par Adele St. Pierre
2. Real French
17. On being human
22. Right as Rain
26. Past and Present
To visit this link also by this author, click here:
UNE POIGNÉE DED'ÇÂ,
If you live in the Jay/Livermore Falls Area, chances are your friends, co-workers and neighbors have French last names; in fact, maybe yours is, too.
As we have adapted the pronunciation of these names to the English phonetic system, and without the knowledge of what written French looks like, this simple fact might not always be evident, especially to younger folks.
What's interesting about these names, besides the fact that they testify to a rich history that spans all the way back to France, is that they often tell a story.
Knowing this, it is interesting to consider some of those names. Bonnevie, for example, means "good life," and Beaulieu means "beautiful place." Perhaps the ancestors of these families were wealthy individuals who lived richly on vast acres of land. For the ancestors of the people who call themselves Desjardins, their name indicates that they are "of the gardens." Perhaps they were gardeners or folks who lived in homes surrounded by gardens. It's probable that the Bergerons were sheep herders, the Dubois worked and/or lived in the woods, the Bouchers were butchers, and that the Bretons came from a region in Western France called Bretaigne (Brittany). According to their names, the Gagnes and the Gagnons were winners. I wonder what they won?
Some names are not so easy to translate. Take, for example, my mother's maiden name, Castonguay. At first glance, it doesn't mean anything, but if you search through the history books, you'll discover that the name actually comes from two names: Gaston Guay. As language evolved, and as people forget the origins of things over the centuries, sounds change, and la famille Gaston Guay becomes Castonguay, tout simple.
Then there's my father's name, St. Pierre. As you may know, Pierre (or Peter) was the rock upon whom Jesus is said to have built his church, and it is he who holds the keys to heaven. So if anyone thinks Albert won't go to heaven for nodding off in church, don't worry: his ancestors will let him in the back door!
It's tempting to say that the French we hear spoken in Jay and Livermore Falls is a mix of French and English, a Franglais as they say. Though it can't be denied that the language is indeed peppered with English words, English isn't the only factor that comes into play when discussing the differences that exist between Parisian French and the French spoken in Jay.
The first differences arose with the very earliest settlers. Samuel Champlain founded the first French city in the new world in 1608, and named it Quebec, a Native American word meaning "where the river narrows." The colonists who followed also depended on the natives to help them define the new plants, animals, and objects that existed in the new world, such atoca (cranberry).
The second major difference occurred with the passage of time. When the English conquered Quebec in 1759, all ties between the mother country and her former colony were severed. Language, like children, changes and grows. In France, French evolved into the language we recognize today as Parisian French; in Quebec, French retained the accent and vocabulary of the 1600's because it was isolated from France and the changes occurring there. Many words that might be mistaken today as English in the conversations of Franco-Americans in our towns are actually words deriving from Old French, like flahr (flour from Old French Fleur de Farine), and itou (also from Old French Et tout).
And of course there are the legitimate English words that made their way into our French, but this can be explained in much the same way that the borrowings from the native languages can be explained. After the conquest, as the industrial age boomed, new vocabulary was needed to define the inventions of the modern era. The French in Canada, whose ties with France were cut off, borrowed the necessary words and phrases they needed from the English, naturally. (France French is not immune to borrowing words from Americans and the British. Some examples include: parking, stop, jogging, lifting, gang, hamburger and square, to name a few).
I often hear people say that they do not speak the "real French". This is a phrase I would like to see erased from the mouths of the Franco-Americans (or anyone else who thinks or says it) living in our towns. What isn't "real" about it? The grammar and structure of the French spoken in our towns and in France is essentially the same. The vocabulary differs for the reasons I stated above, but this does not make it an illegitimate fake: it makes it "real". A language is "real" when it responds to its environment and adapts appropriately. A language is "real" when it serves as a tool of communication between people. The French in our towns fits these criteria, and that's as real as it gets!
Moi pis toi (me and you)
In the last Le Coin Français article, I discussed briefly some of the historic factors that create the differences between Standard French and the French spoken in our towns. In today's article, I hope to reiterate that the English language often has nothing to do with these differences.
