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A Language of Their Own

by Margaret Arnett MacLeod

Manitoba Pageant, April 1964, Volume 9, Number 3

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

An excerpt from "Life in the Early West", Manitoba Historical Society Transaction, Series III, No. 4, 1948.

Speech in the early West was descriptive and meaningful. I mention only the Red River dialect, as picturesque a dialect as that of the Quebec habitant, and more interesting in origin. Speech as it varies in different parts of a country lends color and character, and the pattern of Canadian background would be further enriched if a Dr. Drummond could be found to immortalize the Red River dialect. It is said that "only those gifted with an ear for the greater in music, and with an appreciation of rare inflections of voice and the fine pianissimo accents of various words, can speak this dialect accurately and effectively."

Photo: Types of Red River Settlers - Swiss Colonists from the Canton of Berne - German colonists from the disbanded de Meurons Regiment - A Scottish highland colonist and a colonist from French Canada. Courtesy: Provincial Archives.

I cannot speak it, and I cannot here go into this fascinating subject, but I will try to illustrate what I mean by the term, descriptive speech. There were colorful words of other languages, French, Cree, Scottish dialect, and Irish, incorporated in the Red River dialect. I might mention two descriptive Cree words. The first represents the sound made by a stone falling from a height into water. An educated native clergyman was preaching in St. John's Cathedral to the most cultured congregation in Red River. He was speaking in English, yet in relating the incident from the New Testament where the swine ran over the cliff into the sea, he said: "And those pigs, my dear hearers, ran over the bank and went chimmuck in the lake."

This is Willie Brass's story. He and his wife, an Eskimo woman, spoke the Red River dialect, and I am sure there is no need to explain the meaning of the one Cree word he used. Said Willie: "John Jems Corrigal and Willie Garge Linklater was out sootin' in the marse, and the canoe went appech-e-quanee. The watter was sallow, whatefer, but Willie Garge kept bobbin' up and down, callin', 'Lard, save me.' John Jems was on topside the canoe and he souted to Willie and sayed, 'Never mind the Lard just now, Willie - grab fer the willas!'"

Page revised: 1 July 2009

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