French Journals & “bostonnais”

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Previously in this space, I’ve suggested that Chinuk Wawa’s < boston > for ‘white person; American’ could have a French-language ancestor…

…Today, I can show you that I wasn’t the first to see the possible connection with a long-established Eastern North American word used by Indians and Canadians.

The 1941 Dictionary of Mississippi Valley French has < bostonais > as a well-known word in the “Illinois country” for Americans. Valdman’s Dictionary of Louisiana French does not have such a word, and I think that’s significant as well; there seem to be countless unique developments in Louisiana versus the rest of Mississippi River French.

Mississippi River French tends to pattern with the Michif and Canadian French that routinely match Chinuk Wawa words — a pattern of similarities that exists because folks from those eastern areas came to the Northwest and heavily influenced the early-creolized Columbia River Jargon.

This is by way of introducing the following clipping:


FRENCH JOURNALS. John G[ilmary]. Shea, Esq., of New York, brought from Canada two Journals in Manuscript, written respectively by French Notaries; one at Quebec, and the other at Three Rivers, “about the Invasion of the Bostonnais.” The word Bostonnais was a designation intended to apply to nearly all New England. The word was found by George Gibbs in the Chinook Jargon in Oregon, and he could not account for it. The titles of the two French Journals, however, explain it. In Indian, Wastonronon: W being substituted for the B amongst the Indians.

— from page [iv] of “The Invasion of Canada in 1775

That is, the writer of the preceding equates Chinook Jargon bástən with < Bostonnais >.

Gibbs himself just explains the CJ word as “the hailing-place of the first trading-ships to the Pacific”.

The wording about Gibbs being unable to explain may be Shea’s indirect quotation of him, however. Shea was the editor of a series of Indigenous-language books that included Gibbs’ Jargon dictionary. So the two men must surely have corresponded, and maybe they discussed the parallelism that we’re looking at here.

If I were forced to reconstruct such an exchange of ideas between Shea and Gibbs — and I’m not, so beware of the following speculation — I’d imagine Shea being the originator of the Bostonnais (or Bostonais) theory for the Chinuk Wawa word, and Gibbs, not wanting to ruin his own chance at publication, politely hemming and hawing in response!

What do you think?