Let's take the word "toi" (you) to start. In standard French, "toi" is pronounced [twa]. (Imagine the sounds t+w+ah). In the Jay/Livermore Falls area, you won't hear this pronunciation; what you will hear is [twe] (Imagine the sound of the word "twig" without the g). In the Glossaire du Parler Français au Canada and in the dialogue found in Québécois literature from the early 20th century, you can find this word spelled either "toué" or "toé". It's obvious that the pronunciation heard in our towns is a simple continuation of the pronunciation heard in Québec. But what can we say about the origin of this word's pronunciation itself? Did the Québécois change it? Did the English language have an influence on it? The answer is neither.
The answer lies in the French spoken in France during the 15th century. At this time in history, there was a very clear rift between the upper class (the royalty) and the lower class. (There was no middle class). The differences between these two classes are the same ones we can point out today: one was rich, the other poor; one was educated, the other less, if at all, educated. At this time, it was the fashion to pronounce "toi" like [twe] (Twig minus the g!) The king and his court, as well as any well-read individuals, used this pronunciation. However, the lower class pronounced "toi" like [twa] (t + w + ah). This is the norm in France today, and there is a reason for this. Though the lower class was much bigger than the royal upper class, the royalty had all the power and the money. During the French Revolution (1789 ? 1799), the people rose up to overthrow the monarchy and create a republic run by the people for the people. These people, who would from this moment forth run the country, pronounced [twa], not [twe].
In Québec, the story differs. The research
done on the origins and professions of the first colonists by Adjutor Rivard
in the early 1900's, shows us that the great majority of these first settlers
came from urban areas where they had contact with the upper class. They
were also literate, which means they spoke the way the upper class spoke.
The French Revolution and the changes it brought not only in the politics
of France but in the language occurred after the famous Treaty of Paris
(1763), when France ceded, or gave, Québec to the English. After
1763, the changes that occurred in the language in France would not have
any effect on the language spoken in Québec because the ties between
these two countries had been severed, and the people in Québec conserved
many of the pronunciations that no longer exist in France today. The immigrants
who came to Jay and Livermore Falls from Québec at the turn of the
last century brought these conserved pronunciations with them. In these
(Claude Verrault, professor of Linguistics at the University of Laval, was an important source for the information in this article).
I've gone back to the famous PIS!
I spoke with my mother on the phone the other night, and she had a question for me concerning the word pis which appeared not only in the title of the last Coin Français article (10 Oct.) "Moé pis toé", but also in the title of the Franco-American festival, "Terre pis Ciel". Someone had asked my mother what pis meant, and why he couldn't find it in the dictionary when he tried to look it up. To the inquisitive gentleman who inspired this present article, here is your answer:
The translation for pis in "Terre pis Ciel" and "Moé pis toé" is "and", and it is pronounced [pi] (say the word pee). Ask any native French speaker in the Jay/Livermore Falls area and this is the definition he or she will give you as well. However, if you look up the word and in a French-English dictionary, you will find the word et, not pis. So what is pis? For starters, pis comes from the word puis (say p + w + ee). It is an adverb meaning "Après cela, dans le temps qui suit" ("after that, in the time that follows"). This definition, found in the Petit Robert de la Langue Française, also includes the expression et puis, which can be used to introduce a second, third, etc. object or person in a phrase: "Il y avait des bleuets, des framboises et puis des fraises" ("There were blueberries, raspberries and then strawberries"), or to introduce a new reason to do or not do something: "J'avais pas le temps, et puis j'étais fatigué" ("I didn't have the time, and I was also tired").
In the last two definitions, we see that the combination et puis roughly means "and". I asked Nathalie Bacon, research assistant at the Trésor de la Langue Française at the University of Laval, why we say pis and not et. According to Ms. Bacon, pis is not a North American French invention for and, but rather a word that existed in the mouths of the very first French colonists, who learned to speak French in France...not in Québec. Over time, the first word in the phrase et puis (which, as mentioned earlier, can roughly mean and), "fell out" of usage, and puis became systematically understood and used to mean and. This is the meaning you would find if you looked up the word pis in the Dictionnaire Québécois d'Aujourd'hui (Modern Dictionary of Québec). It is noted that this word is a part of "familiar" or "vernacular" speech, and I hear it all around me every day. But Québec isn't the only place you'll hear it: it's also quite common in the popular speech of France--the French just haven't added it to their dictionaries! (Actes de Colloque de Trève du 26-28 sept. 85: Niederhe & Wolf, Tübingen: 1987).
