AF Chamberlain 1891 “Words of Algonkian Origin” — really Métis — in CW

dret hayuuu masi kʰapa shawash-iliʔi man ya kəmtəks hayu qʰata uk anqati shawash tilixam, Dr David G Lewis PhD
(many many thanks to a Grand Ronde person who knows a lot about old-time Native people, David G Lewis PhD)!


False alarm! It’s not real tobacco either (Image credit: etsy)

David shared with me a copy of a brief 1891 published study of Chinuk Wawa by the ethnographer Alexander F Chamberlain, “Words of Algonkian Origin”. (Science, November 6, 1891, pages 260-261. It’s more of a letter to the editor.)

This paper helped me clarify my thinking that any words that are of Algonquian-family origin in Chinuk Wawa but not common in English are fundamentally Métis contributions to CW.

Thus, words in Chamberlain’s discussion such as < kinni-kinnik > for a varying mixture of plant products used as a tobacco substitute for pipe smoking, and < pāpūs / papoose > for a baby or small child, especially an Indigenous child, are false positives. They demonstrably were already in use in North American English, circa 1800 and 1630 respectively, well before they came into Chinook Jargon. Not noted by Chamberlain, but occurring at least in BC Chinuk Wawa sometimes, are the hateful slur < squaw >, < myuskrat > ‘muskrat’, < rakun > ‘raccoon’, and < skank > ‘skunk’, all of Algonquian etymology but likewise pre-dating CW and heard in it only due to later contact with Anglophones.

Another of the words commented on by Chamberlain is simply non-Algonquian: < wapato / wap pa-too / wappatoo >, the arrowleaf plant and its edible root, also a word for ‘potato’ in Jargon. This word has been proved to be from K’alapuyan, that is, it’s a native Oregon word — not an Algonquian word for a ‘white mushroom’ or ‘Canadian rhubarb’.

But here’s the list of the provable Algonquian — specifically Ojibwe and Plains Cree-origin — words remaining in Chamberlain’s paper, all of which are known in the Pacific Northwest primarily from their use in Chinuk Wawa, not from English:

  • < tatoosh / totoosh > ‘breast; milk’
  • < moos moos / moos-moos / moosmoos > ‘cow; cattle’
  • < mit-ass / mitass > ‘leggings’
  • < sis’-ki-you > ‘bobtailed horse’, correctly noted by Chamberlain as ‘probably obsolescent’
  • < le-pish’-e-mo / lepishemo > ‘saddle blanket’

These are Fort Vancouver-era words, circa 1825 contributions by Métis families to the then-rapidly growing young Jargon.

Some words in the above bulleted list, Chamberlain points out helpfully, exist also in “Canadian French”. That’s true too of the word for ‘horn spoon’, < mikwen >, that I’ve found in the lower Columbia River’s Jargon, and Grand Ronde’s lapʰala ‘roast food’.

An interesting additional category that we can bring to light are BC Chinook Jargon’s < moneasses > ‘White people’ and < sunia > ‘money’. Both are ultimately from Cree, but their borrowing into CJ in the province is a distinct, later occurrence. It has to do with the mature CJ being brought from the USA into British Columbia, about 1858 and later, where it then encountered Métis communities who were already speaking “French of the Mountains” — or just possibly Michif.

Outside of the Jargon, we find other Métis words of Algonquian etymology loaned into BC Indigenous languages. I’ve pointed these out recently here. These too are proof of historical Métis presence and influence in the province.

I feel it’s good to know these details. We come away with much more historical information and understanding, when we carefully examine the broad category of “Algonquian words in Chinook Jargon”. I hope to have done my bit to correct the Settler-dominant colonialist narrative that, until present times, has passed for “Pacific Northwest history”.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
Kosay ti pens?
What do you think?