Mitchif vs. French vs. English

Mike Cleven ironmtn at BIGFOOT.COM
Sun Mar 7 02:03:33 UTC 1999

At 12:01 AM 3/7/99 -0800, Inge Genee wrote:
>> >>
>> >>Anyway, the mixing of peoples and tongues is what brought about the
>> >>(and its Michif "cousin") into being, so this to me is on-topic.  It's a
>> >>pity that there weren't Gaelic and Erse words added to the Jargon's mix,
>> >>considering the amount of Celt-native intermarriage in the early
>> >
>> >Really? That seems rather surprising, considering the prominent role that
>> >Scots and Irish generally played in the expansion of the British Empire. I
>> >seem to remember anecdotes about British traders assimilating fairly
>> >into the pre-existing societies of the Pacific Northwest.
>> Yes, they did - but none of their ancestral languages did, apparently,
>> although there was a time at the turn of the century when Vancouver must
>> have been part Scots-speaking (what I mean is that Scots must have been
>> spoken in a lot of bars and private saloons).  It's very true that the
>> British traders (mostly Scots and Irish and some Welsh) assimilated well
>> into local society for years before the railway, even moreso before the
>> gold rush.
>> All the main British figures in BC were by and large Scots or Irish (or
>> Welsh) - even if they were American in character.  "Anglo-Saxon" is a term
>> bandied about rather loosely to describe "British Canadian" culture, but in
>> reality it was a Scots-dominated effort....
>>....  The Gaelic presence in BC remains strong even today
>> with a large expatriate population
>I'm not sure about the details of who and when exactly immigrated into
>the West from "Celtic" areas of the British Isles, but we must not forget
>that they are unlikely to have all spoken a Celtic language: people from
>the Scottish lowlands are likely to have spoken Lowland Scots rather than
>Scottish Gaelic, and people from the eastern parts of Ireland presumably
>often spoke English as their first language, not Irish. Before we are
>surprised about a possible surprisingly small number of "Celtic" loans in
>CJ, we need to have detailed information about which languages were
>spoken exactly by the new arrivals.
>Interestingly, although linguists now assume there must have been
>widespread biligualism in Britain after the Anglo-Saxon invasions between
>British Celtic and the new Anglo-Saxon tongue, very few confirmed Celtic
>loans appear in English.

Not just lowlanders - many of the Highlander exiles, also, had little or no
command of the Scots language, only those from the Hebrides or Inverness,
perhaps, being so linguistically endowed.  I wasn't meaning that there was
a gaelic-speaking culture in Western Canada (as there happens to be in
parts of Maritime Canada), only that at least some of the early Celts in
these parts were gaelic speakers and it's surprising that not even Scots
English had much influence (except on the accent of regional English). I
know for certain that many of the Welsh miners of the Bridge River district
in the 1920s and '30s were Welsh-speakers, and there must have been similar
populations at Cumberland, Nanaimo, the Crowsnest region, and other mining
districts.  The Irish language is more associated with the Irish
Renaissance of the late 1800s, rather than with the frontier period, and I
don't know how much "Irish pride" or re-birth of whatever was followed up
on in the West.  One item of interest, though - until about 1800 nearly all
of the HBC's Scots employees were Orkneymen, and Orcadians surely were more
likely to have experience with Gaelic and even, perhaps, Shetlander or
Faeroese; didn't influence the local tongue, but an interesting what-if....

Mike Cleven
ironmtn at

The thunderbolt steers all things.
                           - Herakleitos

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