Red River Métis consonants in Chinuk Wawa

I kicked off this mini-series on Red River Métis connections with Chinuk Wawa by discussing patterns in the vowels of French words.


One of the best available sources of information on Métchif French (image credit: McNally Robinson)

Today I’ll move on to consonants.

#1: Bakker 1997:73 — “…Métis French does not distinguish [s] and [š]. In French words like chasseur “hunter”, chaise “chair”, or sauvage “Indian,” usually both sibilants are either [s] or [š].” And Bakker 1997:84 — “In the French component of Michif, sibilants are either all palatal (/š/, /ž/) or all alveolar (/s/, /z/), creating a kind of “consonant assimilation (Evans 1982:168), for example … /šεš/ “dry” (F[rench] sec, sèche); /šava:ž/ “Indian” (F. sauvage); /sa:si:/ “window” (F. chassis)…both Douaud (1980, 1985) and Papen (e.g., 1984b) have shown that the French dialect source of Michif, Métis French, displays exactly the same phenomenon.”

Chinook Jargon words to compare with that:

  • lishesh ‘chair’ from French la chaise, compare also Michif < sayz >.
  • sesukʰlí ‘Jesus Christ’ from French Jésus-Christ [žezükri], compare also Michif < (li) Zayzeu >.
  • < la chan’-jel > as a published alternate pronunciation of sanchel ‘belt’, from French la ceinture in the Métis pronunciation [lasε̃čür].
  • I also wonder about the Grand Ronde CW pronunciation shush for ‘shoe(s)’.
  • It seems to me as if some of the Métis French merging of these 2 sounds got extended, after MF words entered the Jargon. A couple of words that incline me to speculate on that are:
    • leshaf ‘egg(s)’ from French les oeufs, compare Michif < zaef > [za:f]
    • and lapʰusmu ‘saddle blanket’ from l’appichemon.

#2: Bakker 1997:73 — “A further phonological, or rather phonetic, distinction is the palatalization of dental plosives before high front vowels: Métis French /pči/ ‘little’; Canadian French /ptsi/.”

Relevant CW words:

  • pchizá ‘Petit-Jean, a story character’ from French Petit-Jean in Métis pronunciation [pčizã] (also note the Métis-style variability between [z] and [ž]).
  • lachúk ‘cap’ from French la toque [latuk ~ latük], in a Métis pronunciation.
  • lidjób ‘devil’ from French le diable, cf. Michif < li Jiyawb >.
  • lasanchél ‘belt’ from French la ceinture.
  • I’ll also direct your attention to the variant CW pronunciations lamachin ~ lamatsin ‘medicine’, French la médecine, compare St Laurent Métchif French < la michin >.

Here’s an observation I’m making from the book “Michif French: As Spoken by Most Michif People of St. Laurent” by Patsy (Chartrand) Millar et al. (Winnipeg, MB: McNally Robinson Booksellers, 2016). There’s a pattern of French /v/ becoming [w] in Métchif French, particularly before the diphthong /wε ~ we/. We find for instance:

  • < wayr > [wε(y)r] ‘to see’ (standard French voir) versus < vayr > ‘worm’ (standard French ver) and < vayr > ‘green’ (standard French vert)
  • < la wen > ‘oats’ (standard French l’avoine)
  • < j’emraw saw awayr in drink > ‘I’d like [to have] a drink’ (standard French avoir)

CW words in connection with this:

  • lawest ‘vest’, compare French le veste ‘jacket’, Michif < en vest > ‘a vest’.
  • lawen ‘oats’ (see above).

(It seems the /v/ => [w] change before /we/ is actually shared with non-Métis dialects of French. But lawest isn’t explained by that.)

I’m also going to file the following under “consonants”:

Is patak a characteristically Métis pronunciation of patates ‘potatoes’? Cf. Michif < lee pataek > ‘potatoes’. This variant shows up all over the Pacific Northwest interior, in the Indigenous languages that had lots of contact with the overland fur trade. Spokane Salish, for example, has paatáq — nativized, like its lqelét ‘frybread’ from la galette, to its own phonology, which lacks for a plain /k/. And patak is in the Chinook Jargon documented by Father Le Jeune around Kamloops, BC. I guess this “pataque” may be a generic Canadian pronunciation, though. One thing I notice is that it doesn’t show up in the dictionary of Louisiana French, which is quite a different North American dialect…

One more point I can tell you about is the distinctness of Grand Ronde Chinuk Wawa in Oregon, where the sound /r/ is well-preserved due to the presence of French speakers from Canada (including Red River, we know) in the reservation community.

I’ll be writing more about the connections we can draw between Chinuk Wawa & Red River Métis speech in upcoming articles here. Stay tuned.

What do you think?
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