French-creole Chinuk Wawa domestic relations

eh bien

Jeune Canada: “Eh bien, Oncle Sam, votre gouvernement ne semble guère mieux que le nôtre!” (Image credit: Musée McCord)

A new language is said to “creolize” when it becomes a community’s mother tongue…

…Which means, the language everyone speaks from infancy onwards.

For Chinuk Wawa, it’s widely agreed that the setting where that first could’ve occurred is Fort Vancouver on the lower Columbia River, circa 1825.

I’m not real sure any previous scholar has claimed creolization took place that early; starting with a short article by Virginia and Dell Hymes in 1972, the attention has justifiably focused on the fascinating case of the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation, established 1855-1856. Henry Zenk wrote his important 1984 dissertation on that. 

At Ft. Vancouver, within a few years, a majority of the population was settled in households consisting typically of a French-Canadian man, an Indigenous woman, and several kids of theirs. The same soon occurred at French Prairie across the river, and at Cowlitz Farm to the north.

(Christopher Roth’s readable & highly useful 1994 article “Towards an Early Social History of Chinook Jargon” mistakenly adds Fort William/Kaministiquia to this list, but that’s a place in Ontario, Canada. He means the Pacific Trading Co.’s Fort William on Sauvie/Wappatoo Island near modern Portland, Oregon, but that establishment operated only 1834-1837 and had no comparable settled community as far as I’ve learned.)

That right there established a change from previous years, when the Jargon had been used as a pidgin, in comparatively short-term contacts between Indigenous and Newcomer adults.

Many of these male French-Canadians (themselves largely Métis of partly Aboriginal heritage) and female Indigenous no doubt already had been speaking Chinook Jargon with each other, along with as much of French and Indigenous languages as both partners could speak and understand. Their kids normally knew CJ as well.

That existing situation was not sufficient to lead to creolization of Chinook Jargon, though. The missing ingreadient was supplied by the formation of a group of permanent households — a community.

Not only the generation of kids born to Fort Vancouver folks, but also their parents, found that the most widely understood language of the many locally spoken was the Jargon. It rapidly evolved from one of your communicative tools to the one that you had to have at your command.

So in the historical record, we quickly find folks like visiting linguist Horatio Hale in 1841 noting that even small kids and schoolchildren were speaking Chinuk Wawa better than they spoke any other language.

A corollary of the Jargon’s creolization is that French pretty suddenly gained a new prominence.

In previous trade-centered interactions, French speakers had no special prominence, as everyone seems to have used a more basic Chinuk Wawa with words mixed in from their own language and any other that they happened to know.

In the home sphere, though, folks would be hearing lots more French because they’d have lots more exposure to Canadian men.

My readers know that we’ve already looked at the shift from Chinookan to French-derived Jargon kin terms such as mama, papa, etc., as indicators of the language’s creolization.

Likewise, I’ve shown how a shift from Indigenous to French words for human body parts marks the Jargon’s evolution into a community’s home language.

Today I’d like to point out several more French-derived Chinuk Wawa words that we can identify as symptomatic of home life — intimate / domestic relations.

That’s the domain we’d expect to be most characterized by an informal register of language use. And “informal”, non-literary, speech registers are just what you find in real-world language contact situations the world over.

An example: In George Lang’s 2008 book “Making Wawa”, he shows us a circa 1830 Fort Vancouver manuscript from schoolteacher John Ball, where a previously undocumented expression < tapahote > is listed as Jargon for ‘shame’. I’ve pointed out that that’s precisely the pronunciation we’d expect in Jargon of slangy Canadian French t’a pas honte ‘you have no shame!’

An example: < bibi > ‘kiss’, even though we haven’t corroborated it (yet?) from contemporary Canadian sources, seems likely to be French-Canadian baby talk. Compare French baiser ‘to kiss’ and la bise ‘a peck, a kiss’, and le bibi ‘muggins (a foolish and gullible person’.

An example: the conjunction əbə ‘or’ (compare French ou bien, Canadian French ou ben), and for that matter, pi ‘and; or’. You had to spend a fair amount of time around Canadians to absorb these, I expect; unlike nouns or action verbs it’d be mighty hard to grasp the meaning of these function-words unless you were plenty engaged in conversation.

