The Rolling Head: Preface

told by Albert Hoffman

edited by Wayne Leman
(Copyright (c) 1996, all rights reserved.)

(This story and preceding comments appeared, with very minor changes, in a book to honor Dr. H.C. Wolfart, an Algonquianist who teaches at the University of Manitoba: nikotwsik iskwhtm, pskihtpayih! Studies in Honour of H.C. Wolfart, edited by John D. Nichols and Arden C. Ogg. Memoir 13. Winnipeg, MB: Algonquian and Iroquoian Linguistics. 1996.)

Prefatory comments on "The Rolling Head":

Albert Hoffman was probably about 60 years old when he tape recorded this text for SIL member Donald Olson, ca. 1960. Mr. Olson has graciously given me permission to continue working with and publishing the texts he collected from Cheyenne speakers in Oklahoma under a Philips Fund grant from the American Philosophical Society.

This text first appeared in W. Leman 1980b (see references at the end of this preface). This current edition has been updated, with minor spelling changes, and given morpheme-by-morpheme glosses which the 1980 edition lacked.

This text was interlinearized, glossed, and formatted with the Interliner Text (IT) processing program available from the Summer Institute of Linguistics (Academic Bookstore, 7500 Camp Wisdom Road, Dallas, TX 75236, U.S.A.). After IT processing the output was touched up with a word processing program so that lines which had become overly long during morpheme glossing would fit the publication format of this book.

The three lines of information managed by the IT program for this text are TX, MR, and FT. (The program can handle fewer or more interlinear lines than three.) TX is the Text line of Cheyenne, in approximately "systematic phonetic" notation, using the orthography approved for use in Cheyenne language programs since 1970, which itself carries on a 100 year Cheyenne orthographic tradition. MR is the "Morphemic" Representation, more abstract than the TX line. As used here, it is not a purely morphophonemic representation, but it attempts to reduce alternations to those which are easily accounted for in a Cheyenne lexicon (and, indeed, the "morphemes" of the MR line are found in the lexicon which the IT program stores and uses for glossing.) FT is the Free Translation line, converted to sentence numbers for this presentation. Implied information helpful to understanding some participant references within the text is found within FT parentheses.

	The abbreviations used in the interlinearized text are:

^:        devoicing of a vowel (normally it would be a small dot or circle above a vowel)
':        high pitch (it will be an acute accent mark, as in )
~:        mid pitch (it will appear as am umlaut, as in )
`:        lowered high pitch
1:        First Person
1PS:      First Person Possessor
2:        Second Person
2PL:      Second Person Plural
2PS:      Second Person Possessor
3:        Third Person
3PL:      Third Person Plural
3PS:      Third Person Possessor
AN:       Animate
ANAPH:    Anaphoric reference (cf. CATAPH)
ATTR:     Attributive Mode (generally, hearsay)
CATAPH:   Cataphoric reference (e.g. "new" information
            or pointing "forward" deixis)
CIS:      Cislocative (toward speaker; cf. TLOC)
CJT:      Conjunct
DEL.IMPV: Delayed Imperative
DIR:      Direct (cf. INV)
DUB:      Dubitative Mode (=Inferential)
FII:      Final Inanimate Intransitive
FNA:      Final Noun Animate
FTA:      Final Transitive Animate
FTI:      Final Transitive Inanimate
FUT:      Future
HABIT:    Habitual aspect
IMPERS:   Impersonal
IMPV:     Imperative
INAN:     Inanimate
INT:      Intentive (to do for the Purpose of; not
            'want' as with cognate in other
            Algonquian languages, PA *wi:)
INTR:     Intrusive /t/
INV:      Inverse
IRRLS:    Irrealis
ITER:     Iterative
NEG:      Negative
OBL:      Oblique
OBV:      Obviative
PL:       Plural (Third Person)
PRET:     Preterit Mode
PST:      Past Tense
RED:      Reduplication
RESULT:   Resultative (aspectual end point of process)
TLOC:     Translocative (away from speaker; cf. CIS)
Systematic pitch alternations on verb stem-final vowels frequently occur in Cheyenne (see W. Leman 1981, 1987a). For purposes of consistency as the number of morphemes grows in the IT lexical database, I have tried to give as "morphophonemic" pitch that pitch which would appear on the stem-final vowel if that stem appeared as a lexical citation form. Many AI and II stems have phonemic low pitches in their lexical citation forms, but the stem-final pitches are phonemically high pitched when word-internal. Rather than introduce two different forms in the IT lexicon, differing only by their stem-final pitch, I use the citation form pitch. Hence, here, -msehe, would be the citation form, as in -msehe 'he ate (or, is eating)', but the stem-final pitch would become high-pitched word-internally as in sa-msh-heo'o 'they (AN.) did not eat' or in the II Impersonal verb constructed from the AI stem: -msh-stove 'there is eating'.

