Lower Chinookan cha: could it be Canadian French?

This could have implications for southern-dialect (early-creolized) Chinuk Wawa.

cha french

(Image credit: FontsInUse)

Franz Boas reported in 1910 that < tca! > means ‘well! introducing a new idea’, in Natitanui (Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinookan) as spoken by Q’lti (Charles Cultee). The spelling < tca > there is equivalent to a Grand Ronde-style cha.

I’ve previously speculated that Canadian/Metis French tiens! ‘well!’ might’ve occured in a pronunciation cha both among Indigenous folks and users of Chinuk Wawa.

Could Q’lti’s Chinookan cha then reflect a French-sourced Chinuk Wawa word, previously unrecorded? (This has happened.). And creeping into his native language? (This has happened specifically with him.)  He didn’t know French, according to any information we have about him.

Here’s an interesting note in relation to this question. In Boas’s 1910 publication “Chinook Texts”, the function of an exclamation/discourse marker ‘well!’ is usually fulfilled by other words: nixwa, chux(w)(a), auɬəɬ, ayipi, kush (“also used by the Chehalis” Salish), ayaqa. I feel certain that each of these had a unique sense for a fluent Lower Chinookan speaker.

  • For example, nixwa (which we also know in CW) seems to encourage the addressee to perform some action they may not have already been considering.
  • Chux(w)(a) may be sort of more gently persuasive, I’m guessing, as it’s potentially related to CW chaku ‘come’.
  • Ayaqa may well be connected with Chinookan and CW ayaq ‘quickly, soon; able to’.

On this basis, I infer that cha had a unique connotation of its own. It occurs relatively rarely, which may itself be useful information in support of a foreign etymology.

Here are the 3 occurrences I found as I wrote this article:

  • Cha, iqsiX! tLEX txkSalaxuma um’ESX. — ‘
    Well, son-in-law! Split we-two-will-go-and-do-it-for-us-two a-tree.” ‘
    (‘ “…The two of us will go and split ourselves a tree.” ‘)
  • Cha as ‘come’ but same syntactic position:
    Tca txSgama, SikS”
    ‘ “Come we.will.play, friend.” ‘
  • A seemingly exceptional ejective (glottalized) ch’a:
    Ch’a nalawitka…” —
    ‘ “Well indeed…” ‘ (followed by a rhetorical question)

So now a couple more observations.

FIrst, our cha might very well be native Chinookan, and related to the chux(w)(a) that we saw above. Two of our 3 examples look like they might mean something like ‘come (along)’. The third perhaps is an exhortation to see things as the speaker does.

Second, whether our cha is Chinookan or Canadian French in origin, its occurrence once in ejectivized form ch’a is remarkable. This may be an instance of typically Chinookan sound-symbolic consonant mutation, but it’s unusual to see such a thing on a “function word” rather than on a noun or verb “content word”.

I have to wrap up today with an admission that I’ve not answered the question of whether cha is French in origin, or is at least influenced by tiens! But I’m happy to have raised the question, and raised some awareness of the Chinookan source languages in CW’s ancestry.

What do you think?