Is ‘dance’ in Jargon ONLY from English?

red river jig phillips

Walter J. Phillips, “Red River Jig” (image credit: Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada)

Nothing earth-shaking here 🙂

But I wanted to take a moment and point out that the Chinuk Wawa,  word tánis ‘to dance; a dance’, which we’re accustomed to thinking came from English, might not be only from English.

Here’s a bit of my thinking about it.

It’s an old word. Proof of this, to a linguist, is how much the sound of the word has changed over time, from the original source language’s pronunciation. Some of the earliest documented occurrences of it, like Demers / Blanchet / St Onge (1871; from circa 1838 data), already have that “T” at the beginning.

Some variation between a “T” and a “D” is recorded in following years, no surprise because the Jargon stayed in contact with English speakers. Father Lionnet (1853; from circa 1848 data) and the Columbian newspaper (1853) have the “T” version. Horatio Hale (1846:647; from 1841 data) writes it with “D”.

But speaking of Hale…if you’re not paying close attention when you look at his (superb) word list of the Jargon, you might miss something important that hasn’t to my knowledge been discussed before. Because Hale writes phonetically and carefully. So when we see his spelling of ‘dance’ as < dánse >, that’s actually a different pronunciation from the usual dans / tans.

And for this Chinook Jargon word to have such a pronunciation, it has to be from French.

I don’t think it’s from French danser, that is, from the infinitive form meaning ‘to dance’.

Specifically, I betcha it’s from the imperative form (the plural dansez! ‘dance, everybody!’) of the French verb, because virtually all francophone verbs in Jargon seem originally to have been commands. For my non-French-speaking readers: dansez is pronounced like “don-say”.

It potentially supports my claim there that the other pronunciation, dans/tans, could be heard as the French singular command form danse! (Pronounced like “donce”.)

Weakening my argument slightly is that Chinuk Wawa is absolutely merciless in its refusal to say any French nasal vowels. We’d expect dansez! to become something like (asterisks for hypotheticals here) *dase/*dasi, just as we find French chantez! became CW shati, and French la montaigne became CW lamotay.

Don’t mistake me as claiming outlandishly that the CJ word is only from French. But it’s not only from English, either.

And that’s the reason I think the preservation of the “N” / the French nasal vowel in the Jargon word is not odd. This was a highly multilingual environment. Folks’ ongoing exposure to the word dance in locally spoken English, and to English-speakers saying the Jargon word as dans, would be powerful pressure against any tendency to try saying *dase/*dasi.

It makes a lot of sense that an observer of Fort Vancouver culture, a blended society composed most prominently of Aboriginal people and French/Métis Canadians, would find the folks who spoke Jargon daily considering their word(s) for ‘dance’ to be related to French.

There are some other examples of Jargon words having multiple pronunciations and/or interpretations due to folks evidently perceiving them as similar to this language or that one. A classic is siyápuł – Nootka Jargon (t)siapuks – French chapeauOther words that “relexified” within Jargon include pʰasáyuks ‘French’, which originally was a pure Lower Chinookan word meaning ‘blankets’ or ‘cloth people’ referring to all non-Natives, but mutated under apparent influence from French français ‘French’ 🙂 I’ve also suggested that Canadian French bostonnais influenced the Jargon word bástən ‘White person’.

So I’m adding tánis to the long list of Chinook words that have French lineage.

kata maika tumtum?
What do you think?