Denasalization in Michif (and in Canadian French?)


Another kind of denasalization! (Image credit: Simon Leyland)

One more trait of Chinuk Wawa that correlates with the Métis language, Michif…

Essentially all words from French containing nasalized vowels wind up with non-nasal vowels only, in the Jargon.

For example:

  • Jargon ata ‘wait’ is from French attends, phonetically [atã].
  • Jargon əbə ‘or’ is from French ou bien, [ub(y)ẽ].
  • Jargon lamətay ‘mountain’ is from French la montaigne, [lamõtãy].

I’ll clearly state that I think the main cause of this de-nasalization is simple — none of the Indigenous languages of Chinuk Wawa’s early homeland have nasal vowels to speak of.

And those languages (Chinookan, Salish, K’alapuyan, you name it) had a great effect on how CW sounds.

But it’s always useful to look at every language that was in the mix that formed the Jargon, and another one may have been Michif, the Cree-French blend associated with Canadian Métis people, who played such an enormously important role in this history.

I was surprised to notice, recently, that Michif itself de-nasalizes some of its French words.

More astounding, to judge from Allard & Laverdure’s dictionary of the North Dakota dialect anyway, is that it only does so with the most common French words! Look:

  • The usual form of ‘in/at/to’ is < daw > [da]; compare French dans [dã].
  • There’s an entry for ‘Frank’ that’s defined in Michif as ‘a man’s name’: < aen om soo noo > [æn om su nu]; compare the French words un homme son nom [ẽ(n) õ sõ nõ] ‘a man his name’.
  • ‘My’ is < moo > [mu]; compare French mon [mõ].
  • ‘Your’ is < too > [tu]; compare French ton [tõ].
  • ‘No’ is < noo > [nu]; compare French non [nõ].

Quite the pattern, eh?

So I wonder whether Chinuk Wawa’s de-nasalization of French words has multiple Indigenous ancestors…

I also wonder how extensive such de-nasalization may have been in 1800s Canadian French, in general.

For the sake of thoroughness, I’ll point out that if the locally common English had been a major factor in how the Jargon processed French words, we’d see lots more “N” sounds in the resulting Chinuk Wawa forms, e.g. *lamontay, *atan, and so on.

But those asterisks mean “not a form that we actually find”, and that’s because English didn’t have much of a presence in the lower Columbia River households where Indigenous women, French-Canadian men, and their children, shaped CW into a creole language.

What do you think?