Pis also has several other definitions. Though the gentleman to whom I address this answer couldn't find the word in his dictionary, I found it in several. For starters, in the Petit Robert, pis can be a noun: "a cow's udder", or an adverb: "worse". The second definition is said to be literary or "old", meaning that it is no longer used in regular speech. It can also be a superlative: le pis, meaning "the worst", and is found in the expression tant pis, which means "Tough luck" or "too bad". But that's not all...in his master's thesis (Etude lexicologique des dénominations des seins, 1983) at Laval University, Denis Juneau tells us that pis can also mean "large breasts". There's always got to be a wise guy in the bunch!
I invite more questions about the French language and/or heritage. Please address them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will do my best to answer them!
La trappe à souris
What's a trappe à souris? It's a mouse trap. But don't look up mouse trap in your French-English dictionary and be surprised to find souricière instead of trappe à souris. Even if trappe à souris looks like English and smells like English, in this case, it is not English. It's not even Franglais. It's French. Where's my proof, you ask? It's in Switzerland!
One of the official languages of Switzerland is French, but if you ever find yourself in Switzerland one day and you really need some mousetraps to take care of the mice in your apartment, don't ask your landlady for a souricière -- she may have to look it up in the dictionary, and then she would say to you, "Oh! Tu veux dire une trappe à souris!" ("You mean a mousetrap!)
Switzerland is a country in Europe. It does not border any English speaking country, nor was it ever colonized by England. And no...there has never been a huge migration of Québécois to Switzerland to explain how this word may have been implanted there or vice versa. So, if trappe à souris were a legitimate borrowing from English, chances are you wouldn't find it used in Switzerland.
The next obvious question then, is what do Switzerland and Québec have in common (aside from the fact that we speak French in both countries, including the word trappe à souris)? Québec was colonized by France during the 17th and 18th centuries. Many of the people who came to live in Québec spoke dialects of French that included words that you won't find in the standard dictionary, like trappe à souris. Switzerland was never colonized by France, but people did migrate there on their own free will. The word trappe à souris must have been a part of the dialects of both groups of people who originally settled in these two places if we can still hear it used there today.
There's a lesson to be learned in this simple study of the word trappe à souris. When you hear a French word that seems to be English, don't be "trapped" in making this hasty judgment without first considering all the options, including the far-away country of Switzerland!
This article was inspired by my class Français d'Amérique du Nord with Anne Marie Beaudoin-Bégin at University of Laval.
Poutinne : it's what's for supper (and dessert)
Poutinne (pronounced poutsinne [putsIn]), is a dessert in my mother's house. She makes poutinne à la vanille, poutinne au chocolat, poutsinne au pain, and my favorite, poutinne au suif. I don't remember her ever making poutinne au riz, but my three matantes make it. Poutinne, if you haven't guessed already, is the word pudding borrowed from English. It has an interesting history, and depending on where you are in North America, you might not always be served a dessert if you ask for it...
According to one of my friends from New Brunswick (Acadia), poutinne is made with shredded potatoes mixed with flour then rolled into balls and boiled. She says that good Acadian poutinne is hard to find in a restaurant because only the older mémères really know how to make it right.
In Québec, la poutinne is a plateful of
french fries covered in a brown sauce and then topped with shredded cheddar.
Some people add strips of fried steak, too. I don't think this dish figures
on the Atkin's diet plan, and if you are someone who watches what they
eat, this might not be the thing for you because it's pretty heavy. However,
if you feel like trying something new for supper tonight, I highly recommend
it! (Just run a mile after!)
La poutinne québécoise (for 2 people)
Step 1 : Wash and peel 2 to 3 large potatoes, slice them into rounds, and then cut them into strips. In a large frying pan, heat enough oil so that your potatoes will be completely submerged. When the oil is very hot, fry your potatoes until they are a golden brown. Transfer them to a platter and keep them warm in the oven while you prepare the sauce.
Step 2 : In a small sauce pan, heat 1 and 1/2 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat. When the foam subsides, stir in the flour. Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly with a wire whisk, for about 3 minutes. A little bit a time, stir in 1 to 1 and 1/2 cups of beef stock, stirring constantly still with the whisk. After you've added about a cup, the mixture will be fairly thick. Add a little more stock, still stirring, until the consistency is a little thinner, and continue to cook over low heatt for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste (Brown sauce, in How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman).
Step 3 : Divide the french fries onto two plates. Pour the amount of sauce you want over the fries, and sprinkle a good handful of shredded white cheddar cheese to top it all off. If you wish, you can also add thin strips of fried steak on top, too.
