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Broken Slavey

Broken Slavey
Region Yukon (Liard and Mackenzie rivers)
Era 19th century
Slavey-based pidgin
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
Glottolog brok1250[1]
Loucheux Jargon
Region Yukon (Peel and Yukon rivers)
Era 19th century
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
Glottolog jarg1234[2]

Broken Slavey (also Broken Slavé, Broken Slave, Slavey Jargon, Broken Slavee, and le Jargon esclave) was a trade language used between Native Americans and whites in the Yukon area (for example, in around Liard River and in the Mackenzie River district) in the 19th century.

Broken Slavey is based primarily on the Slavey language with elements from French, Cree, and perhaps to a lesser extent English. However, there is some disagreement among sources: Petitot (1889) states that it lacks English, Dene Suline (Chipewyan), or Gwich’in (Kutchin) elements in contrast to the neighbouring Loucheux Pidgin (or Loucheux Jargon), while Dall (1870) states that it includes English elements and McClellan (1981) states that it contained Dene Suline influences. Later sources have ignored the earlier accounts and assumed that "Broken Slavey" is merely French vocabulary (loanwords) used in northern Athabascan languages. Michael Krauss has suggested that French loanwords in Athabascan languages may have been borrowed via Broken Slavey.

A further difference among sources is that Petitot distinguishes the Broken Slavey trade language spoken along the Mackenzie River from a different trade language called Loucheux Pidgin that was spoken along the Peel (a tributary of the Mackenzie) and Yukon rivers. Other contemporary sources as well as later sources do not make a distinction between Broken Slavey and Loucheux Pidgin, which may explain their inclusion of English, Dene Suline, and Gwich’in as influences on Broken Slavey.

The native languages of speakers who used Broken Slavey (known in Alaska as 'Slavey') were Dene Suline, French, Gwich’in, Inuktitut, Slavey. One notable speaker of Slavey Jargon was Antoine Hoole, the Hudson's Bay Company translator at Fort Yukon. Hoole (or Houle) was a professional servant of the Company who served for well over twenty years at Peel River and at Fort Yukon.

Having a French-speaking father and a Métis mother, Hoole was born in 1827 and raised in a household where at least two languages were spoken. He originally came from Fort Halkett on the Liard River in what is now the southern Yukon Territory. He probably spoke South Slavey because that was the Native American language spoken around the Liard River, although Sekani and Kaska people also frequented the area. Hoole died in Fort Yukon at the age of forty-one, on October 22, 1868. The Gwich’in apparently stopped speaking the jargon in the early 20th century. The gold rush, with its massive influx of English speakers into the region beginning in 1886, probably provided a death blow. One speaker, Malcolm Sandy Roberts of Circle, Alaska, continued to use it in a diminished form until his death in 1983.[3]

The best written historical documentation of Slavey Jargon shows its actual use was for preaching the gospel and for teasing and harassing clergymen, and for interpersonal relationships. For all these reasons, it seems inaccurate to characterize it strictly as a trade jargon.

Broken Slavey has recently been documented with a few vocabulary items and phrases (collected in Petitot's work) and only a little of its grammar and lexicon. However, more information may yet be discovered in archives through missionary records and traders' journals.


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Mishler, 2008.


  • Bakker, Peter. (1996). Broken Slavey and Jargon Loucheux: A first exploration. In I. Broch & E. H. Jahr (Eds.), Language contact in the Arctic: Northern pidgins and contact languages (pp. 317–320). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Bakker, Peter; & Grant, Anthony P. (1996). Interethnic communication in Canada, Alaska, and adjacent areas. In S. A. Wurm. P. Mühlhäuser, & D. H. Tryon (Eds.), Atlas of languages of intercultural communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the Americas (Vol. II.2, pp. ). Trends in linguistics: Documentation (No. 13). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Campbell, Lyle. (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Dall, William H. (1870). Alaska and its resources. Boston: Lee and Shepard.
  • McClellan, Catharine. (1981). Intercultural relations and cultural exchange in the Cordillera. In J. Helm (Ed.), Handbook of North American Indians: Subarctic (Vol. 6, pp. 378–401). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Mishler, Craig. (2008). 'That's a Rubbaboo': Slavey Jargon in a Nineteenth Century Subarctic Speech Community. Journal of Creole and Pidgin Languages 23(2): 264-287.
  • Petitot, Émile. (1889). Quize ans sous le Cercle Polaire: Mackenzie, Anderson, Youkon. Paris: E. Dentu.
  • Slobodin, Richard. (1981). Kutchin. In J. Helm (Ed.), Handbook of North American Indians: Subarctic (Vol. 6, pp. 514–532). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
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