French of the Mountains: more evidence

dakelh 1890

Dakelh family, 1890 (image credit: Pinterest)

A comment in a BC government publication of the late 19th century supports the claims that there was a pidginized “French of the Mountains” in use.

This was just north of Chinuk Wawa’s region of dominance (which was from the Cariboo down to the Lower Mainland) — thus in the southern part of BC’s northern interior.

french of the mountains 1

french of the mountains 2

…The Carriers (or Porteurs) [Dakelh Dene]…several of them can read and write English or French…Chinook [Jargon] is unknown amongst them; but they all speak French, [which] if not of the purest, can at least be easily understood.

— from Report of the Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works of the Province of British Columbia, for the Year Ending 31st December, 1890, pages 292-293

It’s helpful to understand where the Jargon was & wasn’t spoken. Without today’s testimony, you could still infer that it was not so common among Dakelh people, for example by examining dictionaries of their language. You find relatively few Chinuk Wawa loans there — and a larger number of French loans, which suggests borrowing directly from Canadian francophones rather than via the Jargon.

Today’s description of local French as “not of the purest” is typical of comments we find about this region. In fact it could have been taken directly from Father Morice, who had a knack for sounding kind of contentious. To the extent that it reflects linguistic realities, this description can be related to two facts — local French would’ve been much influenced by fur-trade Métis French, and the Dakelh people spoke it as a foreign language.

At any rate, in a region where the Native population still outnumbered Whites, the need for an intercultural language was served by this already-existing “French of the Mountains”. So the Jargon never made great inroads in Dakelh territory, but that didn’t stop missionary Oblate Catholic priests from using and teaching Jargon hymns there. (Which decades later got documented by various researchers.)

What do you think?

 

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