If you're still hungry after eating your meal of poutinne Québec style, you can always make yourself a batch of poutinne au chocolat, poutinne à la vanille, poutinne au suif, or poutinne au riz for dessert! (Then go run 2 miles instead of 1).
Find out more about the word poutinne in the Dictionnaire historique du français au Québec (Claude Poirier, 1998).
Invitation à dîner (Invitation to dinner)
A Franco-American traveling in France meets a very nice Parisian who says to him, <<Viens dîner à la maison demain avec moi et ma femme! (come have dinner at my house tomorrow with me and my wife!>>. The Franco-American accepts the offer. The next day he rings the Parisian's doorbell at about noon, but noone opens the door. After a few more rings, he scratches his head and walks away. Later that evening, after spending hours in the kitchen preparing a wonderful dîner, the Parisian and his wife wait in vain for the arrival of their Franco-American. They end up eating without him at about 7:00 and then go to bed.
In France, like in North America, people eat three meals a day : petit déjeuner, déjeuner, and dîner (breakfast, lunch and dinner). In Québec and French New England, we eat déjeuner, dîner, and souper (breakfast, dinner and supper). If the two people in the hypothetical story above had known this difference, there would have been no confusion!
Why the difference? According to the Dictionnaire historique du français québécois (DHFQ) (Poirier, 1998), déjeuner, dîner and souper are old French words that go back as far as the Middle Ages, or around 1100 A.D. Both déjeuner and souper (meaning breakfast and evening meal respectively) appear in Jacques Cartier's personal journals during his travels to the New World in the mid-1500's, and dîner (meaning mid-day meal) appears in Samuel de Champlain's Les voyages du Sieur de Champlain. (Cartier claimed New France for King Louis I in 1534, and Champlain founded the city of Québec in 1608).
In France, the names of the meals transitioned from déjeuner, dîner and souper to petit déjeuner, dîner and souper during the first half of the 1800's in Paris due to a change in custom. It became the norm to eat the first principal meal of the day, déjeuner, at noon, making the meal eaten before noon more of a small snack than an actual meal, hence the term petit in petit déjeuner. Dîner than became the evening meal, and the word souper was reserved for a smaller meal, or snack, eaten much later in the evening. This particular change was not adopted by the rest of the country, which explains why in certain regions in France, people are still apt to use déjeuner, dîner, and souper rather than petit déjeuner, déjeuner, and souper in informal situations (Rey : Le Robert - Dictionnaire Historique de la Langue Française).
Finally, the use of déjeuner, dîner and souper common to North American French is also the norm in Belgium and Swiss French. So, our poor Franco-American traveler can rest assured that if he travels almost anywhere else in the Francophone world outside of France, he won't miss the meal if he has the good fortune of being invited to eat dîner with someone. But then, in order to truly avoid all confusion, he could just ask at what time the host would like for him to drop by!
Merci à Steve Canac-Marquis, research assistant at the TLFQ, Université Laval, for his helpful precisions.
Prenez deux pilules pis calles moé demain matin
(Take two of these pills and call me in the morning)
On Christmas day, 4 of my matantes were up for dinner. At one point we talked about medications, and one of my matantes said "pilune". A few minutes later, another one said "pinune". At the dinner table a few days later, my father said "pilule". (You'd think all we do is eat!) All three of these words mean "pill", but why the different pronunciations?
The standard French word for "pill" is "pilule". The other two pronunciations are the result of a phenomenon called "phonétique combinatoire". A language is not made up isolated sounds, but rather a combination of sounds linked together. The sounds of language are ruled by both inertia and the necessity to keep sounds distinct. These two rules oppose each other : the first one operates to keep the language simple by cutting corners, and the second one works to maintain the distinctions between sounds in order to keep the language from becoming unrecognizable. Both function at the subconscious level, and they don't affect French speakers only. When you say "I'm going to..." do you really pronounce "I'm going to..." or something more like "I'm gonna..." or even "I'm onna"? Ah ha! You see...you're a victim of inertia! (But don't worry. Everyone is!).
Let's start with the word "pilune", which is not a case of inertia, but one of distinction. The two "l"'s in the standard word "pilule" are problematic because they are not distinct. Subconsciously, the articulators (tongue, teeth, etc.) tend to transform sounds that are not distinct into sounds that are in order to better maintain the two sounds; this process is called "dissimilation". In other words, it is easier for the articulators to pronounce an "l" and an "n" instead of two "l"'s. I also found the word "pinule" in my phonetics book (see reference below) though I didn't hear anyone pronounce this at home over break.
