Interpreting Native Languages in New France: The Portrayal of French Interpreters

Alexandra Hillinger

Université Laval, Québec City, Canada



The history of interpretation in New-France begins in July 1534 when Jacques Cartier sails back to France with two Iroquois on board his ship, so that they can learn French and later serve as interpreters between the French and their people. Almost a century later, in 1608, Samuel de Champlain creates the program of “resident-interpreters”. He will send young Frenchmen, whom he trusts, to live in indigenous nations so that they can learn not only the language but also their culture. Many young men will therefore serve as interpreters, including Étienne Brûlé. The goal of this article is to provide an overview of the beginnings of interpretation in New-France.

Hence, we will look at the value that Jacques Cartier placed on interpretation between French and Iroquois languages. Then, we will examine the program of “resident-interpreters” created by Samuel de Champlain, Father of New-France or the first colonizer of the indigenous people of Canada. We will attempt to provide possible answers to the following questions: What were the goals of this program? How were the young Frenchmen selected? How did the explorers ensure the collaboration of indigenous people? Finally, we will provide a portrait of Étienne Brûlé, one of Champlain’s interpreter, to study the life of this young man and evaluate his contribution to the strengthening of relations between the French and Indigenous people.


Introduction: The beginning of interpretation in Canada


The recorded history of interpretation within the territory now designated as Canada starts with the first European explorations[1]. At the time, explorers such as Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain had to face the language barrier in order to communicate with the Native populations. As a result, interpretation has been at the forefront of the relationship between the French and Native peoples since the first attempts at colonization were made by France in the 16th century. Because of their interpreters, the French had a better understanding of Native languages than their English and Spanish enemies. They were therefore able to establish much stronger economic and social ties with Native populations, which helped consolidate the power of New France (Roland 1999, 65). Throughout the history of New France, alliances with the Natives played a central role: they facilitated the exploration of the territory and ensured the success of the fur trade. However, only little is known about the interpretation of Native languages in New France, even though it had a major impact on the economic, social and cultural evolution of Canada, as well as on the history of translation. Therefore, our current researches and this article will focus on this key activity.

Antoine Berman claimed that “the construction of a history of translation is the first task of a modern theory of translation. What characterizes modernity is not an infatuation with the past, but a movement of retrospection which is an infatuation with itself.” (Berman 1992, 1–2). Constructing a history of interpretation in Canada would allow Canadian researchers in translation studies to acquire a better self-knowledge, a greater awareness of the phenomena that influenced the development of translation in Canada. We believe that this idea of self-awareness is particularly important, because it serves a dual function. First, from the standpoint of translation studies, it involves an improvement of our knowledge about the translation history in Canada. Second, in terms of identity, it involves an examination of the relationship with the Native peoples from a post-colonial perspective of understanding and reconciliation.

Moreover, by studying the portrayal of interpreters in the travel writings of New France, we also conduct a study on the theory of translation, more precisely, on the discourse on translation (Woodsworth 2001, 101). The objective of our research is thus to shed light on the discourses written by explorers and missionaries about interpretation and interpreters. Studying theses written testimonies from New France will allow us to gather a significant amount of new information about the history of interpretation in Canada. As a baseline, this article aims at providing an overview of the customs related to interpretation in New France. Considering the allowed space and the progress of our research, we will mainly focus on three aspects: the beginning of interpretation during the expeditions of Jacques Cartier, the resident-interpreter program put in place by Samuel de Champlain, and the life story of Étienne Brûlé, an important member of this program.

Despite the pivotal role played by interpreters, the history of interpretation in New France is largely unknown within translation studies and within Canadian history. This article and the associated research project therefore aim at tracing the interpreters’ journey through the writings of the time, in order to bring light to this blind spot surrounding the significant part they played in the history of translation in New France. The contribution of the interpreters to the evolution of New France is therefore the question at the center of our research. By exploring the portrayal of interpreters that emerges from the writings of New France, more specifically, through the testimonies of the explorers and missionaries, we want to paint a picture of the young men’s contribution to the development of New France.  We will then be able to understand the importance of interpretation for the evolution of New France and the development of relationships with the Native peoples.


