“Lève, lève, nos gens” and canadiens’ pragmatics
Hah, probably the most opaque headline I ever put on a blog post!
My thought for the day is a simple one, though.
We’ve found that the Chinuk Wawa verbs that come from Canadian/métis French come variously from singular or plural forms. (Pretty much always from commands.)
Thus, from plurals:
- shánti ‘sing’ — compare French chantez!
- kúri ‘run’ — courez!
And, from singulars:
- atá ‘wait’ — attends!
- másh ‘throw; leave’ — marche! ‘walk!’
In many cases, I tend to believe we can figure out the kinds of domestic and down-home situations these words were being used in, in French, that led to their becoming part of CW at Fort Vancouver.
- Singing isn’t typically a solitary activity in Euro-American culture, so shánti! ‘sing, y’all!’
- You might have foot- or horse-races in your free time, obviously a multi-participant event: kúri! ‘everybody run!’ (Why don’t I imagine kúri! comes from people urging someone to ‘hurry!’? Well, CW already said áyáq! (‘quick!’) for ‘hurry!’)
- I expect that at home, you’d often be telling a kid atá!
And maybe you’d find yourself telling a single person, or your horse, to másh! ‘leave!’ (I suspect this was the original sense of the word, with ‘throw’ added later.)
But we’ve seen eyewitness accounts of canadiens urging their mounted group, in French, [the following is a link to an article] < Marche-dan >, which is singular — either Marche dedans! ‘Walk on!’ (like ‘forward march!’) or Marche-t’en! ‘Walk away!’
That episode came to my mind when I was doing some reading in [the following is a link to the full book] “Un voyageur des pays d’en-haut” by [l’abbé] Georges Dugas [missionaire] (Montréal: C.O. Beauchemin & fils, 1890). This book is a biography of the old-school voyageur québécois Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau (1795-1883), who told his life story to Father Dugas.
Pages 41-42 describe the start of the day while in camp:
Ce n’était pas par le cri du Benedicamus Domino que le guide réveillait ses hommes. Le signal était celui-ci: Lève, lève, nos gens! Alors les voyageurs se hâtaient de ployer les tentes des bourgeois et des commis…
‘It was not by the cry of the Benedicamus Domino that the guide woke his men. The signal was this: Lève, lève, nos gens! [Get up, get up, our people!]’
And that’s a singular signal!
We can’t make very much out of a single sentence in Canadian French, but I want to suggest that we be aware that each culture uses its language in ways that aren’t predictable from a mere knowledge of the grammar. It may well have been a canadien thing to address a group of comrades with singular verb forms. Eh bien, qui sait?
Pages 22-23 of this same book tell us that ‘whenever an Indian wants to insult someone, he calls them Saganâche‘, and a footnote recalls,
‘When the volunteers arrived at Red River, they encamped on the banks of the Assiniboine. In the evening, when the darkness had come, some Saulteaux, who were camped on the opposite side of the river, shouted at the top of their lungs, Saganâche! Saganâche! Those people didn’t understand it, but the Métis who heard the Indians had a good laugh.’
This Algonquian-family word was also known way out in British Columbia. Moise Johnny, in a wonderful little book called “The Paper that Relates”, shows it to us in the Dakelh-syllabary newspaper Testl’es Nahwelnek. He writes it in our alphabet as Sagonaz, saying it’s a word for British people. (Here’s another source talking about that word.) Thus, we see there another footprint of the Cree and Saulteaux métis folks who formed the backbone of the far-west fur trade.
What do you think?
Seems to me that “shánti” and “kúri” might as well come from infinitives. Not saying they must, but nor is it self-evident that present-tense forms are behind them.
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Thanks for raising this point, Mikael. We always need to consider, what situations would have plausibly led to this or that form being used? Infinitives and subjunctives, which need to first get parsed out of connected speech (which is their typical environment), seem to me a less frequent stimulus providing vocabulary to a pidgin (and to any learner) than imperatives. Indicatives must stand between these extremes.
For our non-linguist readers, it’s appropriate to point out that infinitives weren’t necessarily easy for a native speaker of 19th-century métis/Canadian French to isolate out & say by themselves. Education and literacy were comparatively rare in that environment, so most canadien laborers in the Pacific NW may have had scant idea what an infinitive is and how to cite it verbally.
Apropos only one word in this blog post, ” Mache”, which could easily have become our “Mush”, used almost entirely as a command for the dog sled teams to move off, as it showed up in the northern michif and then CW trade lingos following the fur trade inter-post shipping system.
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Dave, Mikael: inasmuch as /ata/ and /mash/ cannot derive from infinitives, and instead must derive from singular present and/or imperative forms, it seems to me that the default assumption should then be that /shanti/ and /kuri/ must likewise derive from (plural) present and/or imperative forms.
On the other hand, Dave, infinitives are perceived by uneducated French speakers as the citation/default form, not least because for many verbs the infinitive can be pressed into service as a noun. It is perhaps telling that French and Romance pidgins/creoles, as a rule, use the infinitive as the sole form of the verb. So /shanti/ and /kuri/ may indeed derive from infinitives…
MUCH more interesting to me is the fact that “Lève, lève, nos gens!” looks like imperfectly mastered L2 French, for two reasons:1- “to get up” in French is a pronominal verb, “Se lever”, and thus we would expect “Lève-toi” in the singular and “Levez-vous” in the plural (“lever” exists as a transitive non-pronominal verb in French, but it means “to raise” (non-human object)), and 2-Since “nos gens” makes it plain that more than one person needed to be woken up, we would expect the verb form to be plural: “Levez”, not “lève”. So, really, really imperfectly mastered L2 French: uninflected verb, no reflexive pronoun…gee, this guide spoke French like my studen- err, never mind 🙂
Dave: what else does Dugas have to tell us about this guide? I would bet it was someone Indigenous rather than Métis.
Oh, was at the on-line 53rd Algonquian conference late last week/this weekend: either or both of you might have found my talk (On Métis French having Algonquian-style obviative marking on verbs) interesting: it was recorded, so you can listen to it, but it is in (more or less standard) French.
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I notice in the 1983 Turtle Mountain Michif dictionary by Allard & Laverdure that ‘Scram!’ is translated in the following ways: awush!, vatawn!, marsh!, maersh!. I think awush! is Plains Cree in origin, but the last 3 are Métis French. The last 2 are pronunciations of “marche!”
Etienne, is there a handout of your Algonquian Conference talk?
Maybe you could have a look at the Dugas book (linked in my article) – – I didn’t notice any clues that the speaker was anything but a Métis.