Maxime George and a couple of pidgins

He knew some folks.

One of those he remembered, in an interview for which we can thank the energetic Imbert Orchard, was the well-known horse packer Jean “Cataline” Caux.

Mr. George referred to Caux as a < Muskego >, his word for a Frenchman.


Cataline the < Muskego >, 1885 (image credit: AREA)

The interviewer at first mistakes this for “mosquito”, but it’s an Indigenous word.

It may be a Dakelh (Carrier) Dene (Athabaskan) term that didn’t make it into the dictionaries or First Voices websites I’ve searched.

< Muskego > is obviously related to the Cree/Ojibwe “muskeg” meaning ‘grassy bog’ and locally used to connote ‘native’; compare, in Dakelh, < ludi musjek > ‘Labrador tea plant’, literally ‘muskeg tea’.

(The same word shows up in the Métis language Michif: mashkayg ‘bog’.)

Maxime George 01

He goes on, specifying that he and Cataline used to talk to each other in a kind of Canadian French that’s very different from the standard French taught in modern schools:

Maxime George 01b

Maxime George 02

This is almost guaranteed to have been “French of the Mountains”, the Métis French that became an interethnic pidgin in frontier-era central BC.

Mr. George said a lot with few words. You can also discern from the above that he distinguishes (A) the already locally spoken kind of French that was integrated into community life during the earlier fur-trade era from (B) the Chinuk Wawa that was brought in later with the gold rushes, from the south by “the first white man”.

(Shout out to William Turkel for his study presented 15 years ago showing that Chinook Jargon was not a fur-trade language in BC.)

A long stretch of the interview transcript that follows contains Mr. George singing some Chinook Jargon songs, which the interviewer then tries to figure out the meaning of. In a future article on this website, I’ll separately go into those, working from the audio of the interview.

Bonus fact:

The spelling “Cataline” for a fella who was a Catalán interests me. It seems to be yet another example of the Settler habit of representing stressed /á/ sounds in the Pacific Northwest by writing what we call in English the long < i > sound!

What have you learned?