Voyageur French things that made me think of Chinuk Wawa, and think again
James Robert Anderson (1841-1930; son of Chinuk Wawa speaker and HBC official Alexander Caulfield Anderson) told of leaving Fort Alexandria, BC, as a kid in 1848, mentioning the kind of French he grew up speaking with HBC employees…
…And a good deal of it reminds me of the French that’s in Chinook Jargon (as well as what I’ve analyzed as a separate pidgin in central British Columbia, “French of the Mountains”) :
“What James had written of Tout Laid [a Dakelh (Carrier) man who babysat the Anderson kids] is this:
“…My own horse was named Petit Cendre [probably Petit Cendré, ‘Little Ashen’], being a Strawberry roan; an Indian who frequented the post a good deal, on account of his rotund form, was dubbed Gros Ventre [‘Big Belly’], another on account of his physiognomy was called Tout Laid [“All Ugly”]; many other nicknames which I have forgotten were applied to the various persons and animals attached to the Fort [by the Canadiens and Metis].”
Applying unflattering nicknames to everyone and everything thing, was an important part of the Canadien and Metis culture. James’s story continues:
“Now Tout Laid, in his imperfect French jargon, would every now and then, when he thought occasion demanded it, caution Henry in the following terms, “Tiens bien toujours mon Harry,” [‘Always hold on, my Harry’] pronounced in his patois, “Cha ban toujours mon Hallie,” and Harry, always short of temper, would turn upon Tout Laid and say, “Tais toi donc Tout Laid.” [Oh shut up, Tout Laid]“
— from http://nancymargueriteanderson.com/lac-la-hache/ ; also at http://furtradefamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2010/09/eliza-charlotte-anderson.html
(I don’t yet know the exact source of this quotation; is the document in the Royal BC Museum?)
One reason the words of Tout Laid seem like French of the Mountains, a Métis French-based lingua franca, is that he is said to be Dakelh. That is, as far as we know, he didn’t grow up natively speaking Métis French. So, like other FOTM users we know of, he would’ve picked up his “imperfect French jargon” as an adult. That’s a typical condition of pidginization…
But my main focus when I read the above is on how similar it sounds to Chinuk Wawa’s selection and pronunciation of Métis French words.
- Cendré is one of the adjective-used-as-noun bits (no pun intended) of horse terminology that wound up in Chinook Jargon, as sandəli ‘roan (color)’.
- Cha for tiens shows the same de-nasalization of vowels that’s normal in CJ words from French. I’ve long imagined that trait is due to lower Columbia River indigenous language influence, but I’m starting to wonder if it was also in Métis French to some degree.
- Cha also shows a “T” sound palatalizing to a “CH” sound, a trait we find in CJ French words.
- Ban as a simplification of bien calls to mind two words in Grand Ronde CJ:
- əbə ‘or’, which traces to Canadian French ou bien ‘or indeed; or for that matter’. (The 2012 GR dictionary specifies this word as conveying choices “in the sense of ‘either…or…’ “)
- aba ‘well then’, which comes from Canadian French eh bien ‘ah well’.
- Hallie for Harry is interesting as well, with its substituting an “L” sound for an “R”. This too shows up in CJ French words; see sandəli above, as well as words such as limulo ‘wild’.
- By the way, for limulo, compare Mississippi Valley French le marron‘[gone] wild’. This is a minor correction to the 2012 Grand Ronde dictionary of Chinuk Wawa, which cites only part of George Gibbs’ etymology < le moron > — evidently his spelling of a word he heard from illiterate French-Canadians, but one that modern dictionaries will tell you means ‘the moron’! Gibbs actually goes on:
“…undoubtedly a corruption of Marron, a runaway negro. It applies to men as well as animals, as, for instance, to the tribes which have had no intercourse with the settlements. [Reverend Myron] Eells says it is becoming obsolete, as the word wild is taking its place [in Chinuk Wawa].”
- As with the denasalization seen in cha, I’m now pondering whether the L-for-R substitution is older than CJ instead of simply due to PNW native people’s pronunciations.
Anderson the younger’s short comments above, taken in historical context, are enough to make me seriously rethink some established analyses of Chinook Jargon features.
What’s called for is a systematic compilation of the many, but scattered, documented scraps of Canadian French in the historical Pacific Northwest. Then we can draw some interesting generalizations…
In the days I was working on Wawa and Voyageur French there was precious little on the French of the Mountains. Inevitably, though, the French used as a lingua franca in the West and in particular that used in detached zones like Montana was itself “reduced” or “broken”. My suspicion is that there were sufficient near-native speakers of Métis French (MF) in the early Oregon Territories for MF to be the principle influence on the French elements of CW. Hence the patterns you point out.
Again, Dave, you are a beast of research. I am regularly in awe of what you unearth, remembering the days a quarter of a century ago when I speculated that there must be lots of documents out there but never had the time to find them.
