sisu, from Métis French as well as English

The Chinook Jargon word for ‘scissors’ comes from both Métis French and English…

In whichever pronunciation you use!

Visual pun: Seesu Gundu, from the improv scifi comedy podcast Mission to Zyxx (snipped from:

The Canadian origin is most self-evident in George Gibbs’ lower Columbia River CW < le-sée-zo >, since that carries the French definite article, as in les ciseaux. That’s almost certainly the earliest form of the word in the Jargon.

But we also find sisu in the 2012 dictionary of the Grand Ronde Tribes. That would appear to come primarily from English ‘scissor(s)’, if we judge from its lack of the French definite article.

But my money says that there is more to this story.

Why no final /s/ sound on it? In real spoken English, we hardly ever use this noun in the singular…

And why does it have a final /u/? Other English words that end in the frequent unstressed syllable /ər/ wind up as final /a/ (or /ə/) in Chinook Jargon. Thus, dála, dákta, kʰwáta from ‘dollar’, ‘doctor’, and ‘quarter’. I’ve never encountered someone using a pronunciation like *dálu*, *dáktu*, *kʰwátu*!

But something that we do indeed find plenty of is CJ words where /u/ corresponds to Métis French /u/ in words that standard French has /o/ in. Thus, something like (li)sizu ~ (li)sisu is just what we’d expect in a Jargon word originally supplied by Métis French (and/or Michif?) speakers. That’s essentially identical with Michif < liisiizoo > from St. Lazare, MB, and < li seezoo > from Turtle Mountain, ND.

My view is that this shorter variant of the word in Jargon simply shows us the mounting influence of locally spoken English as the decades went by. Things got to a point where French was no longer as often heard as English in the Grand Ronde community, so the word scissors started to influence how Jargon speakers pronounced this word.

But, with or without the li at the start of it, ‘scissors’ in Chinuk Wawa is ultimately a Métis French word.

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