Moving on to "pinune", we see that the two "l"'s have disappeared! If I had to guess, I would say that this word is a result of inertia on the word "pilune". Here, the articulators are looking to eliminate the problem of pronouncing two distinct sounds. Scientifically, this is called "dilation progressive" because the "l" exerts an influence on "n" to the right.
Wondering why the "l" and the "n" are replacing each other? Pronounce the letter "n" and then "l". You will see that the tip of your tongue comes to rest right behind your top incisors for both of them.
Can we say one or the other of these pronunciations is right or wrong? Yes and no. According to the standard dictionaries, there is only one word for pill : "pilule". (If this were a competition, my father would be the big winner!) However, consider this : Not one person around the table who heard "pilune", "pinune" or "pilule" misunderstood. All of these pronunciations are considered correct as long as the people who hear them are not confused by the meaning. (So sorry, pops : close but no prize).
Works cited : Martin, Pierre. Éléments de phonétique avec application au français. Les Presses de l'Université Laval. 1996.
C'est ta fête, l'Amérique française! (It's your birthday, French America!)
The year 2004 marks the 400th anniversary of the French presence in North America. What do we know about the first French explorers and settlers?
New France was claimed by Jacques Cartier in 1534 in the name of King Louis I. He sailed from St. Malo in northwestern France. If you have the chance to visit St. Malo (I highly recommend it!), you can see his house and his tomb. French settlement in North America came later, in the 1600's, and it has two stories.
The first one starts at Port Royal in Acadia, (presently Annapolis, Nova Scotia). Though established in 1604, it would be over 25 years before the French would permanently settle there. The first colonists to Acadia came from the regions in France south of the Loire River, notably from Poitou, and they came as families. They are the Acadians.
This story did not last forever. France signed over its Acadian colony to the English with the Treaty of Ultrecht in 1713. The Acadians' refusal to pledge allegiance to the English Crown caused great tension, and in 1755 the English began deporting the Acadians. The deportation is known today as Le Grand Dérangement (The Great Disturbance) The English burned the Acadians' villages, put them randomly on boats, and sent them to New England and mainly the bayous of Louisiana. The deported Acadians are the ancestors of the Cajun people still living there today. (Cajun is derived from the word Acadian).
The English eventually allowed the Acadians to come back to their land, and many did; however, though the culture and the language of the Acadians is still well-rooted in Novia Scotia, New Brunswick and the Maritimes, "Acadia" no longer exists politically.
The second story starts in Québec City, founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain. (Champlain also explored the coast of Maine; in fact, Le Sieur de Monts in Acadia National Park is named after Champlain's first ship mate). The people who colonized Québec came principally from the northwest (like Normandy and Paris), and they came as individuals, not as families. Like Acadia, the province of Québec would be lost to England; in 1763, France ceded Québec to England with the Treaty of Paris. The Québécois were not deported from their land, and their foothold in Canada remains presently strong. And despite being geographically surrounded by English-speaking America and Canada, the French language is very alive and functioning at all levels of society, from family to government.
The Franco-Americans are the descendants of the 500,000 French Canadians who left their homes between 1860 and 1930 in search of work in the textile and paper mills of New England. So whether you speak French or not, if you have a memère and/or a pepère somewhere in your family tree, this year is the 400th anniversary of your ancestors' arrival in North America. I think that's worth celebrating!
|About the author:
Adele Saint Pierre is a native French speaker of Jay, Maine. After receiving her Bachelor's in English Literature from the University of Maine at Farmington, she spent two years teaching in Le Mans, France. She has a Master's in French Literature from the University of Maine, Orono, and is currently working on a Ph.D. in Linguistics at the University of Laval in Quebec. She is the founder and director of Terre pis Ciel, Festival Franco of the Jay/Livermore Falls area,founder of the St. Pierre-Castonguay Scholarship at UMF, and is currently working on a cookbook based on the à-peu-près recipes of her mother and 5 matantes.
