So many Métis words in interior PNW languages (Part 4: St’át’imcets / “Lillooet” Salish)

I’ve been tracing the linguistic footprints of Canadian Métis people in our Pacific Northwest region.


(Image credit: St’at’imc Hydro)

These, to the eye of “linguistic archaeologist” as I think of myself, take various forms, including these 2 important layers:

  1. Words loaned directly from the Métis French lingua franca of the fur trade to First Nations languages.
    (This happened earlier, roughly 1793 to 1860, in the interior PNW. By this I mean the Yukon Territory + adjacent Alaska-NWT-Alberta, and most of interior BC + adjacent WA-ID-MT.)
  2. Métis French and other Red River Settlement-associated words that helped form the new Métis language Chinook Jargon. These then got loaned into a very large number of Indigenous languages.
    (This was later, mainly on the Northwest coast and up the Willamette, Columbia, and Fraser Rivers — on the last 2 waterways eventually encountering and replacing the MFr lingua franca. The time frame is about 1825 to 1880.)

For today’s article I care only about that earlier stratum in the territory of the St’át’imc people, the “Lillooet Salish”. I’m leaving out loads of other neat material that I’ll soon enough write about separately:

  • Words ultimately from Métis French that almost certainly come from Chinuk Wawa’s big presence in the Cariboo area.
    • One of the diagnostics I’m finding useful:
      • Most CW words in St’át’imcets have phonologically nativized CW /a/ to the vowel that’s written as < a > and pronounced as a front [æ]. (Several of these same words have been nativized in a morphological sense, too, e.g. ‘altar’ has been at least partway reanalyzed as if it contained the Salish “instrumental” suffix.)
      • But the St’át’imcets words I understand to be from MFr have the vowel < ạ >, pronounced as a back [a] which matches my understanding of Red River MFr pronunciation.
    • Another broad evaluation tool — the candidate MFr (not CW) words in St’át’imcets typically denote some of the earliest Euro-American-associated products brought in with the fur trade.
  • All sorts of interesting non-French loans and possible loans, for instance p’əkilús / k’epilús ‘stem of a pipe’. This is a grab bag of comparatively ancient loans and relatively modern ones, adding several further distinct layers to our understanding of the local linguistic history.

My source is the best freely accessible dictionary of St’át’imcets, created and shared by the skilled and entertaining Jan van Eijk. (A telltale hint of his contagious sense of humour is that his dictionary includes nicknames given to him by St’át’imcets speakers, such as their translation of “one egg” since his Dutch name sounded like that to them.)

Although St’át’imc territory is squarely in the country that was routinely traversed by fur trade brigades, trappers, and so on, I found quite scant lexical evidence of direct Métis French contact with this ethnic group.

That initially surprised me, but then I thought — were there any permanent fur trade establishments in this territory up to 1860? I referred back to my article, “1793-1825: Why Métis Speech Dominated the PNW Interior before Chinook Jargon Did“, with its maps and founding dates of the “forts” in what’s now BC. And there’s not a single such fixed place of business any closer to modern Lillooet, BC (which I’m arbitrarily taking as the centre of St’át’imc lands) than Kamloops, which is 172 km by modern roads, and surely a far longer journey in frontier times.

The point being, we find absolutely scads of Métis words in the First Nations languages that were in constant and intimate contact with NWC and HBC posts on their lands. Many northern Dene (“Athabaskan”) tribes (the Dakelh et al.), for instance, hosted fur company establishments and their women frequently married the staff thereof. So much Métis French…and potentially some early Michif…was being spoken in those areas, for so long, that we even now find dozens of Métis words in the tribal languages there.

Today we have a contrasting case.  St’át’imc lands are historically a transit zone for the fur trade, not a place of residence or ongoing trading operations, so we find far fewer MFr traces in the tribal language.

Far fewer — but not none. As with all interior Salish languages, we find a significant trace of fur-trade French here:

  • The St’át’imcets root word for ‘grandfather’ that’s reconstructed as having been *papaʔ back in Proto-Interior-Salish times may not actually be that old. I believe it’s got an equal or better probability of being a Métis French pépère ‘grandfather’. (And possibly MFr papa ‘dad’.) The reason it can be seen as P-I-S is simply that it occurs in so many languages of that grouping. But I’ve not found evidence of this being a native Salish root. It’s even more open to question because a good number of PNW Indigenous languages have not only ~ papa ‘grandfather; father’ but ~ mama ‘grandmother; mother’, a formal set that decisively implicates MFr.
    (And I’ve caught several other obviously post-contact words, especially Chinuk Wawa ones, getting historically reconstructed to proto-Salish strata by Aert Kuipers, whose 2004 Salish Etymological Dictionary is often cited in this Van Eijk dictionary.)
  • pạtạ́k ‘potato’ is unquestionably Canadian/Métis French patac / pataque
  • pịḷụ́t-am ‘to play baseball’ uses a native suffix to make a verb of Canadian/Métis French pelote ‘ball’.
  • ḷạpạ́t ‘cup’ is typical Métis French, using the noun le pot in a distinctive Canadian pronunciation that preserves the final /t/ and refers not to pots but to drinking vessels.
  • ḷạtạ́n ‘tent’ is Canadian/Métis French la tente. 
  • lasál ‘salt’ is Canadian/Métis French le sel. 
  • ḷạkạ́lt ‘cards’ is Canadian/Métis French les cartes; a number of card-playing terms got taken into many Indigenous languages of the PNW.
  • ? kʷasú ? ‘pig’ as opposed to the other documented form, kʷụṣụ́, suggests the distinctive Métis French pronunciation kwašõ of < cochon >. 
  • ʔax̣áʔ ‘(expletive, “swear word;” no adequate translation recorded; according to one consultant, “If you say this to the old ladies, you’d better be ready to run.”)’ — I’m pondering whether this could be an early loan translation (“calque”) of MFr sacré ‘sacred, blessed, holy’. With a different stress placement, as ʔáx̣aʔ, this word is the native St’át’imcets for ‘holy, sacred’, you see.

Bonus fact:

Some St’át’imcets horse terms are loanwords, e.g. s[-]kayú ‘horse’ (“an old-time word” used before the natively derived current word arose; could this be from ‘Cayuse’?

Compare s-pukaní ‘mouse-colored horse (possibly dun horse)’, which seems mighty like another ethnic name, ‘Spokane’, a people who have called themselves sp’q’ní.

Both of the preceding appear to have something in common with the “Nootka Jargon” words in Chinook Jargon. That is, they appear to be European-language-influenced pronunciations of Indigenous words.

  • Compare Spokane Salish sp’q’ní (which uses consonants unknown in English, French, or Spanish) with St’át’imcets s-pukaní.
  • Similarly, my colleague Sarah Grey Thomason has suggested that ‘Cayuse’ was originally a Southern Interior Salish horse word ~ q’ay'[-]us ‘spotted face’. ‘Spotted face’ might well apply to the Appaloosas that the Nez Perce and Cayuse tribes were famous for breeding. (I add that the oral history record tells us Salish people were the original inhabitants of later Sahaptian-speaking lands, perhaps including some Cayuse/Nez Perce territories.) Compare ~ q’ay'[-]us, which again uses a couple of consonants unknown in European languages, with St’át’imcets s[-]kayú.

There’s also s[-]kʷəlpatís / s[-]kʷəltapís ‘palomino’. The unpredictable variation in how it’s pronounced is another type of clue that suggests that this too might be a borrowed word. Any ideas where from?

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?