The First Two Canadian Interpreters


“The history of translation in Canada starts with a kidnapping” (Delisle 1977, 5, our translation), according to Jean Delisle. In an article published in Meta: The Translator’s Journal, Delisle explains that the recorded history of the translation in Canada began with the first expedition of Jacques Cartier in New France in 1534. On July 24, before leaving for France, Cartier embarked two Iroquois: Dom Agaya and Taignoagny (two sons of the great chief Donnacona). Cartier wanted them to learn French and become interpreters, so they could help facilitate trades between the French explorers and the Iroquoian people. Although kidnapping young Natives is brutal and cruel, especially through our 21st century’s eyes, it is worth mentioning that it was customary during the European explorations of the New World. Many Natives had indeed been forcibly taken to France since the start of the 16th century, notably by Thomas Aubert de Dieppe (Delisle 1975, 6). In this context, we believe it is likely that Cartier did not have any moral objections to this custom. Once they arrived in Europe, the Natives were often perceived as objects of curiosity: they were proofs of the naval exploits, some sort of living souvenirs (Delisle 1975, 6).

Cartier was fully aware of the necessity to use interpreters to communicate with the Iroquoian population. According to Delisle, Cartier had a good aptitude with languages; he could speak Spanish and Portuguese at least. He had acted as an interpreter for the Portuguese sailors held prisoners in Saint-Malo (Delisle 1977, 5). Moreover, Cartier finished his career as a trader interpreter (Delisle 1975, 9). During his explorations of New France, Cartier was thus well placed to understand the importance of having qualified resources who fully master the targeted languages to help oversee the trades with the Iroquoian peoples, even though he knew a few words himself. In our opinion, because of his background in interpretation, Cartier understood the value of interpretation, but unfortunately, he had no qualms about kidnapping young men to achieve his goals. According to Delisle, Cartier probably chose to teach French to Dom Agaya and Taignoagny, instead of having them teach their language to the French, because he judged that the Iroquoian language was very (too) difficult to master for Europeans (Delisle 1975, 8).

Both interpreters returned to New France the next spring (1535), after a stay of eight months on the European continent. They spoke a rudimentary French, but their true loyalty still laid with their own people. Therefore, when the time came to act as interpreters, they worked in the best interest of the Iroquoians of Stadaconé[2] and would only help the French if it benefited their own people; they acted as spokesman for their fellow citizens (Delisle 1975, 6). Ultimately, Cartier’s experiment therefore failed, because the Native interpreters protected their own interests before all else. Since they had learned about bartering in France and because they knew that the furs were resold at a high price by the French, the interpreters could clearly see how little their people were receiving in exchange for the supplies and services given to the French. Iroquoians therefore started to ask for more, putting a strain on their relationships with the French. Uniting with the Iroquoian chiefs, the interpreters also used a ploy to prevent Cartier from reaching Hochelaga, thus betraying him in a way (Trudel 1963, 94–101)[3]. Seemingly, the two young Iroquoians fully understood that the French needed to work in collaboration with the local population  and that their people were therefore in a position of strength with regard to trading. Under the circumstances, they could afford to be more demanding: the French could not get the highly coveted furs on their own. We believe that the fur trade played the most decisive role in the relationship between the French and Native peoples under the French regime. The necessity to work closely together may explain why the French behaviour towards the Native peoples was less violent in Canada than in the United States and in South America[4]. The commercial viability of New France (and of the explorations) depended on the fur trade and the cooperation of the Native peoples was required to obtain the furs. The “favourable disposition” of the explorers and traders towards the Native peoples is therefore the result of a cold financial calculation.

When Cartier returned to France from its second voyage, he brought the two interpreters with him. Unfortunately, they would never return home, because Cartier had decided otherwise. He indeed had no intention of bringing the two interpreters back in New France, since he could not rely on their loyalty. Dom Agaya, Taignoagny and their father, the great Chief Donnacona, hence died in France shortly before 1541 (Hakluyt 1884–1890, 169). During this second stay in France, they may, however, have helped Cartier with the writing of two French-Iroquoian vocabularies. These works are the first existing piece of “Canadian” terminology, even though they were written in France instead of Canada (Delisle 1977, 6).

