Mystery songs

Today we have two questions from visitors to Omniglot.

The first question comes from someone who cares for a women in the end stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She doesn’t communicate much, but when she does she usually sings a song that seems to be in Ukrainian or possibly Slovak (she is an American woman who speaks English). Below is a phonetic rendering of what she sings:

Hietsa kietsa kulo pietsa
Talo mene pabolo
Mama mene swala wala
Him no mene pabolo

Do any of you recognise this song or the language?

The second question comes from someone in Canada who remembers her Scottish grandparents singing a goodbye song. Below is her phonetic rendering of the first line of the song, which is all she remembers, is “A daw a wha-a-tay bide ee wha-a-a”. Is this familiar to anyone?

This entry was posted in Language.

16 Responses to Mystery songs

  1. Camilla Todd says:

    Well, you may already realise this but the Scottish song sounds like it’s English with the Scottish dialect rather than Scottish Gaelic. As far as I can figure the line is:

    An daw awa’ tae bide ee awa’

    An: and
    Daw: dawn
    Tae: to
    Bide: stay
    Ee: thee OR evening
    Awa’: away

    So I’d translate as “And dawn away to see evening/thee stay away” or something along those lines. That’s just me checking dictionaries and using google though, so i’d not rely on it, and it doesn’t really make total sense anyway. Why are there two “away”s in there? One of them might be another word instead.
    The confusion between thee/evening comes from me hearing Scottish people say ‘ee’ to mean ‘you’ but online dialect references saying that ‘ee’ means ‘evening’. So thought i’d better put both!

    However, i can’t find any songs (although i’ve not searched long) with any line like that. The closest I can find is a song called “We’re no awa’ tae bide awa'”

    And that’s all i found. 🙂 It was fun researching it!

  2. pavel says:

    Certainly not slovak. It doesn’t seem slavic at all.

  3. Nikki says:

    I’m guessing these aren’t using the IPA?

    The first doesn’t look slavic to me, the only consonant cluster is ‘sw’.

  4. Nikki says:

    By the way, whatever it is in your blog that’s turning my single quotes into fancy ones isn’t doing it right, ’sw’ is completely wrong.

  5. d.m.falk says:

    “And the distant dawn abides the distant dusk”?


  6. pittmirg says:

    If it indeed has something to do with Slavic languages, then it’s either purposely nonsensical or mangled beyond recognition, in my opinion. The 3rd line could mean “Mum called me [Wala?]” (ukr. mama/мама – mum, mene/мене – me (acc.), swala – zvala/звала? called, Wala – [a name]? or something nonsensical). I think it might originally be a nursery rhyme, perhaps. Probably a native speaker would be here more helpful.

  7. TJ says:

    Sometimes it’s easy to guess the origin of someone by his last name, and the first name as well!

    As for the song, I dunno if its Scotch or Gàdhlig, but of all Gàdhlig songs I Remember one: ‘s muladach mi ‘s air m’aineouil. Hope the spelling is right … I think there is a mistake I did in the last word. However, the translation is: Sad I am and on my own (lonely).

    The song talks about a lady that misses her man (not quite a goodbye thing I guess!).

  8. Stuart Mudie says:

    That second song is almost certainly “We’re no awa tae bide awa”

    And please, Camilla, do not refer to Scots as “English with the Scottish dialect” … people like my friends at the Scots Language Centre (where I recently started blogging!) don’t really appreciate that kind of remark 🙂

  9. Heather says:

    Hello everyone! I am the person who sent the question about the first little ditty and remember I am not writing it in any foreign language I am writing it as I hear it! I appreciate all your help! I just really wanted to know what it means or if it could just be something nonsensical! Again thanks for all your help! I love the woman I care for and she gets so happy singing the little ditty. I have spoken to her daughter and she says that she believes it is something her father sang to her as a child and she believed it may be Ukrainian but she really was not sure.

  10. Camilla Todd says:

    >>And please, Camilla, do not refer to Scots as “English with the Scottish dialect” … people like my friends at the Scots Language Centre (where I recently started blogging!) don’t really appreciate that kind of remark 🙂

    Well, i do apologise if i caused some kind of offense, but hopefully you can understand that i thought that was the right way to refer to it. There are a great many ‘Scottish dialect’ dictionaries online that i used, people refer to my Irish accent and unique words as English language with Irish dialect, and i know some Scottish people who have referred to their unique cultural words as ‘Scottish dialect’. As far as i was aware it’s not Scottish Gaelic, so i presumed it is dialect. Please do explain how i was wrong, i’m eager to learn and i’m not the kind of person who likes to insult others.
    It’s also a little frustrating, to be told one thing from one source and then told i am causing offense from another source, so excuse me if i come across a little defensively. 🙂

  11. prase says:

    kulo pietsa – коло пєца (?) may mean “around the furnace/oven”

    Anyway, it can quite well be slavic, just deformed. If I had to write down phonetically what I heard from some language I had no idea about, it would be surely unrecognisable.

    Btw., if it’s indeed Ukrainian, perhaps contacting the person who translated the Omniglot main page into Ukrainian may help.

  12. Stuart Mudie says:

    Don’t worry, Camilla. It’s hard to appreciate in writing, but my tongue was firmly in my cheek when I made that first comment 🙂

    Funnily enough, I once wrote a poem called Scots Dialect Dictionary about this very subject, comparing the situation of Scots to how I felt when looking at my bilingual Catalan/English dictionary.

  13. Heather says:

    Thank you prase! Every little bit helps and I appreciate it!

  14. pavel says:

    Heather: I think you should record it. This needs too much guessing.

  15. Ulashima says:

    First verse of the first song seemed very Finnish to me, maybe Estonian….I take my shot on this one.

  16. Fred Baker says:

    The second song is a garbled rendition of the first line of a Scots traditional song “We’re no’ awa’ tae bide awa’” (We are not going away to stay away).

    The song runs as follows:

    We’re no’ awa’ tae bide awa
    We’re no’ awa’ tae leave ye
    We’re no awa’ tae bide awa
    We’ll aye come back an’ see ye

    For as I was gangin’ doon the street
    I met wee Johnnie Scobie
    Says he tae me “Will ye tak’ a drink?”
    Says I “Man, that’s my hobby”


    So we had a drink an’ anither drink
    An’ then we had anither
    I got drunk an’ he got fou
    We rolled hame fou thegither


    There are other versions but this is the one sung at Hogmanay when I was a child in Fort William.

    I very much enjoy your site. Keep up the good work.


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