Notices & voyages…and francophone taxonomy


Soapberry whip (Indian ice cream) and jarred soapberries, with a traditional soapberry paddle (image credit: Pinterest)

So I think I’ve already blogged about much of the material that’s in this book….

By which I mean “Notices & Voyages of the Famed Quebec Mission to the Pacific Northwest“, translated by Carl Landerholm. [Portland, OR]: Oregon Historical Society, 1956.

You see, the Notices that start the book are those of Fathers Demers & Blanchet, which I’ve shown in a previous post here. Today’s book includes them along with further materials of interest to us. All of this stuff is from the early pioneer period, the 1840s.

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde 2012 dictionary, I’ll have you know, wisely made use of this book too. There are some utter gems of Chinuk Wawa in here, like the word for the now locally extinct California condor.

Here’s just a quick linked list to the stuff I’ve already discussed, as presented in today’s “Notices & Voyages” volume; I make only a few additional notes:

Pages 11-14, 16.

Pages 18-21.

Page 27.

Page 32.

Page 40.

Note the references in the Notices to numbered “plains”, up to to at least the “eighteenth plain”, from Fort Vancouver generally northward to Fort Nisqually — thus explaining the still-used Vancouver, WA-area place name Fourth Plain (Orchards, WA). [Adding a note on April 22, 2020 to observe that in the local Chinookan language Kathlamet, a traditional story refers to someone “crossing five prairies“, a type of expression also found in Chehalis Salish, raising the possibility that Fourth Plain is actually an older Indigenous place name!]

Page 43.

Page 45.

Page 55 — A local Indigenous person’s “I am no longer a native, I am now a Frenchman” — must have been said in Chinuk Wawa; recall from recent articles here that Jargon pʰasáyuks started out as the generic word for ‘white people’, before getting reinterpreted (by people like these Canadian priests?) as ‘French; Canadian’.

Pages 62ff.

Page 66.

Page 80.

Page 82.

Page 87.

Page 91 — “just died” interestingly turns out to mean “just dying” (but not dead yet), which is a clue that the sentence was said in Chinuk Wawa with the Recent Past adverb chxí.

Pages 102-103.

Pages 105-6.

Page 113.

Following are some mighty interesting items that I haven’t written about before, involving Fathers JBZ Bolduc & Antoine Langlois, who were sent out to help the first Catholic missionaries in Oregon, Fathers Blanchet & Demers.

Pages 133-135 — On the way from eastern North America to Oregon in 1842, Bolduc used a several-week layover in Hawai’i to start learning the “Sandwichian tongue” as he thought it would be useful on the Columbia among the many Kanaka fur-trade employees.

Page 137 — in Hawai’i a young man “from the Columbia” teaches Bolduc about 100 words of Jargon.

Page 138 — now arrived on the Columbia, already communicating with Indigenous people in Jargon.

Page 149-150 — the profusion of Indigenous languages, including Chinuk Wawa. (Also the Indigenous insult ‘dog’, presumably the source of that same CW usage.)

Page 169 — a truly fascinating detail: the prayers (in Jargon) that the Fort Vancouver-area Indigenous people are learning are not so much spoken as chanted in an Indigenous style, in a chord of the solfège notes fa, la, ut (F, A, C) or la, ut, mi (A, C, E). Onlookers stop in their tracks to enjoy the striking effect. (We have documentation of this same Indigenous way of reciting Christian prayers way up into central British Columbia. I’ve heard a recording of it.)

Pages 177ff — botany and zoology notes, from which we learn a lot about how Canadian/Métis people named animals and plants in the French variety that had such an influence on Chinuk Wawa. Some of the terminology here may even reflect French loan-translations from Chinuk Wawa; I’m hoping to track down the French-language original of this section to get the best possible data from it.

