Is Michif another puzzle piece in CW “mashachi”?
hayu masi to reader Darrin Brager for bringing this word to my attention…
(Image credit: Manitoba Métis Federation)
Michif has a word machi ‘bad’, phonetically [mačί].
That final “short I” sound, being stressed, is a telltale sign of a word that’s apparently of Algonquian origin — specifically from Plain Cree, or just maybe Ojibwe.
This machi (varying with maayi) is listed as a freestanding word in the 2 Canadian Michif dictionaries. (The Algonquian Dictionaries and Language Resources Project and the Gabriel Dumont Institute.) I don’t see it in the Turtle Mountain, North Dakota dictionary.
Machi- is also found as a prefix in all of these sources.
That’s typical Algonquian-language behavior. There are few adjectival “words” in Algonquian languages, which tend to instead express traits as verbs or as prefixes.
Compare the Plains Cree prefixal adjectives kihci- ‘big’, apisci- ‘little’, miyo- ‘good’, and maci- ‘bad’. All of these are present as prefixes in Michif.
I’m guessing that it’s within Michif, only, that machi- developed from a prefix into a freestanding synonym of the French-origin vilayn ‘bad’.
And the Michif, that is the mixed Cree-French, language of the Red River Métis, took shape by about 1800.
With the large proportion of Métis people in the Pacific Northwest overland fur trade, it seems possible to me that the freestanding word machi ‘bad’ was already in use by the “halfbreeds” who exerted such a huge influence on creolizing Chinook Jargon at Fort Vancouver, circa 1825.
The similar-sounding French-language mal and mauvais and méchant (all meaning various shades of ‘bad’ as well) could have played a role in easing the path of machi into everyday Métis speech.
Here’s where I want to guide this discussion:
We’ve long puzzled over the etymological history of the Chinuk Wawa word másháchi ‘bad; mean; evil’. (See ” ‘Evil’ & ‘pretty’?”)
(There are separate words in CW as well as in Michif for ‘bad’ as in ‘worthless; useless; no good’.)
This CW word for ‘bad’ appears to trace its shape back to a Lower Chinookan word for ‘pretty’, as in ‘good-looking’.
Kind of counterintuitive!
So I’ve gone to the lengths of suggesting a Nootka Jargon word for ‘bad’ as an early co-ancestor of másháchi. (See “WHAT IF…PʰISHÁK IS AN ANCESTOR OF MASHÁCHI?“.)
The Métis word machi would not have been a factor — no pun intended — in the earliest days of the Jargon, but from the 1820’s onward it could have been an influencer.
So at this point, how far-fetched is it to say that Michif machi might have contributed to the swirl that gave us másháchi?
We’ve seen several equally messy etymologies of Chinuk Wawa words before.