Ultimately, the kidnapping and training of the young natives resulted in a bitter failure for the French explorers. Nonetheless, since interpretation was essential to the commercial stability of New France, it was imperative to find a better solution to create solid relationships with the Native peoples. During his third voyage, Cartier thus attempted the opposite experiment and entrusted Natives with two young Frenchmen. They would learn the language and act as interpreters afterwards (Trudel 1963, 150). In the relation of Jacques Cartier’s third voyage, we can read:


And as they went vp the riuer, the Captaine [Cartier] went to see the Lord of Hochelay, which dwelleth betweene Canada and Hochelaga: which in the former voyage had giuen vnto the said Captaine a little girle, and had oftentimes enformed him of the treasons which Taignoagny and Domagaya [sic] […] would haue wrought against him. In regard of which his curtesie the said Captaine would not passe by without visiting of him, and to let him vnderstand that the Captaine thought himselfe beholding vnto him, hee gaue vnto him two yong boyes, and left them with him to learne their language, and bestowed vpon him a cloake of Paris red […] This done, the Captaine and his company departed from that place.[5] (Hakluyt 1884–1890, 175, italics added)


This excerpt describing Cartier’s third voyage contains the first traces of the resident-interpreter program, which was reimplemented by Samuel de Champlain in the 17th century. Moreover, it allows us to understand that Cartier gave the two young boys to the Iroquoian chief in the hope of consolidating the relationships between the French and Native peoples. In addition to the boys, Cartier gave the Chief a coat and some bowls, hatchets and knives (Hakluyt 1884–1890, 175). Cartier’s objective was therefore to establish a close relationship with the Natives, while the two French interpreters, whom he knew he would be able to trust, were being trained.


 Samuel De Champlain and the Resident-Interpreter Project


At the beginning of the 17th century, Champlain planned on establishing a permanent colony in New France. He wanted to build a commercial network extending from the Great Lakes to Tadoussac[6]. It was therefore necessary to convince the Native populations to deal with the French instead of the English or the Dutch. When the time came to reach out to the peoples of the Laurentian coalition, the French had to overcome the language barrier. In Canada, which is an immense territory, many different Native peoples coexisted, and they all had different dialects. The use of interpreters was thus necessary (Delisle 1977, 6).

Samuel de Champlain, inspired by his predecessor Jacques Cartier, developed the following plan: young Frenchmen worthy of his trust would reside with the Natives to learn their language and customs. The young men would then have a better chance of convincing the Native Chiefs to trade the furs with the French instead of the English or the Dutch. These resident-interpreters acted as commercial agents and experts in the relations between French and Natives (Delisle 1977, 7). Because of their bilingualism, they had a monopoly over the relationships with Native peoples. They therefore played a key role in the political and commercial growth of New France.

Unfortunately, even though the interpreters were French, it did not guarantee their loyalty. The first to breach Champlain’s trust was Nicolas de Vignau. Soon after him, Étienne Brûlé, the first protege of Champlain, also betrayed him (Cranston 1949, 40). Nevertheless, overall, the model developed by Champlain was a success. Thanks to resident-interpreters such as Étienne Brûlé, the French knew far more about the Native languages than their English and Spanish enemies. That is why they managed to establish much stronger ties with the Natives, which helped New France to consolidate its power (Roland 1999, 65).


The Native Languages: An Overview


The complete and voluntary immersion of the interpreters orchestrated by Champlain helped the French to improve their understanding of the Native’s culture and allowed the interpreters to acquire and master the languages faster. During their immersion, the interpreters learned the Native languages as purely oral languages. Therefore, they did not face the same difficulties as the missionaries who, some years after, would try to codify these spoken languages in order to create a writing system.

Nevertheless, the aspiring interpreters still faced many obstacles. Brother Gabriel Sagard explained that the territory of New France included a diversity of dialects sharing only a few common features (Sagard 1632, 4). Moreover, the vocabulary was not stable, and the languages evolved quickly and unsystematically. The pronunciation also caused problems for a new learner of the Native languages, because guttural sounds[7] are almost non-existent in French (Delisle 1977, 12). Furthermore, a bad use of intonation, aspiration, cadence or accentuation can cause inconsistencies or misunderstandings. Pronouncing poorly or using the wrong accentuation could entirely change the meaning of a word and be at best, a cause of laughter, and at worst, a cause of utter incomprehension (Sagard 1632, 5–7). In the context of commercial and political negotiations, misunderstandings can have serious consequences, such as the end of an alliance. The interpreters therefore carried an enormous weight on their shoulders: they had to ensure the future of the relationships between the French and Native peoples, the future of the fur trade, and ultimately, the future of the whole of New France.


