Is Franchère’s 1820 [~1813] lexicon only simplified Chinookan?

When I shared Gabriel Franchère’s 1820 publication of a small “Chinouque” vocabulary the other day, I received a good question from Prof. Mikael Parkvall about this early document of a forerunner of modern Chinuk Wawa…


(Image credit: 99percentinvisible)

Is th[is] really the pidgin (you do call it “early CW”) or is it just broken Chinook? Many people wouldn’t make a difference between those two, but to me, they are different beasts.

The presence in Franchère’s list of the Nootka Jargon-derived “patlatch” (he defines it as ‘a present’, but in his actual usage example it’s the expected ‘to give’) and “makoumak” (‘to eat’) suggest to me a more complex phenomenon than a straightforwardly simplified Chinookan.

Here’s one reason to think so:

Because there were foreign, i.e. non-Chinookan, words in this ancestor of modern CW, such as these Nootka Jargon items, I think it’s probable that Franchère was hearing lots of English words, too, in this speech variety. There’s agreement among linguists that the NJ words in CW had to have come in via anglophone Euro-American sailors. 

Lewis and Clark’s 1805-1806 documentation includes good evidence of Lower Chinookans speaking to Euro-Americans in a blend of Nootka Jargon + sailors’ English + more or less simplified Chinookan words. They reported the famous utterances (of which I’ll modernize the spellings) “ɬúsh mə́skit, wík kə́mtəks mə́skit” (‘nice gun, (I) don’t recognize (that) gun’) and “táyí-kʰamúsək” (‘chief beads’, i.e. high-quality ones). The words ɬúsh, wík, kə́mtəks, and táyí all come from NJ. And, incidentally, these are among the shortest and simplest NJ words, which I infer made them easier for sailors to remember and to use on the fly when meeting new Native groups. 

And from peculiarities of meanings in CW, we can infer that such frequent Jargon words as “mán“, “shíp“, “stík” (‘tree’), “hál” (‘pull’, from English ‘haul’), etc. came in from maritime speakers (who were the predominant English-speaking segment of the speech community prior to the establishment of Fort Vancouver in 1825). Those same seafarers are identified by Lewis and Clark as the source of the Chinookans’ English-derived vocabulary — including the immortal “musket, powder, shot, knife, file, damned rascal, son of a bitch, &c., some of which became standard CW.

It was one and the same demographic that brought both “son of a bitch” and “patlatch“, “makoumak“, etc. to Chinookan land.

We have consistently found in the articles I’ve posted on this site that it was customary for Euro-Americans to skip on reporting CW words that they assumed their readers already understood, in practice the English and (the later-entering) French lexemes.

(That’s a separate dynamic from the habitual omission of European-derived naughty words, which was more nuanced, in that French-speaking documentors of CW blithely reported Anglophone-sourced words like shit, tit, etc.!)

Franchère, we can presume with confidence, was not ignorant of English. Sure, he had a French name and published his book in French. But he was a Quebecker, a British citizen, and an educated and literate man, who got hired into an important position in a US fur company. The man knew English and would’ve felt it absurd to depict the “Chinouque language” as part-English.

The idea that I’m conveying to you here is that even the very earliest forms of what we have come to recognize as Chinuk Wawa contained not only Chinookan (viz. Lewis and Clark’s kʰamúsək), but also both English and Nootka Jargon.

It would be bizarre, needlessly complex in my view, to think that in the short time between Lewis and Clark and the Fort Vancouver period, CW somehow lost all (and only) its English words — but then re-borrowed “musket”, “shot”, and so on!

This contact language has never been satisfyingly analyzable as simplified / pidginized / broken Chinookan, because it’s always contained etymologies from several unrelated languages.

These are some of my thoughts about why Chinuk Wawa traces back from the form we know it in today, all the way to Lewis & Clark’s documentation of it.

It seems natural to me that this language added enormous amounts of Chinookan and Salish words for a period, in such staggering volume for a while that those words were pretty variable in form, and that the language could seem mostly like “broken” Chinookan.

But I personally think of the fairly brief span of time when this was the case as just one of the phases in the development of Chinuk Wawa.

Within a decade, maybe two at most, the demographic and cultural balance had shifted such that Chinookan was no longer the dominant language that it had once been in the CW-speaking world. Its function as a main input language was taken over by Canadian French, and later by English.

There are many more points that can and should be made in connection with all this. I’ll finish by restating an observation I’ve made before — that there are few clear sign of folks having consciously recognized CW as a distinct language until Fort Vancouver times.

Among the consequences of this indeterminacy might have been that some outsiders who lived among the then-dominant Lower Chinookans may well have intentionally strived to speak as much like Chinookans as possible — even if this meant diverging from the already recognizable (to us) CW.

What do you think?