So many Métis words in interior PNW languages (Part 2: Interior northern Dene, far limits of Chinuk Wawa zone)

READER CHALLENGE: read on to see if you have ideas about some French source words!

I’ve written that certain entire families, and types, of languages are fairly impervious to external influence.

northern dene territory

(Image credit: Kahtnuht’ana Qenaga)

The “Athabaskan” or Dene grouping within the Na-Dene family is an example, often preferring to use its rich native structural resources to invent new words for items and concepts that make their first appearance in those cultures — such as Tɬįchǫ (Dogrib) satsǫ̀ edegha eetɬ’èe ‘computer’ — but also sometimes assimilating foreign terminology.

Dakelh or “Carrier” of central British Columbia is a northern Dene language that has experienced especially intense, ongoing contact with Métis fur trade workers, and it’s nativized a large number of Red River Métis words as a result.

Other northern Dene languages of the greater Pacific Northwest have had less intense but similar experiences. In coastal(-ish) areas of Alaska, they’ve historically absorbed a good number of Russian words. In the interior, though, it’s typically Métis French that they’ve taken new vocabulary from.

I’d like to show you an indication of the outcomes, in the form of the somewhat smaller sets of loan words that we find in interior northern Dene languages. There are some fascinating common threads, in terms of the set of words that consistently got loaned out from Métis speech. Here I’m treating both Chinook Jargon and Métis French as members of that category.

I’m creating two separate articles, this one about the interior northern Dene languages in the periphery of the Chinuk Wawa usage zone, and one on those that I don’t know to have had any historical contact with CW.

A disclaimer in advance: no dictionary is complete, and there may exist many more loanwords in some of the following languages than are shown in the sources I consulted.

Also note, unless I specify otherwise, I’ll mostly refer to Métis French as found in the Cree-French Michif language presented at the truly awesome dictionary.michif.orgMarsee to Darrin Brager for making me aware of that superb reference/learning website!

Wherever I only note a source language (but not the source word), I’ve already cited a source word in a previous entry.

We can subdivide today’s languages into those that got these loanwords largely via neighboring Tlingit (because Tlingits long controlled Euro-American trade access to these “Stick Indians“), and those that had more direct dealings with the resident Métis historically associated with the fur trade. These groups correlate well with the yellow “Subarctic Cordillera” and orange “Mackenzie Borderlands” areas in the map above.



Witsuwit’en (Babine, NW BC):
peripheral to the Chinuk Wawa zone

  • distl’is sunye ‘paper money’ (the first word is Dene for ‘paper’, the second is Plains Cree from Red River Métis people, compare Michif shooneeyawsh)
  • c’it’akh ts’itl’asis ‘underpants’ … (I’m not really convinced that Indigenous languages that say literally ‘under-pants’ like this must be influenced by Chinuk Wawa, or by English, but here it is)
  • lemidec ‘potato’ (MFr la patak)
  • lesucam ‘turnip’ (MFr aen souchem / en souchyenn ‘a rutabaga’)
  • lidï ‘tea’ (MFr le tea)
  • limalyas ‘marriage’ (MFr li maryaezh)
  • lisal ‘woman’s shawl’ (MFr en shawl ‘a shawl’)
  • lisël lok [sic] ‘salt salmon’ (MFr li sel + the native Dene word ɬok ‘salmon’)
  • lïzas ‘angel’ (MFr aen nawzh ‘an angel’)
  • lïggoc ‘chicken’ (MFr aen kok ‘a rooster’; note the semantic shift)
  • balhats ‘potlatch’, a noun (most likely influenced by local English, which borrowed Chinuk Wawa’s verb pá(t)lach ‘to give’ and made it a noun for the Indigenous observance)
  • dayï ‘chief’ (Chinuk Wawa táyí)
  • dïmos dzïn ‘Sunday’ (MFr Jimawnsh + native Dene for ‘day’)
  • ggoso ‘pig’ (MFr)
  • goh’piy ‘coffee’ (MFr / Chinuk Wawa kʰópi)
  • gwidi’ ‘.25, quarter’ (Chinuk Wawa kʰwáta / English)
  • ’ilibïc ‘straight pin’ (MFr aen nipaeng ‘a pin’, with the denasalization so typical of French loans into PNW languages, and ‘i- of unclear origin if it’s not from aen [cf. isbodul just below]; cf. standard French l’épingle)

