So many Métis words in interior PNW languages (part 7: Nsilxcən / Okanagan-Colville Salish)

As we’re finding to be frequent among the modern Indigenous languages of the Pacific Northwest interior, Nsilxcən Salish carries many, many indications of a substantial contact history with Métis people’s speech.

Today I’m working from Anthony Mattina’s excellent 1987 “Colville-Okanagan Dictionary” (Missoula, MT: University of Montana Working Papers in Linguistics).

cm-ámn (appaloosa) patterns; note “bay blanket” doesn’t mean the HBC (image credit: Appaloosa Museum)

Here I’m not tallying up:

  • borrowed words from non-Métis sources in the Métis language Chinuk Wawa, e.g. kʷʕáta ‘quarter, twenty-five cents’,
  • loanwords from other Native languages of the region,
  • nor newer stuff mostly from English, such as the entertaining word for ‘chop suey’ that looks folk-etymologized to include the (originally Sahaptian) root for ‘white people’ (which itself looks folk-etymologized to have a Salish suffix meaning ‘people’).

In the following, “OkB” refers to the Okanagan Indian Band’s northern dialect of the language, in British Columbia. The “Cv”, Colville, dialect(s) typify the south, in Washington state, USA.

  • note hu-húy ‘OK, now’, using a common pan-Salish root huy, could be mentioned in connection with the apparently Fort Vancouver-era (thus likely Métis-associated, which George Gibbs reported as Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s expert knowledge) CW huyhuy (clickable link there)
  • kʷukʷús ‘bacon’ (Mattina believes it’s “based on” the following word as if it were a Salish-style reduplication, but the two existed already in MFr)
  • kʷusú ‘pig’ “northern pronunciation” (also the CW form)
  • laklí ‘key’ (MFr/CW)
  • lapál ‘shovel’ (MFr/CW; note that Nsilxcn tends to have historically mutated earlier /e/-type sounds to modern /a/)
  • laparín ‘flour’ (MFr; seems not widely known as CW)
  • laprít ‘bridle'(MFr/CW)
  • laputáy ‘bottle’ (MFr/CW)
  • lasmís / (OkB) lasmíst ‘shirt’ (MFr; the variant with final /t/ is reminiscent of other Interior Salish borrowings from Metis languages, e.g. Kamloops Chinuk Wawa komtakst for CW kəmtəks ‘know’)
  • lasyét ‘plate’ (MFr/CW)
  • latáp ‘table’ (MFr/CW)
  • lawán ‘oats’ (MFr/CW)
  • likók ‘rooster’ (MFr/CW)
  • lipúl ‘hen’ (MFr/CW)
  • lipwá ‘pea(s)’ (MFr/CW)
  • lkalát ‘bread, biscuits’ (MFr)
  • lkapí ‘coffee’ (MFr due to the presence of the Definite Article “L”)
  • lkapú ‘coat, overcoat’ (MFr due to the presence of the Definite Article “L”)
  • lkasát ‘money box, case, trunk’ (MFr/CW)
  • mrím ‘be married’ is, typically for much of Interior Salish, partly a borrowing of MFr/CW mariyé, and partly a new development of the ancient Salish root mrím ‘doctoring, curing, healing’.
  • patáq ‘potato(es)’ is MFr
  • spayúl ‘Spanish’ is CW and/or MFr for ‘Mexican’

Bonus fact:

There’s plenty of additional evidence of historical Métis/Michif French contact with speakers of Nsilxcn…

often strongly nativized in their phonology due to their long presence in these communities;
mostly female names — we need to research the fur-trade era marriage records of Sylx country.

  • akát ‘Agate’
  • aktáp ‘man’s name’
  • aryát ‘Harriet’ (but I point out that French Henriette would be pronounced exactly this way in Nsilxcn)
  • klúm ‘man’s name’; Mattina observes, “form that corresonds to Spokane čalúm, French Jérome borrowed through Spokane, apparently reported by someone who knew that Sp č = Cv k. (OkB)”; also sirúm
  • ? kasyá ? ‘man’s name’
  • marí ‘Mary’
  • maryán ‘Marianne’
  • məʕ́ʷuník ‘Monique’
  • miktúr ‘Victor’
  • nkʷalá ‘man’s name’; compare the historically important name of a southern interior BC Native chief, “Nicola / N’kwala”; if this is from French Nicholas, it seems to preserve the MFr pronunciation habit that turn /ko/ into /kwa/. 
  • pacís[-]qʷa ‘Batisqua’ proper noun (place? person?); I have no information about this name, but the 2 versions of it provided by Mattina here suggest it involves MFr Baptiste /bačis/, which is an incredibly frequent baptismal and family name in southern interior BC First Nations communities, as well as something like the native Salish suffix –‘(body of) water’ which is common in place names.
  • piyarís ‘man’s name’ suggests the eastern Secwepemc (nearby Salish of BC) personal name Pierriche, presumably of MFr origin (and a speaker and writer of Chinook Jargon)
  • praswá ‘François’
  • pyár ‘Peter’
  • sán ‘Saint’; examples shown all are of the phrase sán pyár ‘Saint Peter’ 
  • sapát ‘woman’s name’, Mattina says it’s from French Elizabèthe
  • susán ‘Susan’
  • susapín ‘Josephine’ (I seem to recall being told this name by Lower Nicola Band elder speakers of Okanagan dialect)
  • tarás ‘Theresa’ 
  • yasukrí ‘Jesus Christ’ (this name shows up in this form in many MF-influenced languages stretching to the north from here; to the south and east it’s typically more like Chinuk Wawa’s sesukli etc.)


  • Little Dalles is what one place was customarily called in MFr in fur-trade days
  • Places preserving local Canadian/Métis French personal names:
    • Camille Lake
    • La Fleur Creek
    • Borgeau Lake
    • Gerome Landing
    • see also pacís[-]qʷa ‘Batisqua’ above
  • French Point Rocks joins the sizable list of Northwest places known for their historic Métis population


  • Words more or less directly from Chinuk Wawa:
    • kickwillie house’ for Salish qʷc̓íʔ
    • ‘play slahal game’ for Salish s-c̓l-álqʷ-m
    • ‘give a potlatch‘ for Salish ʔamn-ílt-m
    • ‘half breed’ sk̓ʷt-m-s-qíl-tk (literally ‘half Native.person’; calqued on Chinuk Wawa sitkum sawash?)
  • Words indicating MFr presence in the past: 
    • p-píl-yaʔ-qn ‘Flathead(s)’, a Salish calque on MFr? (not on English, as
    • stq̓ʷáyxənx ‘Blackfeet’, a Salish calque on MFr? (not on English, as
    • ‘Frenchman, white person’ sámaʔ; also used in a suffixed form meaning ‘French story, European story’, and a compound for ‘grapes’ that’s literally ‘white man’s saskatoons
  • Also ‘bannock’ for s-n-kʷl̓-ús suggests a Red River Métis influence

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?