Friday, February 21, 2014

Hello and Goodbye in Tlingit

Q: I have searched everywhere but can not find how to say "hello," "goodbye," or "how are you" in the Tlingit language. Or is there another common greeting that is used?

A: Thanks for writing. Not all languages actually have words for "hello" or "goodbye." These words seem like they should be universal to English speakers, but in fact, not all cultures make verbal announcements when they meet another person or take their leave. In the Tlingit language, there is no traditional word for "hello" or "goodbye."

"How are you?" is "Wáa sá iyatee?" in Tlingit. That is pronounced similar to "wah sah ee-yah-te." But that is not generally used as a greeting. Modern Tlingit people sometimes greet each other with "Yak'éi yagiyee" which literally means "good day."

Hope that helps, have a good day!
Native Languages of the Americas

Further reading:
Tlingit language
Tlingit tribe
Native American words

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Dog-Face Star

Q: I read a story online about the star Sirius being called the Dog-Face Star in Blackfoot. Of course this is really interesting because Sirius also means Dog Star in Latin. In the story I read, Dog-Face was a peasant boy and he taught the Blackfeet the Sun Dance and then became a star. Have you heard about this story? What is the name Dog-Face in Blackfoot language?

A: The information you found is not entirely accurate. The name in question is Payoowa (often anglicized "Poia,") an important Blackfoot mythological figure who was fathered by the Morning Star (Venus.) However, this name actually means scar-face, not dog-face. Also, we've always heard that his astronomical reference is Jupiter, not Sirius. A lot of star lore has been diluted or lost over time, so it's not impossible that Poia was actually Sirius, but since the legend always connects the wanderers Poia and Morning Star, it would be strange for Poia to be a fixed star like Sirius (most ancient cultures were well aware that the planets Venus, Jupiter, and Mars moved around the sky differently than other stars.)

"Sirius" doesn't literally mean "Dog Star," by the way... it means "searing" in Ancient Greek. The Romans called the star Canicula, "little dog" or "she-dog," and associated it with the dog of the hero Orion, whose constellation is nearby.

Q: Thank you very much for your time on this. What about the Pawnee name for Sirius? Wikipedia says it is the Wolf Star.

A: Very close... the Pawnee name for Sirius is Ckiriti'uuhac, pronounced tskee-ree-tee-oo-hots, which means "fools Wolf." This comes from folklore in which Wolf foolishly mistook Sirius for the Morning Star.

Hope that helps, have a good day!
Native Languages of the Americas

Further reading:
The Blackfoot tribe
Native American star myths