Étienne Brûlé, the First Resident-Interpreter of New France


Étienne Brûlé was the first to participate in the resident-interpreter program developed by Samuel de Champlain. He lived with the Hurons and learned their language perfectly. Despite his achievements, we find very few traces of him in the documents of the time. This may be attributed to the fact that Brûlé had a bad reputation amongst his contemporaries. The objective of this section is to draw a picture of Brûlé by relying on the work of historians who analyzed the written fragments left by Champlain and the Jesuits. Naturally, we will allude to many biographical elements, however, as far as it is possible (according to the available information), we will focus on his activities as an interpreter.

Unfortunately, Étienne Brûlé himself left no written traces of his life. Son of peasants, he was probably illiterate. This means that he did not produce any written translation; his activities were purely oral. Also, because Brûlé worked deep in the Canadian forests, there is no transcript of the meetings during which he acted as an intermediary between the Natives and the French. Therefore, it is hard to evaluate or comment on the role he played, the extent of his activities or the quality of his work.


Leaving for the New World


The origins of Étienne Brûlé are still largely unknown. According to historians, Brûlé was born around 1592, in a small farming community called Champigny, in the south of Paris. However, it is unclear how he joined Champlain’s crew (Cranston 1949, 7).

On July 3, 1608, Champlain arrived in Québec with a fleet of three vessels. Brûlé and another young man named Nicolas Marsolet spent the harsh winter within an Innu community. Both boys started to learn the language and quickly began to act as interpreters (Beaudet 1993, 6). Native languages were completely strange to the European ear and learning them was a significant challenge. In fact, missionaries will later complain about the complexity of the Native languages and admit that even after years of practice, they still can’t master them. Nevertheless, Young Brûlé acquired the language very quickly, even if it was only his first immersion. Presumably, he had a natural gift for languages.

During the summers of 1609 and 1610, Champlain conducted two raids against the Iroquoians (Douglas 2003, 34). Although it is unknown whether Étienne Brûlé took part in these expeditions or not, he had such a taste for adventure that he probably seized this opportunity. Shortly after the second victory, he volunteered to go live with the Natives and Champlain accepted his offer, thinking it could not have come at a better time.


Living Amongst the Natives


Étienne Brûlé therefore left for another immersion, as part of the resident-interpreter program. When he returned from his stay with the Algonquians, in June 1611, Brûlé was unrecognizable: he was wearing animal hides, just like the Natives. The expectations of Champlain were fulfilled, as reflected by the notes he wrote in his travel journals: “I also saw my French boy who came dressed like an Indian. He was well pleased with the treatment received from the Indians, according to the customs of their country, and explained to me all that he had seen during the winter, and what he had learned from the Indians. […] my lad […] had learned their language very well[8]” (Biggar 1971, II:188–189). Brûlé gave Champlain a detailed account of his new geographical knowledge. He also acted as an interpreter for Champlain, because the latter was trying to gather further geographical information from the Natives (Beaudet 1993, 11). During that summer, Brûlé also worked as an interpreter between the Native Chiefs and Champlain. The Natives felt threatened by the independent fur traders who, unlike Champlain, would not protect them in case of a conflict with the Iroquoians. Therefore, they wanted to form an alliance exclusively with Champlain, and Brûlé was central to the negotiations. From that moment on, the age of interpreters officially started. Encouraged by the success of Brûlé, Champlain sent many other young men for a cultural immersion amongst the Natives (Douglas 2003, 78).

