So many Métis words in interior PNW languages (part 6: Tsilhqot’in Dene)

It’s goofy, but also makes sense, that I’ve overlooked the “Chilcotin” language in my examination of influences from Métis languages on the tribal languages of BC.

percussion caps french

“legab”, yet another Michif French word only documented in BC Indigenous languages (image credit: Gun Wiki)

Goofy because I’ve been looking at practically every other Indigenous language of BC, especially of the interior region that includes traditional Tsilhqot’in lands.

Makes sense because unlike most other Dene tribes of the province, the Tsilhqot’ins didn’t wind up with much of a permanent fur-trade presence on their territories. So they had somewhat less interaction with Métis and Settlers, remaining kind of “remote” by those people’s standards.

Nevertheless, a look at the only dictionary of Tsilhqot’in currently available to me (Xeni Gwet’in First Voices) reveals historical contact with two Métis languages, Chinook Jargon and Michif French / “French of the Mountains”.

Additionally, indirect evidence for Tsilhqot’in exposure to Chinuk Wawa includes certain semantic patterns: the same native Tsilhqot’in word means ‘book’ and ‘paper’, and another word means both ‘bread’ and ‘flour’.

Theres also the fact that Tsilhqot’in nets’eʔah is glossed in this dictionary with a Jargon word known in modern local English, ‘lehal game’, and nuŵɨsh as ‘soopallalie or soap berries’.

And of course there are specific borrowed words used in Tsilhqot’in. ‘Moose’ is an obvious English loan, corroborating what numerous historical observers have said about changes in moose range over the last couple of centuries.

Here are the likely Chinook Jargon and Michif French loans that I noticed in the dictionary. I see plenty of traces of both, including at least one quite exciting discovery.

(The words in the following list differ in spellings from what you’ll see in Eung-Do Cook’s recent book, “A Tsilhqút’ín Grammar”. For example there are no tone marks here.)

  • bines ‘beans’ and
    • ʔabeleŝ ‘apple’ and
    • danapes ‘turnips’, each apparently borrowed long enough ago to have been assimilated to native Tsilhqot’in phonology; their final consonant clusters got broken up by the insertion of a vowel “e”; for me the implication is that these came via Chinook Jargon, before English was widely known. Compare the nativized pronunciation of:
    • galitsɨh ‘carrots’ (BC CJ).
  • beluday [sic!] ‘bottle’ [sic] — apparently the earlier MFrench and/or the later Chinuk Wawa la bouteille got borrowed long enough ago that it’s had time to get reanalyzed by Tsilhqot’in speakers as the possessive prefix be- ‘her/his/their’ plus a stem luday! 
  • kud ‘coat (his/hers)’ is BC Chinook Jargon (southern/older CJ kapu is rare in BC).
  • dzigen ‘domestic chicken’ is BC Chinook Jargon (southern/older CJ lapul is rare in the province), as are other domesticated animal names such as:
    • gesugh ‘pig’ is the usual CJ form, with some nativization.
  • gwada ‘quarter’ is more likely CJ than English, as this noun is extremely widespread in Indigenous languages that had heavy CJ contact.
  • hama ‘hammer’ is BC CJ (southern/older CJ lima(r)to is rare in BC).
  • ? labex ? ‘boots (rubber)’ — is this a nativized English ‘rubber(s)’? Some other BC Indigenous languages borrowed “gum boots” long ago, probably via the Jargon, and nativized the pronunciation e.g. as kampuuts.
  • ? laged ? ‘blouse’ (looks French, can my readers suggest a likely etymology?)
  • ? layan ? ‘fabric’ (some Michif French source such as la laine ‘wool’?)
  • layɨsh ‘rice’ is likely Chinook Jargon lays/ BC CJ rays.
  • ledi ‘tea’ is MFrench and is widespread in interior BC languages.
  • legab ’empty shell/bullet’ has to be Michif French as well (le cap ‘percussion cap’), and it nicely corroborates our find in the neighbouring Dakelh Dene (a.k.a. Carrier/Porteur) language of fizigab ‘name of first rifle [in Dakelh country]’, which I’ve inferred is from fusil (à) cap(s)! Why ‘first rifle’? Well, these were a popular new item in the 1820s, as the fur trade expanded through “New Caledonia” (BC)…
  • lejab ‘devil’ (MFr/CJ).
  • lesal ‘salt’ (MFr).
  • liben ‘ribbon’ (BC CJ; earlier/southern leruban seems rare in BC).
  • lizanŝ ‘angel’ (MFr/CJ; known in both).
  • magaluẑni ‘macaroni’ (English but there is a good chance it came earlier, via Chinook Jargon, as the nativized pronunciation suggests).
  • manda ‘canvas’ is Mexican Spanish due to the prominence of that ethnic group in the “horse packing” (merchandise transport) industry in frontier times; it’s likely that this word, like the Spanish-derived mulo and mula for mules, was used in BC Chinook Jargon.
  • neti ‘necktie’ — a nativized pronunciation and thus likely an old borrowing before English was common, compare BC CJ nek tai.
  • qa ‘car or truck’ — again a nativized pronunciation suggesting that this word was perhaps taken in quite a while ago; compare BC Chinook Jargon stim kar ‘train, train car; railroad’.
  • selkɨh ‘silk’ keeps showing up in nativized pronunciations, such as this one, in Indigenous languages that had significant exposure to Chinook Jargon before English…
  • seniya ‘money’ is Plains Cree in origin, revealing Red River Métis presence in BC.
  • sugah ‘sugar’ (MFr/CJ).
  • ʔesdu ‘stove’ and
    • ʔeswides ‘sweater’ both seem old enough borrowings (therefore perhaps via Chinook Jargon)t that their initial consonant clusters got broken up (nativized).
  • ʔiben ‘apron’ also looks to have been assimilated to native Tsilhqot’in phonology before English was widely used.
  • bigen ‘bacon’ and
    • busi ‘cat’ are some of the few words that unambiguously look like recent borrowings, i.e. from English.

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What do you think?