Cree influence on Chinuk Wawa?
A smart & interesting question was asked the other day by Luke Etxeberria in the “Chinook Jargon” group on Facebook.
Actual Cree mushrooms (image credit: Matsutake & NTFP – PFNL, Gift of Eeyou Istchee)
Any info out there on Cree influences on Chinook Wawa phonology? There seem to be some phonetic accommodations that wouldn’t be needed given the phonology of local Indigenous languages or English or French…but WOULD be needed by someone whose primary language was Cree…for example cry>klay>kilay (Chinookan speakers wouldn’t have any problem with the “kl” cluster…whereas a Cree speaker would), or kaynutlh>kaynush/kaynut (a Cree speaker would likely hear a final “lh” as “hs” or just “s/sh”…potentially a T, or most drastic of all: pikhwatlh>pihwati. Has anyone seen any old forms with simplifications of initial “tlh”, or “lh” aside from “kl”? Plains Cree doesn’t have an “l” phoneme…and usually replaces it with “n”…but that would be tough next to a “k”…thinking an expected form would be “tlhahawya>tshahawya”, “tlhus>tshus…or maybe tlhahawya>tiyahawya, tlhus>tiyus…
My colleague, Michif-man Dale McCreery, responded —
I think the best bet for Cree influence on Chinook Wawa comes from Cree influence on Metis French, which then gets borrowed in to CW. and might bring some of that influence… But off the top of my head I can’t think of any examples
I concur with Dale on this, and I volunteered to add a few thoughts here on my site. So here we go:
There were indeed speakers of Cree, probably of more than one of the Cree dialects/languages, in the Pacific Northwest during the formative years of Chinook Jargon. Quite a number of fur-trade employees were married to women from Cree-speaking communities in Rupert’s Land, that is, farther east, in the areas served by HBC forts in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, etc. Many traders and trappers themselves learned to speak good Cree. So in some households at Fort Vancouver, Cree may have been one of the main languages.
For such reasons, logically speaking, Cree has to have been one of the more important languages in the Fort Vancouver environment, and it’s indeed mentioned a couple of times as being used both by locals and by some visitors. However, on the lower Columbia River, one function that Cree had in the interior — as a lingua franca — was conspicuously lacking: Cree did not function as an all-purpose interethnic language here. One way that we can check for the presence of a “contact language” is to look through the lexicons of local languages for traces of words borrowed from it, and we just don’t find Cree words in the local Salish, Chinookan, etc. languages, whereas we do find plenty of definite Chinuk Wawa borrowings into tribal speech.
In a parallel with the Nuuchahnulth vocabulary of CW, it’s a definite pattern in that the Jargon words we know to have come from Cree & other Algonquian languages always carry signs of having been brought in by Euro-Americans, a category in which I’m including Métis. (That is, in both cases the lexicon was picked up by non-tribal people before Chinook Jargon existed.)
- Some are known from specific incidents that involved nobody but Canadian/Métis speakers, such as < siskiyou > ~ sìs(i)kayáw ‘bobtailed horse’.
- Some have the Canadian French definite article le-, la-, or les tacked on at the beginning, as with lápʰusmu ‘appichemon, saddle blanket’.
- Some have pronunciations not found within Algonquian tribal speech: papus ‘baby’ came in via 1600s North American English, almost certainly.
- And the sum total of the Cree/Algonquian words in CW strongly correlates with the known cultural features of those who spoke North American/Métis French, thus we have mikwen ‘horn spoon’, mitas ‘leggings’, and other terminology that’s also well documented over in the Mississippi Valley and Rupert’s Land.
- We can also take this opportunity to repeat that some rumoured Algonquian/Cree etymologies for Chinook Jargon words are wrong, e.g. wáptʰu ‘wapato plant/bulbs thereof’ is actually from PNW languages, not from a Cree word for ‘mushroom’.
And the consonant-cluster dissimilation that prompted Luke’s excellent original question need not be due to the Cree preference for “open” (just one consonant + one vowel) syllables.
- Even though many Pacific Northwest languages are famously tolerant of jamming a bunch of consonants together, we shouldn’t take that fact as allowing any and all clusters. English ‘cry’ (and Canadian French crier) becoming CW kʰíláy perhaps tells us more about PNW tribal people’s struggles to pronounce an /r/ sound, rare in this region.