As our honoree well knows, the story of a rolling head of a wife murdered by her husband is widely told among Algonquian peoples. A welcome study would be to compare versions told among the various languages. For that matter, comparative folkloric analysis can be made within a single language. I had hoped to compare the version of this story found in this volume with another version which was first published in W. Leman 1987b, but when I recently completed glossing it with IT the length of the second version proved to be prohibitively long. I will, however, still comment here upon differences between the two Cheyenne versions.

While the plot of this Rolling Head story may be unique to the Algonquian peoples, similar motifs are found among other Native American people. Erdoes and Ortiz (1984:209-210) included a Wintu story of a rolling head woman in their collection of Native American myths and legends. The Wintu story differs in major ways from the Algonquian tale, yet it also has some similarites such as the head's falling into a chasm because the antagonist pulls the bridge (Cheyenne stick) out from under her. As noted in W. Leman (1887b:263), I have been informed of a legend told by Peruvian Indians of a man who cut off the head of his wife.

In the following comments on the Cheyenne text reference numbers refer to sentence numbers of the interlinearized text.

2. The verb-final /n/ deletes, as described in W. Leman and Rhodes (1978), then the resultant word-final vowel sequence is "stretched" and a glottal stop inserted, as first noted by Ives Goddard 1978.

The subject, 'man', precedes the verb, while the accompaniment nouns 'his wife' and 'his children' follow. Cheyenne word order is syntactically (e.g. question words are sentence-initial) and pragmatically determined (E. Leman 1991).

The Cheyenne possessed nouns used here are nearly obsolescent. I am unable to explain what the (possessive?) prefix on each noun is. It is clearly not the normal he- third person possessive prefix. I have never heard these old forms used in everyday speech. But the speaker who first helped me translate and analyze this text easily understood these old forms. Today, hestse'mo 'his wife (lit. his woman; now considered crude by many speakers; see sentence 6)' or tsvstoemose 'his/her spouse (lit. the one who he/she sits with)' and hensono 'his/her child(ren)' would be commonly used.

6. In "the old days" Cheyenne men used to comb their wives' hair.

9. Obviative animate nouns in Cheyenne are number indifferent. Sometimes, as here with 'deer', the obviative is phonologically identical to the plural. Some speakers today find this identity confusing. For a description of obviation and other aspects of Cheyenne "grammar" see W. Leman 1980a.

22. Although the verb root literally just refers to carrying something upon one's back, it almost exclusively is used to refer to bringing back game, on one's back, from a successful hunt.

29. Cheyenne nouns having singular citation forms ending in -e form the obviative by deleting the -e and replacing it with -o. If the preceding vowel is high-pitched, no other change occurs. If the preceding vowel is phonemically low-pitched an additional -ho /-h/ will follow the -o, as in hetane 'man'; hetanho 'man/men (obviative)'. For details of these obviation pitch alternation, see W. Leman 1987a.

'Water monster' is pre-verbal, presumably because this is its first mention in this text, requiring the "important" (focused/emphatic) sentence-initial position (E. Leman 1991).

32. The husband crawled out of his hiding spot, probably a depression of some kind.

37. Presumbably, the narrator assumes that the hearer will be able to process reference to the daughter here as a definite entity in the discourse, because she and her brother (to be, similarly, re-introduced in sentence 40), are included in neensono in sentence 3.

48. Consonant with the Cheyenne worldview of the power of the spoken word, note that simply saying the words produces the desired results. The same cause-and-effect from the spoken word will occur repeatedly in the remainder of this narrative. There is not even the need to state a "higher" performative verb of wishing; just the statement of what previously used to be is enough to replicate that in the present.

54. The end quote margin is literally 'she said again.' Cheyenne speakers use the hse- 'again' preverb for a wider range of replicated actions than English speakers do with again. It appears to me that Cheyenne essentially requires use of hse- if anything in a situation is replicated. Here, the older sister has never said what is quoted of her previously in this discourse. But she has previously spoken. This latter repetition of an action, even though it is not all aspects of that action that are not identical (as English again seems to require), is enough to trigger use of the hse- preverb.

