term was devised by the French and, if used at all, best refers to the language as recorded by Jesuit missionaries prior to 1650. Both the French-speaking group in Canada and the English-speaking group in the United States have traditionally referred to themselves as Wandat ‘villagers’. The spellings Wyandotte, Wyandot and occasionally Wendat were all intended to reflect the original pronunciation but nowadays are more often pronounced as spelled, with a pronunciation rather different from Wandat. I have used whatever spelling is found in the source material without attempting to adopt a single uniform spelling for the name.

The stories as told in 1911 and 1912 capture a spirit of oral performance seldom experienced in a world where movies and television dominate an entertainment industry that has been taken from the hands of ordinary people. To fully enjoy the stories, they should be read aloud with suitable dramatic flourish. Different characters speak in different voices. Some, like Wolf in one story (No. 25 “The Rabbit and the Wolf), mispronounce words. In addition, songs are often incorporated into the stories. The role of song, unfortunately, is not really captured in the present edition although it is discussed at appropriate points in the Notes.

The stories are all fairly brief, a mere fragment of tales remembered by earlier generations. In addition, they embody a rhetorical style that abruptly shifts the narrative focus from one person to another, requiring the total involvement of the reader (or listener). Moreover, the stories assume a culture unfamiliar to modern audiences. Notes are provided to compensate for this to some extent, but grasping the full cultural significance of the stories remains a challenge.

5. Problems with the text. Some problems in interpreting the text have already been hinted at in the foregoing discussion. Others must also be considered. The most serious problem is that the Wyandotte language is no longer actively spoken. Wandat people in Canada speak French, and those in the United States speak English. However, words and phrases are still remembered, and the community in Oklahoma is actively taking up study of the ancestral language.

Still, from the standpoint of a linguist trying to edit and standardize a text, there is no living speaker to turn to for answers to the many questions that arise. On the other hand, we have access to Barbeau’s field notes, we know something about his work methods, we have the advantage of computer storage and comparison of data, and we have information about related languages for guidance.

Barbeau’s field notes are quite useful. Overall there is great consistency from field notes to published version, but in the process of hand copying to create the 1960 edition he occasionally miscopied a word. These have been corrected and are discussed in the Notes as appropriate. A careful examination of the field notes shows that Barbeau was sometimes uncertain about individual vowel sounds as indicated by an alternative possibility written above or below a particular vowel. Thus we often find notations like i/e or a/e. Since Barbeau made no effort to resolve these uncertainties, there are occasionally inconsistencies in the 1960 published version.

The linguist Edward Sapir had urged Barbeau to record no more phonetic detail than absolutely necessary. This was an early recognition of what is now called the phonemic principle, although the concept of the phoneme did not receive significant attention until after publication of Leonard Bloomfield’s Language in 1933. But from examples already presented, it is clear that Barbeau included more phonetic detail than was really necessary. (This was a point noted by Wallace Chafe in his review of the 1960 publication in American Anthropologist.)

In the present edition each word is given in a standardized form in accord with the wishes of the Wyandotte community in Oklahoma. Variation resulting from individual pronunciation habits and inconsistent transcription practices can still be observed in the fifth line of the interlinear text However, the first line is always standardized. This has been accomplished with the help of a computer base making possible the comparison of each form that occurs in the text and using common sense to determine the variant that occurs most frequently. This variant is then taken as the standard form.

In most cases the standard is easily determined. In cases where a form occurs only twice and each occurrence is different, the decision is more difficult. Sometimes a cognate form from a related language is available for comparison. Other times determination of a standard form is rather arbitrary. The separately published Wyandotte Handbook and Dictionary offers additional insight into the occurrence of variant forms.

In addition to the inconsistencies in certain vowels mentioned above, Barbeau was sometimes inconsistent in representing nasalization. This is somewhat surprising, given that nasalization is a prominent feature of Barbeau’s native French, but of course nasalization operates differently in the two languages. Another problematic point is the representation of glottal stop and h. These seem to have caused difficulty for Barbeau. I have tried to introduce greater consistency but probably have succeeded only imperfectly.

Barbeau’s preferred method for collecting these tales was to transcribe the stories phonetically in Wyandotte from a native speaker who was, if possible, monolingual. He would then take the phonetically transcribed story to a bilingual speaker for translation. While this was his intended methodology, a great deal remains unexplained.

All the storytellers were in fact bilingual in varying degrees. In some cases Barbeau first heard a story in English and then obtained the Wyandotte version from one of the narrators, some- times the same person who had first told him the story in English. This was long before the days of tape recorders. Although Barbeau used cylinders to record songs, these could record only for two minutes and were not useful for extended speech.

Presumably Barbeau repeated individual words and phrases to the storyteller to verify the accuracy of his transcription. (Indeed, the eminent Iroquoian linguist Floyd Lounsbury was impressed by Barbeau’s ability years later to recall Wyandotte stories and relate them in a pronunciation that seemed authentic.) Once he was satisfied with his transcription, Barbeau took the untranslated text to a bilingual speaker for translation. Most often the storyteller was Catherine Johnson, and the translator was her son, Allen Johnson.

Again we must speculate as to the exact procedure. Presumably Barbeau would read the text he had transcribed and write in the translation provided by his translator. Barbeau’s field notes are written on sheets measuring 3 and 3/4 inches by 6 and 1/4 inches (9.5 cm. by 16.5 cm.), the standard size of notebooks used in the Geological Survey of Canada at the time. On this page he typically wrote nine lines, allowing space between lines to insert the translation. Translators often seem to have suggested additional words that they believed belonged in the text, resulting in much crowding, with notes and commentary sometimes squeezed in or added on the back of a sheet.

The resulting translations generally follow Wyandotte morpheme order for individual words. For example, hayudatureha’ (85.8) is translated ‘they a village found’ following the morpheme order hayu-dat-ureha-‘ (they/it-village-find-punctual). Barbeau and his translators were certainly aware of morphological structure, but the 1960 text includes no overt morphological analysis. This has been added to the present edition in the second line of the interlinear text Similarly, Barbeau’s unpublished Wyandotte dictionary in the archives of the Canadian Museum of Civilization is in the form of card files of unanalyzed whole words.

Sentence boundaries are another problem. Barbeau’s field notes sometimes mark boundaries with a slash. But these are frequently crossed out, suggesting uncertainty on his part. The 1960 edition is divided into paragraphs, which can be taken, as marking the most obvious sentence divisions, and extra wide spaces between words are often an indication of sentence boundaries. Given the grammatical structure of Wyandotte, we can safely assume that sentences are short, often consisting of a single verb. Dramatic pauses are common.

In the present edition I have chosen to mark sentence boundaries with a period. I have tried to capture, insofar as possible the flavor of the original. But I have probably compromised with English stylistic preferences by combining some very short Wyandotte sentences into a single unit. The advice mentioned above is worth repeating here. The stories are best read aloud with suitable dramatic flourish. They were intended for oral performance originally, and they are best presented that way today.

NOTE: The “Huron-Wyandot Traditional Narratives” by Charles Marius Barbeau, may be found in the protected “Members Only Narratives” section of our website.

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