- A pronunciation ~kaynut or ~kaynus for k’aynuɬ ‘tobacco’ would simply be characteristic of English and French speakers’ frequent difficulties with the PNW ‘slurpy L’ sound, throughout the frontier period.
- ‘Thin’, p’ixwati, is not an alteration from /tɬ/ in the first place; it appears to trace back to an original Chinookan word ending in /ti/.
- I’ve never found the theoretical Cree simplification of initial /tɬ/. Note that that’s a single phonemic sound in PNW languages, but English and French speakers are indeed known to have *complicated* it by pronouncing it as 2 consonants, /kl/, at the start of words. This was in order to satisfy the restrictions of English & French “phonotactics”, which don’t allow words to begin with what speakers perceive as a stop /t/ plus an “L” sound.
The case is pretty ironclad that Cree exerted next to no direct influence on Chinuk Wawa. There are 2 words in British Columbia CW, a word for ‘money’ that’s like ~shnuya and a word for ‘white guy(s)’ that’s like ~moniyas, that are definitely Cree. But both of those are known to us from BC tribes having sustained contact with Métis before they experienced significant exposure to the Jargon.
So, add Cree to the heap of languages that have been claimed to have played a major role in shaping Chinook Jargon, but which didn’t, really. Fellow occupants of that heap, which I’ll call Actual History 🙂 , include Hawai’ian, “Chinese”, Russian, Spanish, and Kwak’wala. And Hebrew.
There’s more provable influence from Nez Perce and K’alapuyan in CJ than there is from Cree, and both of those languages contributed less than a handful of words…
Nicely done team CW! Having had the honour of studying the diasporas of both CJ from the south, and in waves, and michif initially from the north and then the south, including the coast, across New Caledonia, in search of the origins of place names here in the Interior. I concur with your findings and urge everyone to carry on their studies of these lingua franca, as they narrate important layers of experience in this place.
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In the Governor’s Mansion in Fort Vancouver the two families of John McLoughlin and James Douglas lived. Their aboriginal wives Marguerite and Amelia both spoke Cree and this language was often used by them.
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A few points:
1-It is important that we be careful with statements such as “Plains Cree doesn’t have an “l” phoneme”: Actually, for Modern Plains Cree this is untrue, inasmuch as in many varieties of Plains Cree words of French origin with /l/ still preserve this phoneme in Cree. Furthermore, Plains Cree /j/ is a reflex of a Proto-Cree phoneme realized as /r/ or /l/, and this realization is still found in some varieties of Cree today, and it clearly was widespread in the past, including in the Canadian West: so while Plains Cree has no /l/, indeed no lateral consonant phonemes today (leaving aside gallicisms), the situation was different just a few centuries ago.
2-While I basically agree with Dave’s assessment/evaluation, I do want to add that Cree/Ojibwe influence upon Metis French has, I think, been somewhat underestimated, so that there may exist more indirect Cree influence upon CW than might be expected.
3-On a related topic, Cree is spoken in British Columbia today:
by a group that is of “of mixed Cree/Saulteau/Dunne Za descent”, but who speak “plains Cree language Y dialect (northern B.C. style)”. If Cree is their dominant language today this indicates that Cree must have enjoyed real prestige (locally at least!) for a time. Also, is there any linguist who has explored/described/worked with this particular Cree variety, and could thus tell us what speaking Plains Cree “northern BC style” actually entails? If this is Saulteau- and/or Dunne Za-influenced Plains Cree, well, reconstructing the linguistic history of this community could be a very worthwhile venture…
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I think Dale McCreery knows a bit about that community; also, media personality Art Napoleon is from there, and posts often on his Facebook in their dialect of Cree.
Can’t fail to mention that Cree has been historically spoken elsewhere in BC, for example by Rocky Mountain (Kinbasket) Shuswaps and by Ktunaxas, as noted by Peter Bakker in his book “A Language of Our Own: The Genesis of Michif, the Mixed Cree-French Language of the Canadian Métis”, page 273. And here’s the link to my previous post about Cree influence in the Chinuk Wawa of southern interior BC Salish people.