Tse’Khene (McLeod Lake, east central BC):
peripheral to the Chinuk Wawa zone

  • boos ‘cat’, boos cho ‘cougar’ (MFr pousis; cho is Dene for ‘big’; CW pus)
  • dayi ‘chief’ (CW)
  • isbodul ‘baking powder’ (apparently MFr* poudr ‘powder’; the is- is of unclear origin [cf. ’ilibïc just above])
  • kwun choowe’ ‘alcohol’ (‘fire water’, a calque on English &/or CW)
  • lusel ‘salt’, lesal (in lesal a’lhoo ch’ee ‘taste, salty’) ‘salt’ (MFr)
  • lili ‘bed’ (MFr aen lee ‘a bed’)
  • lubegin ‘bacon’ (MFr li bakinn in Norman Fleury’s Michif dictionary)
  • lubot ‘cup’ (MFr aen pot ‘a pot’; the semantic shift from MFr ‘pot’ to ‘cup’ is common in PNW languages including Montana Salish)
  • lubudak ‘potatoes’ (MFr)
  • lu’garat ‘carrots’ (MFr en karot ‘a carrot’)
  • lu’soocham (in lu’soocham duduli) ‘beets; turnip’ (MFr)
  • ludi ‘tea’ (MFr)
  • ludoso̱ ‘sack’ (MFr aen torshoon ‘a towel’; note the semantic shift, probably ‘towel’ => ‘cloth’ => ‘sackcloth’)
  • lugafi ‘coffee’ (MFr)
  • lugloo ‘nail’ (MFr aen kloo ‘a nail’)
  • lusooma ‘towel’ (MFr li seumaen ‘towel’)
  • luzook ‘dress’ (MFr aen zheup ‘a skirt’???? If so, the final consonant is unexpected, cf. ‘potatoes’. Do any of my readers have ideas of any other Canadian French source word?)
  • musdoos ‘cow’, also in musdo̱o̱s tsun ‘beef’ (Red River Métis word from Plains Cree/Ojibwe)
  • musi ‘thank you’ (MFr marsee)
  • soo’gah ‘sugar’ (English / CW shukwa / MFr li seuk)
  • sooniya ‘money’ (Red River Métis)
  • Sizi ‘Jesus’ (MFr Li Zayzeu / Li Zheezeu)
  • ludi (in ts’ube ludi ‘muskeg tea’) (MFr)


Denek’éh (Kaska, NW BC):
peripheral to the Chinuk Wawa zone

  • gū́ndā́n ‘horse’ (from the Tlingit pronunciation of Chinuk Wawa kʰíyutən)
  • tí mesgé’ ‘Hudson’s Bay tea or Labrador tea’ (MFr tea & muskeg, a widely used expression in the interior northern Dene languages)

Tāłtān (NW BC):
peripheral to the Chinuk Wawa zone

  • īs̱bada ‘baking powder’ (MFr? / English?)
  • dānā ‘dollar,money’ (Tlingit pronunciation of Chinuk Wawa dála)
  • dīghi ‘tea’ (CW / English; less likely to be directly from MFr, as most of the loans found came via Tlingit)
  • gāhu ‘coffee’ (Tlingit pronunciation of CW/English, káaxwei)
  • gendām ‘horse’ (Tlingit pronunciation of CW)
  • geshu ‘pig’ (CW; less likely to be from MFr directly, as noted)
  • gwātā ‘quarter (money)’ (CW)
  • mashmash ‘cow’ (also in mashmash t’oje ‘milk (cow’s)’) (CW)
  • s̱uknēn ‘flour’ (Tlingit pronunciation of CW)
  • ts̱’ikhts̱’ik ‘sled’ (CW ‘wagon’! note the semantic shift)
  • -wakhdānā ‘glasses’ (Tlingit ‘eye’ + Tlingit pronunciation of CW dala ‘dollar’)
  • wāshmān ‘policeman’ (“Word borrowed from English – watchman”) (CW is likely; wachman was widespread in BC Indigenous people’s Chinook Jargon for village police in Catholic-influenced communities)

Tagish (NW BC):
peripheral to the Chinuk Wawa zone

  • gṑdan ‘horse’ (Tlingit pronunciation of CW)
  • nedàkw ‘desk’ (Tlingit pronunciation of CW latáb ‘table’, note semantic shift; a nice illustration of an originally Métis French word that entered CW in Fort Vancouver times and came to Tagish via CW/Tlingit rather than directly from Métis people)

Southern Tutchone (southern Yukon Territory):
peripheral to the Chinuk Wawa zone;
Northern Tutchone will be in my separate article on languages outside the CW zone
I expect several more Tlingit loans can be found in this dictionary by someone who knows more than I do.

  • bibìa ‘baby’
  • danā ‘money’
  • dän ndāy ts’ä́la ‘eyeglasses’ (literally ‘money-eye-?’, a Tlingit expression (w/Tl. pronunc. of CW dala) partly translated into Southern Tutchone)
  • sdùk ‘stove’ (CW/English, via Tlingit)
  • sùnèn ‘bread; bannock; flour’ (CW (maintaining its CW semantic range), via Tlingit)
  • käganì ? ‘frying pan’ (the word doesn’t resemble other ‘pan’ words; kímyan in Northern Tutchone; perh. cf. “Kaigani” k’eeyk’aanee ‘straits people’, K‘eeys Xaadee, via Tlingit(?) although I don’t find this word in Tl dictionaries)
  • shugā ‘CW/English, sugar’
  • gùdan ‘horse’ (CW via Tlingit)
  • k’ūk ‘book; paper’ (CW/English, via Tlingit)
  • sen ‘silk’ (CW/English, via Tlingit, as seen also in the Eyak language)
  • mäsus ‘cow’ (CW, via an earlier stage of Tlingit that hadn’t yet changed /m/ to /w/)
  • nǟw’ ‘home-brew’ (CW, via Tlingit)
  • gùshu / gä̀shu ‘pig’
  • ? k’wäns ? ‘potatoes’ (pan-North Coast word, via Tlingit k’únts’)
  • dì ‘tea’
  • dusha ‘cat’ (via Tlingit; sometimes said to be from CW)
  • cf. also gą̄w ‘drum; clock’ (Tlingit ‘drum’), kwä̀näschiss ‘thank-you’ (Tlingit)
  • also of interest is kàyudi ‘coyote’, which reflects the known BC Chinuk Wawa pronunciation of this word

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?