A rarity: ubut contains a French preposition; why?

Grand Ronde CW speech preserves for us one of the most fascinating French-Canadian-origin words in this language…

au bout

(Image credit: TheLocal)

The word on my mind is ubút ‘end, goal’, known from speaker John B. “Mose” Hudson and listed in the 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary that I hope all of you have copies of.

That dictionary is right, I expect, in assigning it an etymology in French au bout ‘at [or ‘to’] the end’.

That is an extremely common phrase in spoken French, so it’s no kind of surprise to see it reflected in pidgin or creole speech — contact languages typically consisting of a selection of the most commonly heard bits of the input languages.

The “T” sound at the end would evidently reflect nonstandard Canadian French pronunciation (compare standard French [o bu]), much as we’re told CW kapú correlates with a standard French capote.

No surprises — except —

This may be the only word in all of Chinuk Wawa that preserves a French preposition! Au bout, you understand, is proper French for à + le + bout ‘at/to the end’.

If we were to find a loanword for ‘end’ in CW shaped like (the nonexistent) *ləbú*, that would merely live up to our expectations. That’s because the big majority of francophone-sourced nouns in Jargon do start in “L”, due to the definite article le / la / les that French makes you put on a noun in many conversastional circumstances.

But here we have, not le + bout as a source, but à + le + bout!

I’m hard put to think of any other CW lexemes whose French sources begin with (just to name the semantically broadest, most frequent prepositions carrying the heaviest “functional load” in the latter language) à, dans, de, en, pour, etc.

Let me specify that it’s not so noteworthy to find an entire French phrase as the source of a Jargon word. We also have < tapahote > ‘shame (on you)’ from t’a pas honte ‘you have no shame’; lapikʰwo ‘short coat’ from l’habit court< lumaran > from (le) loup marin (literally ‘(the) sea wolf’) ‘seal’, and so forth. (New observation on that last word — it seems possible to me that its etymology does include a definite article.)

Instead, it’s finding this type of structure — a prepositional phrase from French — in Chinuk Wawa that stands out.

Why did only this one prepositional phrase get taken up by folks who hadn’t grown up talking French?? I invite your thoughts. Perhaps the existing CW word úpʰuch ‘ass, butt, tail’ exerted some effect…?

Developing today’s subject further, I want to observe that it looks clear to me that lower Columbia-area CW (what I call the older, “southern” dialect that includes Grand Ronde) developed the Chinookan-etymology subordinating conjunction — yes, a conjunction — pus ‘if; when’ in a Canadian French influenced direction.

At some point in CW’s development, pus developed beyond its earlier “irrealis” function, that is, of marking what are essentially hypotheticals.

An example of that function would be kʰəltəs kʰupa nayka spus mayka mash nayka ‘I don’t care if you leave me’, using an alternate pronunciation of pus.

I believe it was one specific, common use of pus, to introduce purpose clauses, that led to the Frenchifying of that conjunction. An example of that usage is yaka kwanisəm tənəs-mamuk pus tuluʔ chinuk-pipa ‘He keeps putting some work into mastering the Chinook writing.’

More to the point, it’s the occurrence of this “purpose pus” with a change of grammatical subject between the main clause and the subordinate (pus) clause that could’ve been the trigger of the Canadian-influenced reanalysis I’m describing. An example of this structure would be nayka tiki pus yaka k’elapa ‘I want him to come back’, found in the Grand Ronde dictionary under pus.

The reason I’m specifying this last, most specific structure is that it happens to be exactly the same syntactic environment where French makes you throw in the preposition pour ‘for’. An example from Father Le Jeune’s Kamloops Wawa newspaper: Après cela il dit pour que la terre se dessécha [sic] ‘After that he said for the earth to dry up.’

Anyway, my argument is that this parallelism, where the similar-sounding words pus and pour both have pretty identical positions introducing different-subject purposive subordinate clauses — (albeit different functions within their respective languages!) — led to a reanalysis in the creolized lower Columbia community, where Canadian French remained a strong presence for several decades.

That’s to say, CW pus took on a new function, as a preposition. It had never been a preposition in the Chinookan languages, and I infer it worked similarly in the earliest CW. (It seems hard to find this word in the earliest word lists, however.) But under French influence, it came to be extended to additional circumstances which are normal for pour, prototypically to mean ‘for’ a noun of purpose. An example of what I mean is CW x̣awqaɬ na x̣ələl pus ‘nayka ‘I can’t move on my own (literally, for MYSELF)’ — found in the 2012 dictionary also under pus.

This is now the word for ‘for’ in the southern dialect. (Formerly the only way to say ‘for’ a purpose-noun was kʰapa, the generic preposition in CW.)

It should almost go without saying, if you’re among my regular readers, that this French-influenced change in the grammar most likely occurred in the Fort Vancouver environment.

That’s the locale and era, about 1825-1846, of the massive influx of francophone input to the Jargon, due to the founding and maintenance of a community full of stable households that usually consisted of one French Canadian parent and one Indigenous parent.

We have superb evidence that this noun-purpose pus was entrenched around Fort Vancouver by 1838, because it occurs one heck of a lot in the 1871 Demers-Blanchet-St. Onge document, which is based on late-1830s experience. Examples there include the frequent pus ikta (‘for what’) = ‘why?’ Father Lionnet’s 1853 document (1849 data) explicitly defines French pour as CW pus.

I recognize that this has been a very detailed tangent to set out on, but I think you can see the uniting theme here: The influence of French prepositions on CW.

That influence was negligible, making ubut a remarkable word…

…except that the covert hybridization of pour & pus casts its shadow all through the southern dialect!

A final tidbit: I have noticed a later French documentor of Chinuk Wawa’s northern dialect (where pus does not mean ‘for’), Father JMR Le Jeune of British Columbia, once in a while absent-mindedly slipping into this usage. Maybe this is additional evidence in support of a view that francophones have long tended to think of pus as pour.  Folk etymology, anyone?

What do you think?