Etymology of pʰasáyuks


Some cloth men (image credit: Vancouver Events)

{Edited to add more information about “français” in North America…]

The dictionary published in 2012 by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde is the best you can get…

…and because of that, it often gives me some of my own best research ideas.

I’m grateful.

I don’t know if today’s is one of those “best ofs”, but I’ve been finding it interesting to revisit the Chinuk Wawa word pʰasáyuks.

Here’s what the CTGR dictionary says about this famous Jargon term:

pʰasayuks … ethnic name. French; French-Canadian. See [entry for CW] pʰasayuks-iliʔi ‘France; Canada’. 

Note: As used on the lower Columbia, usually synonymous with ‘Canadian’, as in sense 2 of the regional cross-reference.

Etym[ology]: Two etymologies of this word are on record. Gibbs (1863:20), noting that Chinookans referred to Lewis and Clark as “Pashisheooks”, proposes Chinookan -pašíši ‘blanket’ (see [entry for CW[ pasisi) + -ukš [plural]. Hale (1846:640) proposes “Français” … [meaning] ‘French’ +  -ukš…While Gibbs’ proposal no doubt explains Lewis and Clark’s “Pashisheooks” (cf … in Moulton…: “they call us pâ-shish’-e-ooks, or cloth men“), Hale’s form/meaning match is more convincing as an explanation of Chinuk Wawa pʰasayuks.

So the earliest known form of this word is clearly made of the Chinookan (and Jargon) root for ‘blanket’ + the Chinookan suffix for (mainly) human plural nouns.

A later form doesn’t contain ‘blanket’ in a recognizable form, but sounds kind of like the French-language word for ‘French’ + the same Chinookan suffix.

That covers what’s already known about this word.

But I have many questions.

Isn’t Lewis & Clark’s < pâ-shish’-e-ooks >, lacking as it does an expected Chinookan number/gender prefix t- or ł- (see Franz Boas’s 1910 “Illustrative Sketch”, page 603), further proof of pidginization — of early Chinuk Wawa? (Because CW nouns typically lack those prefixes that existed on earlier Chinookan versions of the same words.) I don’t believe this has been noted before among the several identifiable words of Jargon in L & C’s journals. This longer word itself can be seen as CW, and it seems also to show that L & C understood the shorter CW word for ‘blanket’ contained it. 

While I’m at it, isn’t < pâ-shish’-e-ooks > a weird word in Chinookan? If the < -ooks > means animate (human) plural, how the heck did it get put onto ‘blanket’? Did Indians see the newcomers as animated fabric? I’ve heard less-strange true stories from the first-contact era. My point here is that what we know of Lower Chinookan shows -uks only pluralizing nouns, not acting equivalently to Chinuk Wawa’s derivational -man as we see here.

Did < pâ-shish’-e-ooks > originally label all White people, e.g. as weirdos who wore cloth instead of locally harvested products?

Who got it into their head to mutate < pâ-shish’-e-ooks > into pʰasáyuks, and why? I mean, to the best of my understanding after a couple of decades researching old memoirs and such, the natively French-speaking folks among the fur trade employees called themselves canadiens. English speakers in that era called them “Canadians” or “Frenchmen”. (An 1821 book that has some of the earliest occurrences of “Canadian” I know says, “you seldom meet with a Canadian who understands English.”) It’s unclear to me, in other words, that anyone was referring to such people as français, let alone in conversations with Chinookans. I mean, maybe that label could’ve been actually used, as a way of specifying Canadians other than “King George Men” — those Canadians of British heritage. But then again, were the Anglophones of Lower Canada actually considering themselves “Canadians” yet? 

[Added after I posted this article:]

  • McDermott’s 1941 “Dictionary of Mississippi Valley French” has an entry “Français: … a Frenchman born in America[;] so used by the Indians. Créole generally signified a Frenchman of Louisiana origin or ancestry; Canadien, a Frenchman of Canadian origin…” (Note McDermott’s perpetuation of the Anglophone label ‘Frenchman’ for any Francophone.) He has a separate entry “Français de France: A European Frenchman.”
  • Laverdure & Allard’s 1983 dictionary of Michif has an entry “Lee Kenayaen, Lee Kanayaen: “French”, i.e. a pronunciation of “les canadiens”, with an example sentence translated ‘There are are French [Lee Kenayaen is the word used] in France and Canada.’  A separate expression is used for ‘Canadian’, “aen zhawnd Canada‘ (a pronunciation of “un gens de Canada”).
  • It’s interesting that the Valdman et al. 2010 “Dictionary of Louisiana French”, from a region with a largely separate history from the preceding, has “canadien” only meaning ‘Canadian’, with usage examples clearly showing that this just means ‘from Canada’. 
  • Synthesizing the above points: if a pidgin word for ‘French’ came from the speech of the Canadian fur-trade employees, we would expect some version of canadien to have entered Chinook Jargon, which is not known to be the case. So it strikes me as possible that Français –> pʰasáyuks is instead an exonym, traceable to Anglophone fur-trade workers’s style of French, a language that virtually all of them learned in order to work with the canadiens.

Could the shift < pâ-shish’-e-ooks > ‘white people’ –> pʰasáyuks ‘French-Canadians’ conceivably represent an identification of the latter group with the iconic Métis sash? (Which is < la sanjel >, from French, in at least some CW.)

What’s up with the extra “y” in pʰasáyuks? We assume français = the pʰasá part of that word, and uks = the plural suffix. Oh, wait, I got this: I see parallel examples given by Boas — when a noun stem ends in a vowel, that suffix typically takes an extra “y” like this. This feature makes pʰasáyuks seem a perfectly well-formed native-speaker Chinookan word. (The same “y” is presumably in < pâ-shish’-e-ooks > too.)

All in all, I’m reflecting that today’s word appears to be previously unrecognized evidence of the earliest known (1805-06) Chinuk Wawa.

And its development through time surely indicates more of a detailed story than we’ve yet heard.

What do you think?