In fall 1611, Étienne Brûlé was approximately 19 years old. The young adventurer volunteered again for immersion and was invited to join a Huron nation. On that subject, Champlain wrote: “There was a young man of our party who decided to go home with the Charioquois Indians[9], who live about a hundred and fifty leagues from the rapids. He went with Savignon’s brother, one of the chiefs, who promised me to show him as much as he could[10]” (Biggar 1971, II: 205). Champlain was happy to send Brûlé, since he needed somebody to act as an intermediary between the French and this powerful nation. Étienne Brûlé thus left to live with the Hurons; he will not be mentioned in the writings of Champlain until 1615 (Rinella 2001, 68). It should also be noted that Brûlé will mostly spend the rest of his life in his new homeland amongst the Hurons.

It is impossible to determine with certainty which Native languages Brûlé knew. During the years, he probably learned to speak in the Innu, Algonquian and Huron languages. The historian Herbert Cranston assumes that Brûlé also learned the dialects from the Nipissing District and the Ottawa River area during the time he spent with the Hurons (Cranston 1949, 38). Moreover, according to Steven Rinella, Brûlé was able to speak with all the Native peoples living in the eastern basin of the Great Lakes (Rinella 2001, 69).

Étienne Brûlé played his part of interpreter and spokesman very well. Each year, unless exceptional circumstances occurred, he travelled to the meeting point where the Natives and fur traders bartered. His role involved more than communicating—that is, relaying a message from the Hurons to the French and vice versa—, he also acted as a spokesman for the French nation within the Native territory. At all time, he had to defend the interests of his fellow countrymen before the Hurons. Fortunately, he was in a good position to do so, since he had gained the trust of the Natives during his stays with them. Nevertheless, Champlain was not entirely satisfied with the experience, because Étienne Brûlé was overly assimilated to the Huron culture. For example, he lived in the promiscuity typical of the young Hurons. This situation was not ideal: Brûlé’s task was to learn about the Native culture, not to embrace it.


The Capture and Explorations of Brûlé


In 1615, Brûlé joined the expedition against the Iroquoians. Accompanied by twelve Hurons, he left the group and headed off to recruit Andaste warriors. During the trip to Carantoüan, Brûlé became the first white man to see Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. When he arrived with the reinforcement, Champlain had already been defeated and had headed back north (Kent 1976, 294).

Brûlé therefore decided to spend the winter with the Andaste. He followed the Susquehanna River to the Chesapeake Bay, and then to the Atlantic Ocean. He then passed nearby Baltimore, in Maryland (Rinella 2001, 69), and after, through Pennsylvania (Kent 1976, 295). Also, there are reasons to believe that in 1618, he crossed the opening of Lake Michigan. In fact, he probably deserves full credit for the discovery of all the Great Lakes (Cranston 92).

As he travelled back to the Huron territory, Étienne Brûlé was captured by the Senecas, an Iroquoian nation. Against all odds, Brûlé convinced the Iroquoians to let him go. He later told Champlain that he had interpreted the coming of a storm as the wrath of God descending upon the Iroquoians (Cranston 1949, 87). More plausibly, the Iroquoians thought that a French ally could be beneficial to them, since their relationships with the Dutch was starting to deteriorate. In any case, the escape of Brûlé proved that he was an eloquent man.

Étienne Brûlé only continued his explorations much later, to fulfill a promise he made to Champlain. He reached Lake Superior between 1621 and 1623. In all probability, he followed the St. Mary River, sailed along the northern coast of the Lake, and then navigated on the St. Louis River to reach the actual cities of Duluth and Superior. In 1625, he visited the region inhabited by the Neutrals[11] (Jurgens 2010, § 10).


Interpreting for the Missionaries


Champlain had difficulty attracting investors to finance the colony. Therefore, he changed his strategy and created the Company of Canada, whose mission was to Christianize the Natives and spread the French language and culture. Missionaries travelled to New France in 1615 under that pretext (Douglas 2003, 92). Their arrival was probably not welcomed by Brûlé, since he had left the moral confines of the Church behind him.

In 1623, Brother Gabriel Sagard visited the Huron people to preach the gospel. Although Brûlé acted as a guide for the recollect, their relationship was far from harmonious (Rinella 2001, 70). In the relation of Champlain’s voyage, we learn that Gabriel Sagard had been complaining about the manners and behaviours of Brûlé: “On the sixteenth, Brother Gabriel Sagard […] told us all that had happened during the winter he had spent with the savages, and the bad life which most of the Frenchmen had led in the country of the Hurons; amongst others the interpreter Brûlé […] this man was recognized as being very vicious in character, and much addicted to women[12]” (Biggar 1971, V:131–132). Resident-interpreters allied against the missionaries and refused to teach them the Native languages. Regardless, Étienne Brûlé apparently decided to contribute to the writing of the famous Huron language dictionary created by Brother Sagard (Douglas 2003, 118). However, Sagard did not give any credit to Brûlé in the preface of his dictionary (Sagard 1632, 3–12).

