1924: Some Métis words in Kamloops Chinuk Wawa

JMR Le Jeune, the person who introduced the popular Chinuk Pipa writing in southern British Columbia, published “Chinook Rudiments” to give us an introduction to the language.

Screenshot 2023-05-20 114152

This little book is really a goldmine of information.

One angle that I want to present today is how Le Jeune points out some Métis French words.

This was a major component of Chinuk Wawa, so it’s nice when someone thinks to tell us a little about it.

Pages 14-15 talk about some “Hudson Bay french [sic] words introduced into the early Chinook[;] hardly ever used now”.

Which is inaccurate, as most of them are words that continued being used in the Jargon.

Here are a few selected items that strike me as especially Métis.

Most also show up in Indigenous languages of southern BC and adjoining regions, and are less common in the Chinook Jargon of other regions.

Interestingly, when we compare some of these words with the mixed Cree-French language of the Red River Métis (as documented half a century or more later), we see strong indications of change in the meanings and usage of words. This makes my “linguistic archaeology” sense of the historical “layers” in a language tingle.

Here we go:

Pages 14-15:

  • la waguine, also on page 18 as lawagin ‘wagon’ — Compare Michif aen wagoon / en wawginn.
  • le pot ‘pot’ — Compare Michif aen pot.
  • le poivre ‘pepper’, also on page 18 as lepoèwer ‘pepper’ — Compare Michif li pwayvr.
  • le sel, also on page 18 as lese’l ‘salt’ — Compare Michif li sel.

Page 17, a couple of Cree/Ojibwe-origin words:

  • mitass’ ‘gloves’ [sic] — I’m guessing that wearing leggings (mitasse) had already gone out of fashion in 1924 southern BC, so Le Jeune was unsure what the word meant. Or, had its meaning changed within the still-spoken Métis French of the area? Compare Michif aen gaan ‘glove’, and the lack of words for ‘mitasse’/’leggings’ in modern Michif dictionaries. 
  • mocassins ‘mocassins’ [sic]  — Had this word also become rare? Compare modern Michif lii sooyii moo / lee shoupaek.

Page 18:

  • lagami’n ‘soups’ — Not known in modern Michif dictionaries, but older evidence that I’ve shown indicates that this was a fur-trade era Métis French word for ‘coarse flour’.
  • lagalèt ‘hotcakes’ — Compare Michif la gaalet ‘bannock’.
  • pata’k ‘potatoes’ — Compare Michif la patak.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?