Tobacco: not just an Indian weed

Tobacco‘s but an Indian weed, said a moralistic Elizabethan song:

But it sure was popular.

Chinook Jargon had many words for it…

I want to add one to the documentation.

You’ll never guess it.

Will you?

“Tobacco”. (Found in Kamloops Wawa & the Aboriginal letters. Maybe you remember “pi iaka chu tabako = “and he chews tobacco”, from my post about KW #69 of 12 March 1893.)

Wait, not one word but two.

Because “tobak”. (Found for example in the Prosch 1912 dictionary ms. that I just blogged about.) Let me explain.

Samuel V. Johnson’s 1978 dissertation collected not less than 4 other words glossed as tobacco:

  1. k̓áynuł
  2. kinikinik
  3. bacca
  4. larp
  • #1 is an indigenous K’alapuyan/Chinookan word; there were cultivars of native tobacco before any explorers or settlers showed up.
  • #2 is an Algonquian word that became English and probably Canadian French — John Francis McDermott has it as a synonym of bois roulé in his “Glossary of Mississippi Valley French 1673-1850” — both well before contact with Pacific Northwest tribes.
  • #3 is a colloquial English truncation.
  • #4 is Canadian French l’herbe, the herb, brah.

You see the Jargon words for tobacco come demonstrably from at least 3 languages. Not to assign excessive importance to this point, but tobacco and tobak look really to be separate words to my eye; the first is obviously English.

The second could be just a typo’ed version of tobacco — except that we find ourselves redhanded with aromatic evidence in the form of larp and maybe kinikinik, causing a voice (surely it’s not just paranoia, is it, man?) in our heads to say:

Did you ever notice how much Canadian French there really is in Chinuk Wawa? I mean, like, if you get past the obvious ones that start with “le” and “la” that everyone always talks about?

French for tobacco is “tabac”. That’s pronounced /taba/ in modern standard/European French, which could present a problem for connecting tobak with it.  I figure tobak was spelled this way by Prosch to emphasize its difference from the English word, and to show it was pronounced with a “k” at the end. Well, we’ve seen variation between pronouncing and muting final French consonants in other words of Chinook Jargon, which turned out to be explained by typical Canadian dialect usages. Examples include capot(e) pronounced as kapu in Jargon.

Because French is said to have borrowed tabac from Spanish tabaco /tabako/, and because so many other modern loans into French, such as caoutchouc, originally ended in [k] but lost it, I’m laying my bet that the original pronunciation had that [k] sound, and that CJ reflects this. One fact that backs me up is the form “le tabaque” in some older sources. (I’m trusting but verifying, by continuing to check sources such as Le parler populaire des canadiens francais.)

Tobak is tabac, and it’s CJ too. Free your mind! Expand your consciousness of Jargon lexicon! Words for this substance sprouted like weeds!

It’s not just an Indian weed, it’s everyone’s, so pass the pipe.

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