An example: the interjection aba! ‘ah well’ (compare eh/ah bien!, Canadian eh/ah ben!). Same idea as the preceding. Note, both əbə and aba! are again typical Jargon pronunciations of French words that originally had nasal vowels.

An example: we can argue that horses, which were already on the scene, took on a new importance once a settled community took shape. The existing Indigenous-sourced word kʰíyutən ‘horse’ remained, as did a rare word for ‘colt’, but finer distinctions became expressed with French-sourced adjectives (a class of words otherwise not taken into Jargon): liblo ‘sorrel colored, brown’, likʰay ‘spotted, speckled’, likʰrem ‘yellow, dun, buckskin-colored’, legley ‘grey’, limulo ‘wild’, sandəli ‘roan (color)’. Was it at this time that the Canadian words for horse technology came in? — ‘spurs’, ‘stirrups’, ‘saddle blanket’, whip, bridle…?

An example: implements of settled life correlate more with creole-ness than with trading, thus:

(A) non-portable items:

lashəmine ‘chimney’, lapot ‘door’, laklash ‘barn’ (known as a loan into Upper Chehalis Salish), lemula ‘sawmill’

(B) things not in high demand by Indians:

libarədu ‘shingles’, latam ‘table’, lishesh ‘chair’, lapʰushet ‘fork’, lasyet/lipʰla ‘plate’, lashantel ‘candle’, lachuk ‘cap’, maybe ləsánchél ‘belt’ (were “toques” and “sashes” normally home-knitted / woven?), likʰárt ‘cards’

(C) perishables:

lisítaluy (known as a loan into Quinault Salish) ‘pumpkin’, lipum ‘apples’, leladi ‘radishes’, lenamo ‘turnips’, lapʰatʰak ‘potatoes’.

(Folks could grow or make their own of all of these, and many would be hard to keep in stock fresh at a trading post.)

Additionally note that quite a lot of the core trade goods already had long-established non-French-derived Chinuk Wawa names since very early contact, so there was no pressing need for any French words for these:

Lower Chinookan words:

pasisi ‘blankets’, siyapuł ‘hats’, sik’aluks ‘pants’ (“breeches”), kamusak ‘beads’, k’ipʰwat ‘needles’, tsiltsil ‘buttons’, k’aynuł ‘tobacco’, ikʰik ‘fish hooks’, k’uyk’uy ‘rings’, uptsax̣ ‘knives’, tintin ‘bells’, perhaps pulali ‘(gun)powder’

English words:

kítłən ‘kettles’, mə́skit ‘guns’, shát ‘shot/bullets’, its homonym shát ‘shirts’ (which later became the Frenchified lishát at Grand Ronde, distinguinging the two nouns), síl ‘cloth’, híkchəm ‘handkerchiefs’, kʰút ‘dresses’ (“coats”), stákin ‘stockings’, shúsh ‘shoes’, kʰúm ‘combs’, shúkwa ‘sugar’, məlásis ‘molasses’, lám ‘alcohol’ …

(Counterexamples, i.e. early trade-good words from French, are few: lahásh ‘hatchet’, lalím ‘file’, lapál ‘(lead) balls’ (bullets), and < le couteau > a synonym for ‘knife’ documented only by Father Lionnet 1853 [circa 1850].)

Also, there are certain trade goods for which we don’t know an exact term in Chinook Jargon, although some of those have known frontier-era Canadian French names in our region, e.g. we know an ‘awl’ was l’alène because the fur-trading dudes called a north Idaho Salish tribe the Coeurs d’Alène(s).

Note that a lot of the above-mentioned words, while considered “classic” Chinook Jargon that appears in most of the old published dictionaries, may actually have passed out of use at Grand Ronde Reservation by the time of the (second) creolization documented by Henry Zenk with speakers born circa 1890-1910. (I.e. numerous of these words are limited to the “regional CW” section in the CTGR dictionary.) It’s as if the Jargon became decidedly more “Indian” in the reservation period.

An irony in this is that quite a few words of French origin then remained in known use only within tribal languages of the area, even though it’s immensely unlikely that those Indians had enough direct contact with people via informal French to take French words into their languages. My hypothesis remains that it was that more widely known informal language, Jargon, that brought these francophone words into e.g. Salish, even when we don’t directly know these as Jargon words.

What do you think?