Mitchif vs. French vs. English

Mike Cleven ironmtn at BIGFOOT.COM
Sat Mar 6 02:30:34 UTC 1999

At 05:09 PM 3/5/99 -0400, The McDonald Family wrote:
>At 09:14 PM 3/5/1999 +0000, you wrote:
>>> I'm sure Bob will back me up on this - that the Metis were and are a
>>> French-speaking community, at least according to the historic
definition of
>>> Metis (rather than the new legalistic one).
>>Initially yes (as far asthe French-speaking community comment is
>>concerned), especially as long as the fur-trade, the exploration and the
>>initial settlement of Canada continued to develop in an east-west
>>manner.  But, more and more, as the English and the Hudson's Bay Company
>>began their inroads into the fur-trade via the Hudson's Bay route...more
>>and more English and especially Scottish words began making their way
>>into the Michif language (of course, once again, it was very much
>>hinging on the "balance of power" and "balance of economics" in a given
>>For instance, both my paternal and maternal ancestors are from the Red
>>River Settlement...the Bremners, the Ouellettes and the Dumonts and the
>>Bouchers were all instrumental in injecting my "Metisness" in this
>>fragile vessel that is me.  My uncle Josie Bremner spoke French, Michif,
>>Cree and he still had a slight "Scottish" accent to his spoken
>>English...consequently, his brand of Michif, would be sprinkled with
>>certain Scottish words and references.  He loved haggis and he loved his
>>Scoch (mon medcine--he'd call it).  I just mention all of the above to
>>try and relate the complexities involved in trying to decipher the
>>"Frenchness" or the "Englishness" or the "Creeness" of the overall
>>umbrella Michif language.
>>And to complicate matters further...there was a great influx of French
>>from France people to the Domremy, St. Isadore de Bellevue, St. Louis
>>and Duck Lake the local Michif around Batoche, St. Louis and
>>area...tended to take on a very "French from France" lilt and vocabulary
>>for a while there.
>>From my limited knowledge of the linguistic situation, the various
>Mitchif-speaking communities had largely shifted to French by the middle of
>the 20th century, and are now in the process of shifting to English from
>>> I have no idea how much Michif
>>> or French were spoken relatively to each other; that's an interesting
>>> subject that it'll be good to hear any info Bob has on it.  Metis
French is
>>> an old branch of the French language in North America, and is distinct
>>> Quebecois as much as Acadien or Ontarien or Manitobaine is; I don't think
>>> it's spoken as much nowadays, though, as English is pretty much the only
>>> intercommunal language in western Canada's land of multi-ethnicity.  I
>>> franco-manitobaines in the Red River Valley (s. of Winnipeg) still speak
>>> French at home and at the local store, but they're mostly a different
>>> element historically distinct from the Metis, who have been in the West
>>> much longer and have a separate history.
>Not necessarily -- there was a fair amount of intermixing between the Métis
>and recently arrived French Canadian settlers in the late 19th century, and
>apparently some Métis chjose to adopt French Canadian identities, to pass as
>it was, in order to avoid pervasive anti-Native/Métis/Asian/[fill in a
>blank] prejudice. 
>And in passing, I'd say that there are really only two major dialect areas
>of French in Canada, the Acadien and the French Canadian/Québécois-Ontarien.
>Acadie and Canada were both settled at different period by different
>populations from France -- most French Canadians trace their ancestry to
>Norman and Breton migrants, most Acadiens have ancestors from Poitou, Aunis,
>and Saintonge, though there are of course exceptions. Franco-Ontarien may be
>a nascent dialect, but then again it probably is just a waystation on the
>route to the assimilation of Ontario's Francophones. From what I've seen of
>Mitchif, I'd classify it as a French-based creole, like _biche-la-mer_ in
>New Caledonia/Nouvelle-Calédonie/Kanaky or Haitien creole.

Kanaky - I haven't heard that for a long while!  Now that I hear it, I
remember old-timers using it and not knowing quite what it meant; I never
associated it with Kanaka Creek or Kanaka Bar (which were in the vicinity
of where we lived, and whose Hawaiian connection we knew as part of the
local network of communities).  Oops - I just realized you're talking about
the New Caledonia down by Australia; still, it rings a bell....

As far as the forms of North American French, I'd been under the
understanding that there were different accents in manitobaine and Metis
French - perhaps not completely "dialects", but certainly there must have
been special local words as there are in English in Western Canada (and
variants of many other immigrant languages). I'm not as skilled in French
as I should be (although I can hold my own more than most born-British
Columbians!), but a lot of my old housemates over time were from Quebec or
franco-ontario (mostly Ottawa and North Bay).  A lot of those guys, on the
other hand, spoke mixed English-French resulting from their upbringing at
different schools, and often had an accent in either language (as Chretien
is said to, perhaps; I can't tell).  Quite a few of the people from Quebec
were from the Saguenay, East Montreal, etc. so I got a good taste of
hard-core country Quebecois; I'll admit I still can't understand most of
it, although I can express myself fairly well.

The historical comment on where Acadien came from in France is very
interesting; obvious, but hadn't occurred to me before.  There's some
interesting geography to the history of English dialects throughout the
world; Australian, for example, is supposed to be London's old Newgate
accent, which disappeared from England when most of its speakers were
"transported" to the Antipodes; Maritime English in all its variety is
distinctly Irish in origin, while out West here there's a subtle mix of
Scots, Welsh, Irish, Scandinavian, Slavic and other influences (including
native and frontier English) that's somehow different from Central Canadian
English, although in the age of broadcasting and large-scale internal
migrations this distinction has become obscured.

Mike Cleven
ironmtn at

The thunderbolt steers all things.
                           - Herakleitos

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