Tsilhqot’in CJ-English mix: A historian’s view

This is some valuable thinking from a colleague of mine.


(Image credit: Government of Canada)

I want to re-share a note sent by history professor John Sutton Lutz to our old CHINOOK listserv in 2007:

Hi Dave;

I am really interested in the language of communication in the Chilcotin too and this is my hypothesis:

The jargon is for most of BC a fur trade and language of work introduced from the Columbia River and then flowing north with white settlement. The Tsilhqot’in (Chilcotin) pretty much drove the Hudson’s Bay Co out of their territory in the 1840s, and the Fort journals there speak of having Baptiste, an interpreter, which I presume means he could speak their Athabaskan language.

When Chartres Brew went into the Chilcotin area during the Chilcotin War he found that on the western edges anyway no one spoke CJ and as you have noted Livingstone Farrand made the same complaint in 1900 when he tried to do anthropology.

White settlement was late in the Chilcotin and I think that the introduction of CJ was late too. Formal education was also late get into the Chilcotin, few went to the residential school at Williams Lake and local schools were not established until the 1940s. As a result English did not become a second language to the Tsilqhot’in until later than elsewhere so CJ stayed the medium of communication longer than most places. Does that fit?

Here is more fuel for your theorizing from the central Chilcotin:

*Geological Survey of Canada, June, 1925*

When we got back to camp I was delighted to find that Henry Alexis and his wife had arrived with 14 horses, 12 rented to the survey … Henry had killed a deer along the way and about the first thing he said to me was “Me saddlem horse, me see’em mowich, me shootem, me kipem, heap fine” … Henry liked to talk and told us many useful things in his mixture of broken English, local Indian and Chinook.

Hugh Bostock, “Pack Horse Tracks,” Geological Survey of Canada, Open File, 650, 19


In the 15 years since John’s comment, I’ve found nothing but confirmation of what he sees. Chinuk Wawa came late, and piecemeal, to the Tsilhqút’ín country of central British Columbia.

The one linguistic element that John and I didn’t yet see clearly at the time is that Métis French, too, was known by some people in that area in fur-trade times.

I’m not aware of there having been much intermarriage between Tsilhqút’ín and non-Native people in that era, which would have increased MFr usage.

But, as we also find in Chinuk Wawa’s history, those select individuals who directly interacted with the Hudsons Bay Company staff necessarily used “French of the Mountains” first and foremost.

The interpreter Baptiste who’s mentioned above may be the one I’ve written about here previously, and he spoke Dene language(s) and MFr.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?