Red River Métis semantics and Chinuk Wawa

Here are a number of items I note in Métis French…


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This is from a look through the St Laurent (Manitoba) Métchif French dictionary, as well as the Gabriel Dumont Institute’s online 2013 dictionary of Michif (Cree-French mixed language) by Norman Fleury.

I see parallels with Chinuk Wawa’s semantics in the following preliminary list; many more entries will be added to this as research progresses:

  • ‘Then’ is expressed by Métis French < law > (standard French ) on St Laurent p. 30 and elsewhere; it’s also the root word for ‘there’, which is usually expressed as < labaw > (s.Fr. là-bas). British Columbia Chinuk Wawa likewise uses yawa ‘there’ to mean ‘then’.
  • ‘Where do you live?’ on p. 43 is expressed with the verb < res > (s.Fr. restes ‘remain’); CW too uses its míɬayt for both ‘remain, stay’ and ‘live somewhere’, as well as generically ‘be located somewhere; exist’.
  • ‘Stick’ in Fleury 2013 is < aen bwaa > (s.Fr. un bois ‘a wood’), very much like Chinook Jargon’s stík (‘wood, stick, tree’) in its set of meanings.
  • In the polysemy behind < shayayr > ‘pail’ (apparently s.Fr. la chaudière ‘kettle’), I suspect at least a Canadianism. Chaudière is ‘kettle’ in the Kettle Falls in Ottawa-Gatineau; the one here in Washington state historically had that same name, due to Métis fur-trade workers who named many places in the interior Pacific Northwest. I’ve read that Québec French, too, extends chaudière to mean ‘bucket’. Standard French uses a different word, seau, for ‘pail’. The Jargon has kítɬən ‘bucket’ (Salish-influenced, from English kettle), versus kʰétəl ‘kettle’. Also noteworthy in this connection is Cowlitz Métis usage in Jargon, lapʰeyl, glossed as ‘a can (or pail?)’ in the 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary, which notes it as “Evidently, a local French borrowing of English “pail”.” The John P. Harrington field notebook containing this form has only the notation “We used a can for boiling.”

In this mini-series on Red River Métis connections with Chinuk Wawa, I’ve already said that lexicon (etymology) has been the only area that received much attention in past discussions. I’d like to throw in here an example of a word that’s present in British Columbia CW probably due to Métis French speech: lawagin ‘wagon’ (la waguine, cf. Fleury 2013 aen wagoon). This is the Chinookan-sourced t’síkt’sik everywhere else. It’s also preserved in interior BC Indigenous languages, cf. Dakelh / Carrier Dene luwagin and St’át’imcets / Lillooet Salish wagin.

In that same region, it sure is compelling that the Secwepemctsín / Shuswap Salish word for the “Iroquois band at Yellow Head Pass” is lməcip from the Métis people’s name for themselves, le(s) Métchif(s). I’ll have to do a separate post or posts here about the distinctly Métchif French layer of words that we find in the tribal languages of the interior Pacific Northwest.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?