La cingle, or la ceinture?

Metis Sash

Métis sash (image credit:

George Gibbs’s influential 1863 dictionary of Chinuk Wawa supplies etymologies.Gibbs suggests the sources of words whenever he has an idea of them, and he has a couple of ideas about < la-sánjel > (page 14) / < la san-jelʹ > (page 33), meaning ‘a girth; a sash; a belt’, coming, he says from “French, LA CINGLE“.

First I’d bring your attention to the varying stress patterns indicated there. Canadian (Métis) French-derived words in the Jargon display some unpredictability in this respect, in Gibbs’s 1850s-1860s data. I’d generalize that such words settled into a pattern of word-final stress eventually, but from Gibbs we find

  • < le-báh-do > and < labʹ-a-do > ‘shingle’
  • < le-bisʹ-kwie > ‘biscuit’
  • < le-máh > and < léh-ma> ‘hand’

So, still somewhat early in the history of francophone influence on Chinook Jargon, there was more variation in the placement of word stress.

This suggests to my mind a more active, day-to-day influence from French, a language whose stress pattern you can generalize as “last syllable of the word” if you’re talking about single words. (As you might with loans from it into English or Jargon.) In connected speech, however, French gives a much more complicate impression, with stresses varying in location depending on adjacent words, syntactic functions, and so forth. And we know that French speakers were a constant part of the local scene on the lower Columbia River into the mid- and later 1800s, since they settled in and married into local communities.

The other element of Gibbs’ Métis “sash” word in Jargon that we ought to focus in on is its source. Try as I might, I can’t find an actual modern French noun *la cingle to match his suggested etymology. There’s a verb of this shape, but it would require a pronoun subject: (elle/il) la cingle ‘she/he whips her/it’. And it’s a verb. Meanwhile, in any case our hypothetical noun would be a poor match, phonologically, for ləsanchel, as the Grand Ronde dictionary of 2012 spells it. It’s hard to justify having a “G” sound correspond with a “CH”. And *la cingle wouldn’t give you the stress-variant < la san-jelʹ >.

Much more exact is the etymology Grand Ronde points out, in a real word of French, la ceinture ‘belt’. Canadian dialects as well as the mixed French-Cree language Michif pronounce this very much like the Jargon word, as in Michif en saencheur.

Yet another example of the layers of history you can excavate from a single Chinuk Wawa word, with a little linguistic archaeology!