Stress on French words in Jargon


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Word stress in Chinuk Wawa is pretty predictable…with a big exception.

I estimate 95% of the words in CW have their main stress on the first syllable. It’s so predictable that you hardly need to mark stress on most words, to guide learners.

But a chunk of the vocabulary comes from Canadian French, and it behaves differently. I thought I’d take a quick look to see what sense I might make of it.

In the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde 2012 dictionary’s main section, 68 words total from French carry what was originally a definite article and (consequently) have more than one syllable. These are the most recognizable “type” of French words in the language, and easiest to quickly tally up, so:

Listing stress patterns from most frequent to least frequent…


  • ALWAYS FINAL STRESS (32 words):
    • 2 syllables (26 words): labríd, lachúk, lakán, lakúm, lalám, laláng, lalím, lapárp, lapʰíp, lapót, lasél, lashantél, latét, legléy, lekʰlú, lemulá, lepʰúl, lespró, lesháf, ləhwét, lifíl, ligwín, likʰák, likárt, lipʰlá, lishát
    • 3 syllables (6 words): lakamín, lakasét, lamuwél, lapotʰáy, lapʰuwél, lariyét
    • lemártʰo, lesúkʰər, libárədu (& cf. the variant lakámas of the variable-stress 3-syll form)
  • ALWAYS INITIAL STRESS, all having 3 syllables (2 words):
    • lápʰusmu, láshəmine


  • 2 SYLLABLES (23 words): láhásh, lákʰlí, lámés, lámíl, láplásh, lápúsh, lásúp, látám, láwén, líbló, líkʰrém, líkú, lílu~lelú, límá, lipʰrét, lípúm, lípʰwá, lípʰyí, lísák, líshésh, líshól, lítá, líyób
  • 3 SYLLABLES all vary between initial & final stress, which may be Zenk’s Law/secondary stress on final-stressed words more than it’s stress variation (8 words): lákamás (but note further variant lakámas, cf. the 3-syllable non-variables w/stress after def art, above), lákʰarát, lámatʰín, lámatsín, lámətáy, lámiyáy, lápʰalá, límotó (there’s also lesánchél — but that’s JPH’s phonetics)

The biggest pattern here is that a whopping 66 nouns — nearly the entire sample — allow or mandate an unstressed definite article. And all but 5 of the nouns require or permit final stress. Taken together, that surely reflects a strong, distinctive influence from French prosody on this set of words.

But, essentially half the sample (33 nouns) have at least optional initial stress. I see this, especially in the 2-syllable variable nouns and the 3-syllable non-variable ones, as a possible regularization of the stress patterns to match the Jargon’s strong tendency towards initial stress.

(Which is itself perhaps a sign of English-language influence. The Indigenous languages in Chinuk Wawa’s history have much freer stress placement.)

I ought to point out here that a few other French words exist in Jargon. Some are nouns, like the above, but without definite articles, such as kúshu ‘pig’. Others are verbs, such as kúri/kúli ‘run’, tánis ‘dance’, másh ‘throw’, atá ‘wait’. And there are function words, like ə́bə ‘or’ & ába ‘oh well’. I see a lot of first-syllable stress in these words as well.

Could we alternatively claim that stress variation goes on within Canadian French? I don’t have enough data to judge that, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I mean, technically, words in French have no main stress; what an English-speaker like me hears as stresses in francophone speech, in my understanding, has more to do with phrase boundaries and the highlighting of information than it does with individual words.

I feel I haven’t reached any amazing conclusions here 🙂 But one idea is that we can take the unstressed French definite articles as a very strong noun “class marker”. Not all nouns have these, but if you find a Jargon word starting with la-, li-, etc., it’s almost certainly going to be a noun.

Your thoughts?