Buffy Sainte-Marie: Universal Soldier (Solomon Ratt, y-dialect)

In tribute to Buffy Sainte-Marie on her birthday, Solomon Ratt has prepared a Cree interpretation of her “Universal Soldier” (1964). We’ve presented it below in Sol’s karaoke video, and in text (to encourage others to read along, and maybe even record it for themselves.) The photo to the right is Solomon himself in 1966: a cadet, already being groomed for warfare at the tender age of 14.

One constant challenge in translating songs from English into Cree is working with two very different language structures. English words tend to be short and free-standing. Cree words tend to be long and heavily inflected. In the case of this song, for example, the four-syllable phrase, “He’s five foot two”expands into 19 syllables when it’s fully translated into Cree: niyânan mistit mîna nîso micihcinis ispihcikâpawiw. Clearly, something’s got to give!

In the table that follows this video, you will find the original English, followed by Cree in standard spelling. A third column, labelled “back translation” helps to illustrate the choices and compromises Sol had to make as interpreter in order to produce singable lines.

Universal Soldier misiwê simâkanis
by Buffy Sainte-Marie Buffy Sainte-Marie omasinahikêw
Translated by Solomon RattSolomon Ratt nêhiyaw-masinaham"Back translation" (Solomon Ratt)
He’s 5’2”, he’s 6’4.”cimisisiw, kinwâskosiwHe is tall, he is short
He fights with missiles and with spears.nanâtohk (i)si-nôtinikêw.He fights all sorts of ways
He’s all of 31 and he’s only 17.kî-kîsohpikiw mîna kêkâc kîsohpikiwHe’s grown up and almost grown up
He’s been a soldier for a thousand years.kayâs ohci simâkanisîwiw.He’s been a soldier for a long time.
He’s a Catholic, a Hindu, an atheist, a jain;pahkw-âyamihâw, âkayâsîwi-ayamihâw;He’s a Catholic, he’s an Anglican;
A Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew.nanâtohk ê-isi-ayamihât.He prays in all sorts of ways.
And he knows he shouldn’t killnamôya ta-kî-nipahtâkêtHe shouldn’t kill
And he knows he always will killkâkikê ka-nipahikHe will forever kill you…
You for me my friend and me for you.niy-ôhci (ê)kwa niya kiy-ôhci.For me, and me for you
And he’s fighting for Canada;nôtinikêstamawêw CanadaHe’s fighting for Canada
He’s fighting for France;nôtinikêstamawêw FranceHe’s fighting for France
He’s fighting for the USA;nôtinikêstamawêw USAHe’s fighting for the USA
And he’s fighting for the Russians;nôtinikêstamawêw RussiansHe’s fighting for the Russians
And he’s fighting for Japan;nôtinikêstamawêw Japan.He’s fighting for Japan
And he thinks we’ll put an end to war this way.itêyihtam ta-pôni-nôtinitohk.He thinks war will stop.
And he’s fighting for Democracy;nôtinikêstam Democracy;He fights for Democracy
He’s fighting for the Reds;nôtinikêstam Reds;He fights for the Reds.
He says it’s for the peace of all.itwêw ka-wîtaskît ômaHe says its for peace.
He’s the one who must decidewiya kâ-wiyasiwêtHe decides
Who’s to live and who’s to die;ana ta-nakataskêt.the one to die.
And he never sees the writing on the wall.môya wâpahtam kâ-pê-mâyipayik.He doesn’t see the bad coming.
But without him how would Hitlerpiko wiya tânisi HitlerWithout him how would Hitler
Have condemned him at Dachau.ta-itisahokot Dachau;Have sent him to Dachau
Without him Caesar would have stood alone.piko wiya Caesar ka-pêyakohtay.Without him Caesar would have stood alone.
He’s the one who gives his bodymêkiw miyaw t-âpacihtâhkHe gives body for use
As a weapon for the war;nâh-nôtinitowinihkin the war.
And without him all this killing can’t go on.piko wiya ma-kway nipahitowin;Without him there would be no killing
He’s the universal soldiermisiwê simâkanisHe’s a universal solder
And he really is to blamewiy-âwa kâ-itôtahk.He is the one who does all this.
But his orders come from far away no moreitasiwêwina môy-ohci wahyawOrders do not come from afar
They come from him and you and mekiyânaw kê-tisahamahk.We send the orders.
And brothers can’t you seenîtisânak, wâpik!Sibling, see!
This is not the way to put an end to war.môy-ômisi ka-pôni-nôtinitohk.This is not the way to end war.

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