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Very nice both! Dave, you should know that ‘ou bien’ and ‘eh bien’ are not just Canadian French, but simply French. For me, ‘ou bien’ would be more like ‘OR, on the other hand’ (emphasizing the alternative) … and ‘Eh bien’ just ‘Well, actually…’
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Merci beaucoup, this kind of native-speaker intuition is really valuable to be privy to!
Here’s another native speaker’s two cents:
1-The reduction of “bien” to /bɛ̃/ is extraordinarily common in French (in “eye-dialect” you will see this spelled as “bin” or “ben”), and thus its presence in Grand Ronde French loanwords as well as in Métis French certainly does not require positing a specifically “Voyageur French” pronunciation (especially since another etymology is possible: see 4)
2-“Cha” is an interesting form, but if we take the ordinary present-day pronunciation of “tiens” in Québec as a starting-point, namely /tsʲɛ̃/, it is unclear to me whether the spelling “Cha” must indicate an initial /ʧ/, and thus, again, it is unclear whether this indicates a “Voyageur French” innovation.
3-R represented by the letter L may well have nothing to do with the phonological adaptation of the French loanwords in Chinook Jargon: the original realization of /r/ in Laurentian French was a dental trill, and a speaker of English may have found that the letter L (which, in English, after certain vowels, is likewise dental, unlike R, which was already at the time a retroflex in all positions) was the closest fit to the pronunciation which could be expressed via normal English orthography.
4-I think “Cha ban” stands for “Tiens BON”, not “Tiens b(i)en”: to my native speaker intution “Tiens bon” sounds much better than “Tiens bien”. If “Cha ban” stood for “Tiens bien”, it would be odd indeed for the first vowel to be denasalized and not the second. If, on the other hand, it stood for “Tiens bon”, it would be less surprising that two distinct vowel phonemes would be represented differently. However, as I recall all four nasal vowel phonemes of French loans in Chinook Jargon are denasalized, so if I am right there is -again- no connection between this denasalization and the one found in French loans in Chinook Jargon.
4-(Addendum) Regardless as to whether “Cha ban” served to represent “Tiens bon” or “Tiens bien”, the denasalized vowel of the “tiens” might simply be due to its being unstressed: stress in French is phrasal, and in “Tiens bien” or “Tiens bon” stress is firmly on the second syllable. The form “Hallie”, if it indeed is an adaptation of French “Henri” and not of English “Henry” (the author seems undecided/unclear on this), could confirm this hypothesis, since the denasalized vowel is also unstressed there.
5-I trust all who are reading this are familar with Prunier’s article demonstrating that Dakelh loanwords from French must have entered the language directly from French, and not via Chinook Jargon? This being so, it may be unsurprising that there is no obvious shared trait between this Dakelh speaker’s French and the French element of Chinook Jargon.
6-These examples highlight the point I made here recently (echoed by Mikael Parkvall), namely that French of the Mountains does not really look like a pidgin: both verb forms attested here, “tiens”, and “tais-toi” (spelled with a dash, nota bene!) are correctly conjugated (and the second one especially, as a reflexive verb -“se taire”, present indicative first person singular “je me tais”, second person singular “tu te tais”, imperative singular second person singular “tais-toi”- is not an easy verb to master (ask any French L2 teacher)).
7-I must echo George Lang: Dave, this is FANTASTIC research, and as far as I am concerned this blog of yours is more valuable than the output of any number of Departments of Linguistics I could name…
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My use of Voyageur French (VF) is an artifact which goes back to the early 1990s, and is no longer of much use. What led me to Wawa was the speculation that the French embedded in it would cast light upon how French was spoken in Western Canada before the period of settlement. Turned out to be more difficult than I thought to triangulate that way. And in the meantime I fell into Wawa.
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George & Stéphane, your comments are of great value. I’m pleased that my admittedly casual use of what seems to my ear an old-fashioned term, “Voyageur French”, has elicited such depth of thought from two such knowledgeable minds. For myself, partly under the influence of George’s work, I’ve come to refer to “Canadian/Métis French” most of the time; sometimes “North American French”, since I perceive lots of similarities among dialects from Louisiana all the way northward. I feel “Voyageur French” doesn’t withstand scrutiny…it’d be like calling the early 1800s English heard in the Pacific Northwest “Trapper English” or “Sailor English”, when it obviously was the speech of many occupations.
I missed this post when it occurred, but I want to say I totally agree with Etienne’s comments.
About “Tiens bien” vs. “Tiens bon” : both are possible but in different contexts. I would use “Tiens bien” if, for instance, I was handing something (perhaps a rope) to someone to keep holding, but “Tiens bon” asking them in a more general way to stay put, for instance on a horse or mule.
About “Tais-toi!” ‘Shut up!”, it is true that the whole verb is awkward to learn to conjugate, but this particular form is one that children learn very early to obey, long before they learn “se taire” and other possible but very rarely used forms (like “nous tairons-nous” ‘shall we shut up’, for instance).
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