  • The staple root foods are described, with their methods of cooking:
    • < kamas > [(lá)kámás] &
    • < wapeto > [wáptʰu].
    • Other roots reported include queue de rat ‘rattail’ (horsetail (Equisetum) tubers/shoots?),
    • ‘tobacco root’ (racine de tabac, edible valerian),
    • and ‘the bitter root’ (racine amère, I guess our common bitterroot east of the Cascades, Lewisia rediviva….).
    • “The tree < pawitch > [pʰáwch] [crabapple] resembles the haw“.
    • The small red broue ‘brothberry’ is clearly Indian ice cream, Shepherdia canadensis, sóp-úlali/súp-úlali, and this amounts to a new discovery in French. Why? Because ‘soapberry’ is otherwise graines de boeuf or (the tree) savonnier to my knowledge. And because a probable cause for calling it ‘broth’ berry is if you reinterpret Chinuk Wawa’s phrase — literally ‘soap-berry’ from the fact that you prepare it by whipping it into a fast-expanding sudsy froth — as the CW homophone meaning ‘soup-berry’. Grand Ronde’s 2012 dictionary has ‘soap’ as sóp and ‘soup’ as lasúp, but a solidly documented variant of both words is súp. An aside: sóp-úlali is actually not found in the Grand Ronde dictionary, somewhat to my surprise, but it’s an extremely well documented term throughout Pacific NW history. 
    • “Grapes” are mentioned — is this Oregon grape (Berberis)? Was raisin a PNW Canadian French word for this, despite the lack of traces in written documentation? Raisin d’ours ‘bear grape’ is known as a Canadian name of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (bearberry), the plant I know as kinnikinnik.
    • “Bluets” is left untranslated in this edition, with a parenthetical translator’s question “huckleberries?” But this ought to be the usual Canadian bleuet ‘blueberries’.
    • “The pembina” or pimbina seems to be the Algonquian loanword into Canadian French for the elderberry, maybe the red elderberry in particular if I’m not wrong in seeing a connection with ‘highbush cranberry’ in French.
    • The “service tree” said to occur only near the Rocky Mountains sounds puzzling, as serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) grows from the coast to far inland! So this must a name for a Sorbus species such as mountain ash, right?
    • The untranslated liard is the ‘poplar’ in my dictionary; not strictly a Canadianism, but the puzzle here is that the translator also lists ‘poplar’ in the same sentence, so were two kinds of trees intended? Maybe liard is ‘aspen’ then? (My dictionary has tremble ‘aspen’.)
    • ‘Devilwood’ is bois de diable / bois-diable, vine maple.
    • ‘Cypress’ surely applies to the PNW ‘cedar’.
  • Animals…
    • The ‘small wolf’ is the coyote; there was lots of confusion over what to call this species in frontier days.
    • ‘Tiger’ is the cougar.
    • ‘Tiger cat’ must be the bobcat or maybe the rarer lynx.
    • ‘Wild cat’ might be lynx.
    • ‘The goat resembling the roe deer, but smaller and of extreme swiftness’ must be the pronghorn antelope.
    • The separate listing of ‘wolverine (clever thief)’ and ‘carcajou’ is confusing, as these are all synonyms to me.
    • The ‘pécan‘ (pékan) is the ‘fisher’.
    • The ‘buffalo, or to use the language of the area, la vache‘ is listed among the wild animals of ‘the Columbia’, interestingly; it can only refer to bison, but contrary to the writer’s explicit claim, these were effectively extinct west of the Rockies by the time of this 1840s publication.
    • The presence of ‘wild or fugitive horses’ is also noted.
  • Birds…
    • The ‘bustard’ I suppose is French outarde and is probably Canada goose, although ‘goose’ is a separate term in the same list. I’d have expected ‘bustard’ to be a species that stays on the ground a lot, such as grouse.
    • The ‘nun’ is clearly the bald eagle.
  • Fishes…
    • ‘Carp’ and ’round carp’ can’t be carp species, which are introduced or invasive in this region, post-frontier times. Various species of bottom-feeders are called carp in North American French; could ‘catfish’, ‘sucker’, and ‘squawfish’ be among them?

Page 196 — Kamosom = the site of Victoria, BC (later), a.k.a. Fort Camosun. The final “M” sound here is more accurate than the “N” of “Camosun”, as the Lekwungen Salish name is more like q’əmásəŋ (with an “NG” sound at the end), from an older pronunciation q’əmásəm.

Page 197 — “cloth house” (tent) reflects the Chinuk Wawa term sil-haws.

Page 200 — local French bardeau (literally ‘shingle’) = a dried salmon! It makes you wonder if Chinuk Wawa’s borrowing of that word, libárədu, was used the same way.

Page 238-239 — a remarkable conversation that probably took place in Chinuk Wawa between an Indigenous man and a priest, regarding whether or not to baptize the man’s seriously ill sister.

What do you think?