65. Cheyenne quote margins ('he said, she told him', etc.) are often missing in the most active or exciting parts of a narrative. (Others have noted similar streamlining of quote margins in parallel portions of discourse in other languages.) Bob Longacre (1983:25ff) has called such a section of a narrative a "zone of turbulence". By sentence 65 of the Cheyenne tale, the various speakers, often uttering repetitive phrases, are well-known to the hearer, so there is little need to identify the speakers. And by omitting the quote margins, there is probably a sense of increased pace, interchange, and excitement.

68. noo is an exclamation which is to be used only by females. The parallel male exclamation is aa, as in sentence 110.

76. Although more natural English here would be '(It's a) deer', we choose to use the pronoun 'he' to reflect the fact that Cheyenne 'deer' is animate. Here, and in following sentences, we will refer to Cheyenne animates, which would normally be referenced by English 'it', with English 'he', to more accurately reflect Cheyenne animacy distinctions on nouns and verbs.

77. This grammatical construction, with the irrealis ('if, when') conjunct verb, followed by a finite verb, with the dubitative, me'- 'should' preverb, and h- INTENTIVE (or PURPOSIVE) (PA *wi:), is typically used in intense and sometimes humorous ways in Cheyenne. Here the girl is asserting that even if she looks, she doesn't expect anything to change. A similar commonly used phrase which is very humorous is h'tnema'xev'hhtmo mme'vatonhphveotse 'no matter how long I look at it, it won't get any better'. This could be used when speaking of something that is damaged so badly that attempting to repair it will do it little good.

96. In the second version of this story (W. Leman 1987:209-210), the children also give (dry)meat to the crow.

101. The first two words of this sentence are an embedded quote, which would normally be surrounded in single quotation marks. However, the single quotation mark is used in the Cheyenne orthography for the glottal stop, and the IT program interprets it here as such, so we have had to omit any special marking for the embedded quote.

103-104. The speakers are people at the camp.

109. The people moved to where the girl and her brother were.

112. This short greeting from the chief is sufficient to indicate to Cheyenne hearers that he has collaborated with the children's father and serves to justify his killing along with that of the father.

The * asterisk symbolizes that the word-final low-pitched vowel of the singular causes the penultimate vowel to be raised to a mid pitch when the noun is obviated. Or, alternatively, in process terminology, one could describe the word-final low-pitched vowel as being deleted, to be replaced by a commonly occurring // obviative noun suffix.

113. In the second Cheyenne version of this text (W. Leman 1987b:209), referred to in the introductory remarks, there is no lion, the pets are (presumably, both) bears.

115. There is no chief mentioned in the second version (W. Leman 1987b) of this text.

119. This refers to passing meat out to the individuals of the camp. Traditionally, Cheyennes have not considered themselves to be supplied with food, unless they have meat.


Erdoes, Richard, and Alfonso Ortiz. Editors. 1984. American Indian myths and legends. New York: Pantheon Books.

Goddard, Ives. 1978. The Sutaio dialect of Cheyenne: A discussion of the evidence. Papers of the Ninth Angloquian Conference, ed. William Cowan, pp. 68-80. Ottawa: Carleton University.

Leman, Elena M. 1991. Word order of major constituents in Cheyenne narratives. M.A. thesis. Eugene, OR: University of Oregon (available from University Microfilms International as # MA 1345949, telephone orders: 1-800-521-3042.)).

Leman, Wayne. 1980a. A reference grammar of the Cheyenne language. Vols. 1 and 2. Occasional Publications in Anthropology, Linguistics Series No. 5. Museum of Anthropology, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley (80639). (No longer available from UNC. Order from CCEP, Box 50, Busby, MT 59016.)

Leman, Wayne. 1980b. Editor. Cheyenne texts: an introduction to Cheyenne literature. Occasional Publications in Anthropology, Linguistics Series No. 6. Museum of Anthropology, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Pages ix + 92. (4) (No longer available from UNC. Order from CCEP, Box 50, Busby, MT 59016.)

Leman, Wayne. 1981. Cheyenne pitch rules. IJAL 47: 283-309.

Leman, Wayne. 1987a. Cheyenne obviation pitch alternations. In Papers of the Eighteenth Algonquian Conference, ed. William Cowan, pp. 173-186. Ottawa: Carleton University.

Leman, Wayne. 1987b. Editor. Nvho'htsme / We are going back home: Cheyenne history and stories told by James Shoulderblade and others. Memoir 4. Winnipeg: Algonquian and Iroquoian Linguistics.

Longacre, Robert E. 1983. The grammar of discourse. New York: Plenum Press.

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