French-C.W. domestic animals without articles: A modest proposal

pig and cow

(Image credit: Change.org)

On the subject of which French-Canadian words came into Chinuk Wawa with & without definite articles le/la/les

…I have a modest observation about domesticated animals.

A very small set of words for these normally have no article in Jargon; I can only think of two:

  • músmus ‘cow’ (while this is Algonquian in origin, I’ve argued that it necessarily came via French, which is why I mention its articlelessness)
  • kúshu ‘pig’ <– cochon

The other domesticated animals have Jargon names with articles:

  • límotó ‘sheep’ <– le mouton
  • lepʰúl ‘chicken’ <– les poules
  • likʰák ‘rooster’ <– le coq
  • lámíl ‘mule’ <– la mule
  • plus, while ‘horse’ is from Chinookan (kʰíyutən), nearly all words for types of horses are French ones with definite articles

An analysis I want to put forth is that we see here a functional split:

‘Cows’ and ‘pigs’, you could argue, are primarily kept for their meat, which in fur-trade days you could carry in salted/dried form on your long forays cross-country.

Perhaps both made their first appearance in the Pacific Northwest in the form of such viands.

In French, my understanding is that you’d refer to a serving ‘of pork’ or ‘of beef’ — une portion de boeuf / de cochon — but not ‘of the pork/beef’.

The remaining animals could be understood, by contrast, as valued for their products:

‘Sheep’ give wool that makes much-needed clothing, as the nearest manufacturing centres to, say, Fort Vancouver were a couple thousand miles of wilderness away.

‘Chickens’ were more valued for supplying eggs (leshaf) — we constantly find these noted as astronomically valubable on the frontier — than for their meat, which remained a rare treat long past frontier times.

‘Roosters’ were perhaps not considered terribly good eating in any case, and they served to increase the population of chickens.

‘Mules’ were working animals, as were ‘horses’.

All of these animal words are pretty old in Jargon; I find them in Demers & Blanchet’s 1871-published document of late 1830s Fort Vancouver Chinuk Wawa.

Honestly, I can’t at this writing come up with an airtight set of discourse considerations (i.e. use in real-world speech) that would account for the lack of definite articles on ‘pig’ and ‘cow’. But maybe I’ve started a train of thought…

What do you think?