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 ləsanchel ‘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.
Of course you need to give the “Standard French” equivalents so that people who are only familiar with that register will recognize the words, but the historical evolution of the French element in Michif is not Standard (basically ‘written”) French register > Michif , but rather old-fashioned Canadian French (itself mostly from rural Northwestern French) > Michif.
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Dave: I suspect that you are right about the French element of Chinuk Wawa (mostly) coming from Métis speakers of French, but the problem is that, whether you look at the vowels or the consonants of the French words in Chinuk Wawa, the evidence is not unequivocal, as you yourself point out: regarding vowels, the raising of stressed /e/ and /o/ to high vowels might be a Chinuk Wawa phenomenon, in which case we have no way of knowing whether the French etyma were pronounced with /e/ or /i/, /o/ or /u/, and forms like “shush” from English “shoes” show that the palatal/alveolar confusion + harmony in words of French origin in Chinuk Wawa might be a Chinuk Wawa-internal change, meaning -again- that we have no way of knowing whether the French etyma showed any such sibilant merger/harmony.
Which brings me to my other point: the presence of various Métis French phonological innovations in the late twentieth century does not automatically mean that all such features (or indeed any of them) must have been present in whatever earlier form(s) of Métis French which Chinuk Wawa borrowed its French vocabulary from.
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I really appreciate your last point. This is where I find it fascinating to compare the French components of Michif (i.e. of the Cree-French mixed language that was born around 1800) with Métchif French. Michif speakers haven’t known French since many generations ago, so the French part of their language is a time capsule. Métchif French documentation available to me is mostly from about 1980 onward, and it’s pretty clearly got some innovations that postdate Michif. So there we have a way of winnowing out some anachronisms as not being relevant to Chinuk Wawa, into which French vocabulary entered circa 1825.
Trying to be responsible linguists, we definitely must point out the potential holes in our argumentation. Pacific NW languages certainly exerted some phonological influences on Chinuk Wawa that are similar to Métis French patterns, especially with the vowels. (Patterns which in turn are owing in part to e.g. Cree and Ojibwe influence.) The case becomes more and more solid, I feel, as we move from vowels into consonants, as the known parallels with PNW languages’ phonology are fewer. And in upcoming installments in this research, I think I will be showing semantic, syntactic, and genealogical evidence that’s even stronger.
(Lexical parallels have, as is customary in linguistics since the days of philology, already been almost exhaustively researched.)