SO MANY Métis words in interior PNW languages (Part 2: Kamloops Chinuk Wawa)

A notable feature of interior British Columbia’s historically recorded Chinook Jargon is its use of words that differ from the mainstream of the language…


Le blue? (Image credit: IHeartHorses)

The main stream being the lower Columbia River-centred “southern dialect” of CJ, which is the older form of this language. That form already contains large numbers of Métis words, primarily from the distinct variety of French spoken by Métis people.

The newer, northern dialect spoken in BC (and elsewhere) added further Métis words, again primarily French — with some fascinating expansions on what it means to be a Métis French word.

Father JMR Le Jeune’s excellent little book, “Chinook Rudiments“, brings us (1924:30) < labeche > for an animal ‘trap’. Compare this with, on the one hand, the similarly monosyllabic stem in Michif (Cree-French) < aen pyiizh > in Fleury 2013, and on the other, standard southern Chinuk Wawa’s 2-syllable lepʰiyesh. The standard French form of the word is le piège, which I understand as being pronounceable with 1 or 2 syllables.

Le Jeune also reports (1924:31) < le blue > translated into English as ‘blue’. This brings to mind French bleu with a masculine singular definite article le before it, for some reason. Well, we know that in Chinuk Wawa, almost all colors of horses work this way, with le + a Métis/Canadian French word. Is this < le blue > a newsly discovered Jargon term for a “blue roan“? I hardly believe that Le Jeune meant ‘blue’ in general, as non-horse colors don’t carry the “le” article. And he’s unlikely to have meant les bleuets ‘blueberries’, because he regularly includes the word < olali > in all sorts of berry names. Anyways, the only plausible reason for the presence of a French word < le blue > uniquely in the Kamloops dialect of Jargon is…the significant, long-established Métis population of that region.

From the same area, Indigenous letters and the Kamloops Wawa newspaper use lasli for a ‘sleigh’. That’s obviously an English word in origin, but it appears to go back quite a ways in Michif. It’s shared with Turtle Mountain < la slee > and Fleury’s la slii >, noted as feminine < slii > in the Algonquian Linguistic Atlas.

Another seeming borrowing of an English word into interior BC Métis French is seen in Reverend JB Good’s (1880:22) Chinook Jargon word < la sticks > for a ‘pole’.

Finally I’d like to note another English-sourced word in Good’s Chinook vocabulary (1880:24) — < sash > for an iconically Métis concept, ‘sash’.

What do you think?
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