“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?

Bonus fact:

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?