Even though Brother Sagard did not mention the collaboration of the interpreter in his dictionary, many historians assume that he indeed collaborated. It is however impossible, unfortunately, to assess the contribution of Brûlé, since there is no way of knowing which entries of the dictionary are ascribed to him. As for the quality of the dictionary, only a specialist of the French and Huron languages of the 17th century could address the matter.

For the interpreters who accompanied the missionaries, like Étienne Brûlé, the task was not easy. Translating the abstract French vocabulary was a serious issue. French words relating to religious concepts had no equivalent in Native languages. Therefore, interpreters had to act as terminologists and  create neologisms (Delisle 1977, 12). Brûlé himself enriched the Huron language by introducing some new words and concepts, although only a specialized study about the evolution of the Huron language would provide enough information to determine which terms exactly are ascribable to him.


The Last Years of Brûlé


In 1629, the English general Thomas Kirke besieged the town of Québec. When Champlain capitulated, he was shocked to realize that the pilot of the general was none other than Étienne Brûlé. A treaty was quickly signed, and Canada was restored to the French crown. As a result, Brûlé had another no other choice but to live in exile amongst the Hurons (Cranston 1949, 103–113). Various hypotheses have been formulated to explain the treason of Brûlé, but we will not examine them here.

According to the historians, the interpreter died in 1633. The exact circumstances of his death are however mysterious. The most common and accepted hypothesis is that Brûlé was tortured, killed, and then eaten by the Hurons[13]. Although many theories and interpretations were suggested, the motive behind this murder remains unknown.


What If Brûlé Was a Parisian Merchant?


Recent findings (2010–2014) paint a very different picture of Étienne Brûlé. Conducted by Éric Brossard, these researches based on the archives of Champigny-sur-Marne, in France, revealed that Brûlé was the son of Spire Bruslé and Marguerite Guérin, married in 1574 (Caloz 2014, § 5).

Moreover, a lesser-known study led by the historian Lucien Campeau showed that it is quite possible that Brûlé returned in France at least twice during his lifetime. He first went back in 1622–1623 and became godfather to the child of Jacques Coiffier and Suzanne Faudevin, on February 18, 1623. According to the files discovered by Brossard, Brûlé also stayed in France from 1626 to 1628. By then, he had climbed the social ladder and had been given the official title of “merchant”. During this period, he married Alizon Coiffier, born in 1587. The archives found by Brossard also revealed that Brûlé owned a house in Champigny-sur-Marne and another one in Paris. On January 10, 1627, he became godfather to Marguerite Bruneau.

Most likely, Brûlé died in 1632. In a baptismal certificate dated May 13, 1633, Alizon Coiffier is identified as “wife of the late Estienne Bruslé”. Since ships always left for France in fall, Brûlé must have died in 1632 (Caloz 2014, § 10). We can therefore conclude that Étienne Brûlé was more than the fur trader described by Champlain and Sagard in their writings; he can also be portrayed as a Parisian merchant.


The Contribution of Brûlé to the History of Interpretation


In order to better evaluate the contribution of Brûlé to the history of interpretation in New France and to the history of translation in Canada, we can make a comparison between him and his compatriot Nicolas Marsolet. However, since a lot more information is available on the career of Marsolet, the comparison is not entirely fair. Marsolet was an interpreter speaking the Innu and Algonquian languages. Just like Brûlé, Marsolet had been seduced by the freedom the Natives were enjoying. In the end, however, he chose to side with the missionaries. Because of his allegiance, Marsolet was offered prestigious positions within the Company of the Hundred Associates. On the contrary, because Brûlé refused to comply with the European morals, he never received this kind of recognition nor did he climb the scales within the emerging Canadian society, even though there is no evidence to suggest that Marsolet was a more qualified interpreter than him.

