Sleighing(,) a mystery

While I was reading, for my dissertation, dozens of Chinuk Wawa letters that Indigenous people wrote, one word was both new and surprising to me.


“Sleigh”, it seemed to mean.

But I’ve never found this in any vocabularies of the Jargon, or of aboriginal languages.

I’ve always imagined it as kind of the perfect Canadianism: French “la” + English “sleigh” = a Chinook Jargon word.  The only proof I’ve had for this has been a couple of hits online (here and there), and an 1879 book that observed:

“…le mot traineau, par exemple, n’existe presque plus; on dit une sleigh, c’est plus bref”. 

(…the word traineau [sleigh], for example, hardly exists anymore; people say a sleigh, which is shorter.)

— Louis & Georges Verbrugghe, Promenades et chasses dans l’Amérique du nord (Paris: Calmann Lévy)

But I never seemed to find any mention of such a word in the linguistics literature on French Canadianisms yet.

I’m happy to report that this holiday season has brought the perfect gift for a curious linguist and his blog readers: a verdict on that guess of mine.

xast sputa7

The gifted LaRae Wiley has recorded a CD that I’ve been enjoying quite a lot, titled Xast Spútaʔ. (Benefiting Salish School of Spokane.) It’s a collection of Christmas songs that you’re familiar with, from “O Come All Ye Faithful” to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” — but with lyrics in n̓səl̓xcin (Okanagan Salish) thanks to Sʕam̓tíc̓aʔ, Sarah Peterson.

The version of “Jingle Bells” on this disc, “cʕan cʕan cʕan”, turns out to be the key to answering my sleigh question.

I clearly hear the word laslí sung a few times in this song.  Evidently for the Canadian Okanagan lyricist, a member of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band of BC, that is the word she knows to be proper for sleighs.

Since she’s from the same area where shorthand Chinook was written by Salish people, I take this as a pretty good confirmation that my lasli was indeed a Chinook Jargon word…

…one that you ought to know when you become the first person to translate “Jingle Bells” into Jargon!  (You are going to take up this challenge, aren’t you? I can get musicians to record it.)

Happy winter!