“Toque” and Métis vowels

Just a thought about vowels ‘n’ toques ‘n’ Métis people.


(Image credit: Etsy)

toque (n.)
kind of round hat, c. 1500, from Middle French toque (15c.), from Spanish toca “woman’s headdress,” possibly from Arabic *taqa, from Old Persian taq “veil, shawl.” (etymonline)

Looks pretty clear that toque was originally said with an “o” sound in French.

As we know, though, the word has a long “u” sound in modern English, as in Chinuk Wawa’s latúk / lachúk

What happened?

French words don’t as a rule undergo this vowel shift as they come into English. I’ve seen the reverse. (Lots of speakers of my home dialect, the English of Spokane, Washington, say /bokéi/ for ‘bouquet’!) But such shifts are the exception.

A setting where the shift /o/ > [u] is common enough, though, is in Métis French, including the French component of southern Michif (the mixed Cree-French language). I assume it’s heard in informal North American French in general, but the connection here is that most francophones in the CW world were of métis heritage. Those folks must’ve pronounced “toque” as if it were “touque“.

So here again we see the thorough Métis / Canadian French influence in Chinook Jargon. 

Bonus fact:

That alternative pronunciation, lachúk, is especially notable for what it says about Métis vowels. In much North American French speech, the consonant /t/ can mutate into this “ch” sound [tš]. But this can happen only when it’s directly followed by a “high, front” vowel, either /i/ or the vowel traditionally written as < u > in French, which is phonologically notated as /y/ or /ü/. That’s a whole different vowel from what we know in “toque” /tuk/, which has the “high, back” vowel /u/ instead. So, evidently, there was historically some variation among French speakers in the Pacific Northwest between “to(u)que” and “tuque“!

Languages preserve history. 

Long live linguistic archaeology!

qʰáta mayka tə́mtəm? What do you think?