So many Métis words in interior PNW languages (part 8: Nɬeʔkepmxcín / Thompson River Salish)

There are tremendous numbers of of loanwords into Nɬeʔkepmxcín (“Thompson River Salish”)…

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(Image credit: Wikipedia)

Many came from the neighbouring tribal languages Halq’eméylem to the west, Nsilxcn to the east, and Nicola Athabaskan (reputedly). Contacts among these groups were traditionally close and sustained.

Some are from the original PNW Métis language Chinuk Wawa, as well as from English.

Here, I want to list just those words in the 1996 Nɬeʔkepmxcín dictionary by Thompson & Thompson that are clearly or possibly from the first British Columbia-wide lingua franca, “French of the Mountains”, i.e. Michif/Métis French of the fur trade era.

This list is very short!

That’s quite a change from what we’ve found in tribal languages along the main old fur-trade “brigade trails”. Nɬeʔkepmx people’s territory is farther to the west than those routes & trading posts. Thus, direct exposure to French of the Mountains was quite limited, compared with what we see when looking at a neighbouring language like Secwepemctsín (“Shuswap” Salish). 

The following are the words I found that we could conceivably credit to MFr. But, right up front, I’ll tell you that there’s a good deal of obvious borrowing from Chinuk Wawa into Nɬeʔkepmxcín beyond what we see below, so I’m convinced virtually all of the following came from CW, not from French. I’ll highlight the few exceptions in a different colour.

  • kepú(w) ‘coat, jacket’ (CW/MFr)
  • nklí ‘key’ (MFr/CW; nativized to Salish, compare ‘shovel’ below; note that Nɬeʔkepmxcín’s previous */l/ almost always developed into modern /y/)
  • kʷáṣu ~ kʷəṣó ‘live domestic pig’ [excellent definition to distinguish from pork & bacon!] (CW/MFr)
  • ləsəpík ‘bishop (or preacher’s boss)’ (CW/MFr)
  • lisék ‘sack, pack-sack’ (MFr/CW)
  • lpél ~ npél ‘shovel’ (MFr/CW)
  • məktwár ‘Victoria’, said to be a place name and loaned via Nsilxcn (Okanagan Salish) from English! Yes, likely from Nsilxcn because of the preserved /r/, but of course ultimately from either priestly or Métis French Victoire
  • mitə́s ~ mitə́ṣ ‘gaiters, leggings; buckskin or rabbit skin pieces sewed to moccasins, wrapped around legs and laced’ (CW/MFr)
  • ʔes-mlám ‘blessed, married, marriage’ (the verb root is native and ancient for ‘heal’ (especially with herbs) in Salish; this use of it is considered acculturated to European ways, and could be taken as a typical Salish pun on CW malye!)
  • n-plit ‘priest (Roman Catholic, or esp. Anglican)’ (CW/MFr; the dictionary makers suggest phonological & morphological reasons for thinking this is a loan via Okanagan.)
  • s-núye ‘beaver; money’, not noted by Thompson & Thompson as a Plains Cree loan, but that is ultimately the source of it, most likely via MFrench.
  • ? pe ? ‘but then, right at that time, and then on the other hand’ … possibly from CW/MFr pi ‘and/or’, but the range of meanings shown is really more similar to native Salish pəɬ, peɬ, etc. meaning ‘with; having’. 
  • pəték ~ pəták ‘garden (cultivated) potato’ — MFrench.
  • ? pik ? (apparently a verbal root in this language) ‘pick-mattock’ (?!) (the dictionary makers suggest this is a loan from French noun pic; the non-nounishness of it would incline me to think it’s from English; virtually no MFrench verbs were ever borrowed into PNW tribal languages) — I notice neighbouring Shuswap indeed has lpik ‘digging-pick’ from French, though@
  • putéy ‘bottle’ is a fun case, with the original French definite article le removed from what we’d otherwise think is Chinuk Wawa lapotay. Other loans had the “le” taken off, too, as seen above, so…
  • ṣáwas ‘Indian person’ — CW is the simplest explanation. 

This list of potential French-sourced loanwords into Thompson Salish may corroborate Richard Mayne’s 1862 observation that Chinook Jargon would serve you as far up the Fraser River as the Yale area, and then you needed to use French. Thompson Salish lands were somewhat peripheral to the fur trade and, at first, to contact with non-Native newcomers.

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