A weird duck from Duflot de Mofras

Eugène Duflot de Mofras authored another of the French-language sources that are less well-known in the Pacific Northwest, but very valuable for researching our history.

It’s his 1844 book “Exploration du territoire de l’Orégon, de Californies et de la Mer Vermeille” (Tome Second), published in Paris by Arthus Bertrand, éditeur, Libraire de Société de Géographie.

DdM shows, in his appendix on “Langues des missions”,  a specimen of “langue Tchinouk du Rio Colombia” on page 390,

It’s titled the Our Father prayer — “Pater Noster” here.

Chinook our father

I’m not fluent in Old Chinook (yet), but something is scwewy here.


The verbs are conjugated in the recognizably super-busy Chinookan way, giving us long words chock-full of morphemes.  This normally includes person markers — so right in the verb itself there is a “pronoun” for the subject, a “pronoun” for the object, etc.  But there’s also a lot of separate words for the pronouns, which a Chinuk Wawa learner can easily spot: maika, nsaika…

All of this is a really redundant way to talk Chinookan, or any language.  It’s as if you were saying “Forgive us, us, our trespasses as we, we forgive…”!

There’s also noticeable use of prepositional phrases with kopa ___.  Old Chinookan did have prepositions, but it tended also to use a case suffix -pa.  (Which you can see in the first line, where ikaushah pa = ‘in heaven’.)

I’m not able to get into a detailed demonstration right now (it would take me days).  But have a look over this randomly chosen, similar-sized selection from a native speaker’s Chinookan:

boas chinook texts snip

I’m not noticing a single solitary instance of the “free-word” pronouns here.  Nor of kopa ___.

Long story short, I see similar patterns between missionaries’ use and native speakers’ use of the Aboriginal languages pretty much throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The result in this particular instance is a contact variety of Chinookan that resembles Chinook Jargon in its strategy of expressing syntactic arguments* with separate full words instead of the native way that used affixes that were part of the verb word.  A corollary of removing these arguments from the verb — I hypothesize — is that the verbs themselves could as a rule be less complex, and as a result, easier for missionaries and other non-Natives to learn.

I’m gradually working on missionary materials in a number of Salish languages, which will be interesting to compare with native-speaker speech to test my hypothesis.

And there’s certainly plenty of difference between missionaries’ Chinuk Wawa and that of Aboriginal speakers.  You can look through my dissertation for examples of that.

So there are whole flocks of strange duck languages in our region.  They are getting documented, showing details of our linguistic history that have not been identified before.

*Syntactic arguments is this linguist’s generic term for subjects, objects, indirect objects and prepositional objects.