Since Brûlé left no traces of his activity as an interpreter, it is difficult to fully assess his contribution to the history of translation in Canada. Champlain repeatedly mentioned that he used Brûlé as an interpreter, but he did not comment on the quality of his work, and to our knowledge, Brûlé himself never shared his own vision of the profession. Nonetheless, we know that Brûlé was the first interpreter to master the Huron language, and that without an alliance with the Huron people, the fur trade would have never been so profitable for the French. The role played by Brûlé in the history of Canada is prominent, but the role he played in the Canadian history of translation remains unclear. In a sense, Étienne Brûlé personifies the invisibility of the translator.




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[1] Most likely, contacts between various Native nations took place even before the European explorations, which may have led to interpretation between the Native languages themselves. However, this is not the subject of our current research.

[2] At the time of the explorations of Jacques Cartier, Stadaconé was an Iroquoian village of approximately 500 people. It was located on the territory of the actual city of Québec and probably ended on the south shore of the Saint-Charles River. However, according to the archaeologist Michel Plourde, we will probably never know the exact location of this Iroquoian village. (Plourde 2008, 12–13)

[3] Cartier wanted to go to Hochelaga, a village located on the territory of the actual city of Montréal, to see if he could map a route to Asia from there. For a long time, French explorers believed that they could navigate to Asia if they reached the bodies of water now known as the Great Lakes, which are located in Ontario, another province of Canada.

[4] We want to emphasize that we do not support nor condone the common misconception that the French explorers were “better colonizers” than the other European nations within the Americas.

[5] “Au cours de leur remontée du fleuve, le capitaine [Cartier] alla voir le seigneur d’Hochelay qui habitait entre Canada et Hochelaga. Celui-ci, lors du précédent voyage, avait donné au dit capitaine une petite fille et l’avait plusieurs fois informé des trahisons que Taignoagny et Domagaya [sic] […] auraient voulu préparer contre lui. En échange de sa courtoisie, le capitaine ne voulut pas passer sans aller lui rendre visite, et pour lui faire entendre qu’il se sentait obligé à son égard, il lui confia deux jeunes garçons pour qu’ils apprennent sa langue et lui offrit un manteau de drap rouge de Paris […]. Après quoi le capitaine et sa suite quittèrent les lieux.” (Cartier 1986, 198–199)

[6] Tadoussac is a village located at the confluence of the Saguenay and Saint Lawrence rivers in Québec, Canada. The Saint Lawrence empties into the Gulf of the Saint Lawrence, which is the getaway to the Atlantic Ocean.

[7] Guttural sounds have their place of articulation in the back of the oral cavity. They include consonants articulated against the soft palate or the hard palate, and articulations involving the glottis or the back part of the tongue (Pullum and Ladusaw 1996, 272).

[8] Aussi ie vis mon garçon qui vint habillé à la sauuages, selon leur pays, & me fit entendre tout ce qu’il auoit veu en son yuernement, & et ce qu’il auoit apris desdicts sauuages. […] mon garçon […] auoit fort bien apris leur langue […](Biggar 1971, II:188–189)

[9] The “Charioquois Indians” are Hurons. (Biggar 1971, II: 205)

[10] il eut vn ieune homme de nostres qui se delibera d’aller avec lesdicts sauuages, qui sont Charioquois, esloignez du saut de quelques cent cinquante lieues; & fut auec le frere de Sauignon, qui estoit l’vu des Capitaines, qui me promit luy faire voir tout ce qu’il pourroit(Biggar 1971, II: 205).

[11] They were called Neutrals by the French, because they did not participate in the wars between the Iroquoian and Huron peoples. (Britannica Academic 2007, 1)

[12] Le 16. le frere Gabriel Sagard […] nous comptant tout ce qui s’estoit passé en son hyuernement, & la mauuaise vie que la pluspart des François auoient mené en ce païs des Hurons, & entr’autres : Le truchement Bruslé […] l’on recognoissoit cet homme pour estre fort vicieux, & adonné aux femmes (Biggar 1971, V:131–132).

[13] Boiling and eating the corpse of their enemies was a common practice amongst certain Native peoples (Guillaume and Turgeon 2007, 215).