Sunday, November 14, 2021

A Koa lullaby

On the evening of August 22nd, 2012 when Callie was five months old and I was trying to get her to sleep, this lullaby somehow spontaneously came out of me fully formed. That was the heyday of real Koa usage, and I frequently spoke it to her in the course of daily life; for a minute it seemed not inconceivable that it might become a living language. That hasn't quite happened (yet), but the song itself -- Aika ko Nuku, "Time for Sleep" or "Sleepytime" -- has stuck around and both girls know it word for word, even if they can't parse it.

Given that this is still the only existing Koa text, I'm kind of appalled I've never posted anything about it! Here's the score, followed by an interlinear translation.
We usually sing it twice through, repeating the last two measures more slowly on the final repetition.

Over the years I realized I've been imagining the spelling as Aika Konuku rather than Aika ko Nuku as I had it in my score from 2012, but I'm not sure why. There's really no prescriptive...anything in Koa about word grouping or capitalization at this point, so everything is reflecting perceived aesthetics of the moment. Another topic for someday. Anyway, the words:

aika ko nuku la ka piku ni
time ABS sleep DAT DEF little 1SG
"it's sleepytime for my little one"

vo se io maka ne ni áheki
"here you are now lying in my sweet arms"

toa pi kiuni i hala pai pui
that QUANT need-rest VP after day long
"so tired after the long day"

aika ko nuku la se
time ABS sleep DAT 2SG
"it sleepytime for you."

The third line has been a bit problematic. Through most of the song's life it existed as

toa pi kiuni hala a pai pui
that QUANT need-rest after INDEF day long
"so tired after a long day"

First of all, though hala has meant "after" since about 2011, it wasn't until this year that I finally figured out how to use it, and this isn't it -- there was nothing integrating it into syntax! This has been changed into its proper verbal form in the words above (a post about this is forthcoming). A is not at all the right particle, either...if anything it might make sense to say ...hala ti pai pui "after this long day," but really the long day is not being spoken of in any kind of specific way: we're referring to a kind of tiredness one feels after a long day in general, and as such the right way to express it is via object incorporation: no article.

Still an issue, though, is the translation of so tired. I picked a word for this out of a kind of Esperanto correlative logic, where you would genuinely say tiom laca "that amount of tired," but it doesn't actually make sense in Koa: toa pi kiuni suggests a real referent in the world for toa "that" which clearly doesn't exist ("I'm not this tired, I'm that tired."). What we want is iu kiuni "so tired," but iu didn't exist back then, and it doesn't fit the meter. We need more syllables.

se iu kiuni "you're so tired" (accent in the wrong place)
kiuni poli "very tired" (words too drawn out and accent on poli instead of kiuni. I think we need 3 syllables)
tótoki kiuni "tired little child" (maybe okay! Sounds a lot like the original; two successive ki's but it's still not hard to sing)
toto iu kiuni "such a tired child" (also possible but I like it less for some reason)
néneki kiuni "tired little baby" (since Callie was one when this was composed. Maybe?)

I don't think I'm making a decision today, but I potentially like some of these options. There may be a revolt, though...the change from hala a pai to i hala pai wasn't even noticeable to the little ones, but this one -- when I figure out a replacement -- won't be so easy to sneak past them.

Incidentally I mentioned to them at some point that I was working on a second verse, and since then they ask me about it every few months. I think I'm having some performance anxiety, as usual for me with songwriting, but I know it'll be something like

Aika ko nuku la ka piku ni (same as first verse)
Ka esi me aimo something ("the moon and stars will watch over you through the night?")
Something about no cause for worry when you're so loved
Aika ko nuku la se (same as first verse)

Uh...still some big gaps in there. I'll get back to you.

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