After reviving her own French (which had lain dormant for almost a decade), she has become increasingly aware of the importance of helping others see the benefits and beauty of being both bilingual and a part of a rich Franco-American heritage. She launched "Le Coin Français" article series with two goals in mind: to increase awareness and education for the average individual concerning the French language spoken in Maine by providing simple historical and social facts,and to begin the dismantling of the myth that the French spoken in Maine is just a bastardized English with a French accent.
|--These articles first appeared in Livermore Falls Advertiser in Jay/Livermore Falls.|
How do you say "weekend" in French?
Remember the Franco-American who missed his supper at the Parisian's house? Well, now that he is back in Maine, he just happens to run into the same Parisian and his wife in a café! After laughing over their misunderstanding in Paris, the Franco-American says to the Parisians, "Ben, cette fois-citte, ça va être moé qui vous invite à souper! Je vous callerai cette fin de semaine pour fixer le jour et l'heure." ("Well, this time, I'm inviting you to supper! I'll call you this weekend to arrange a day and time"). The Parisian and his wife gladly accept the offer and say they will wait for the phone call. On Friday, the Parisians wait by the phone all day in vain--no phone call from their Franco-American friend. They shrug their shoulders and decide to go skiing for the weekend. On Saturday, when the Franco-American calls the Parisians, he gets no answer. The same thing on Sunday! "Eh ben, câline!" (Well, darn!) he says, and calls up another friend instead.
Now what? Just because the Parisians and the Franco-American have cleared up the confusion between "dinner" and "supper" doesn't mean that there isn't room for more misunderstanding. And this time, it's the "fin de semaine" that comes into question. For the Parisians, "la fin de semaine" means the end of the (work) week, like Friday, and the weekend is called "week-end".
Neither one of these words meaning "weekend" is more French than the other. In fact, they are both borrowed from English. In the case of "weekend" (Paris), it is obvious. The dictionary, Le Petit Robert, cites the word "week-end", in French since 1906. Le Dictionnaire Québécois d'Aujourd'hui does not specify a date for "fin de semaine", but notes that it also comes from the English word, "weekend". The difference between these two anglicismes in the French languages of France and North America is that the first one is a direct borrowing from English, and the second is what we call a "calque", or a literal translation. ("fin" = "end"; "de semaine" = "week").
In my daily life here in Québec, everyone uses "fin de semaine" to mean "weekend". However, on the six o'clock news, the newscasters use the word "week-end". Why is this? According to Anne-Marie Bégin-Beaudoin, my professor of North American French last semester, this is the "purists" at work! In the academic world of Québec, the "purists" are people who believe that the only French is Parisian French. The major criticisms of the "purists" is that Québec French is "old" and contains too many "anglicismes". They would like for Québec French speakers to speak French like the Parisians. As we can see from the case of "week-end" and "fin de semaine", however, their logic sometimes runs askew. The "purists" condemn the use of "fin de semaine" because it is an anglicism, but they propose to replace it with another anglicisme, "weekend"!
Apparently, our Franco-American doesn't get the Canadian French stations at home--if he did, he might have known to say "week-end" to the Parisians and all confusion would have been avoided. But that's okay--they will meet again. And in the meantime, he can keep on using "fin de semaine"--(because if you ask me, I think it makes more sense and it sounds prettier!).
Note: Several weeks ago I published an article entitled "C'est ta fête l'Amérique Française". I made an error in citing Port Royal as the first French establishment in the New World. It should be Ile St-Croix. Thank you to Fred Langlais for bringing this to my attention.
If it looks and smells like English, it's probably French
I left my high school French book on the kitchen table once, and I remember my brother Tom flipping through it and saying that French looked just like English. On first glance, it was a good observation. And like everything, there's a reason for it. (Of course!)
The Vikings started invading North West France in the early part of the 800's AD. They were called the "North men", or Normands. By 911, Charles the Simple ceded over a good part of Northern France, known today as Normandie. The Normands were warriors, but once they settled in the new land, they did not impose their language or their religion on the people already living there. Instead, they intermarried and adopted the French language as their own.
But as history would have it, the Normands just couldn't stay put! In 1066 AD, William the Normand crossed the English Channel and conquered the English. After the conquest, and for over two hundred years, French became the language of the royal court, the aristocrats, the tribunal, and the church. This doesn't mean that French replaced English; rather, they existed side by side. The major result of the daily contact between these two languages is that the English borrowed hundreds of words from the French.
Many of the words that were borrowed during this time are easy to recognize : meager (from maigre), demand (from demander), abandon (from abandoner), and labor (from labourer). Others, however, are not so easy to recognize because the original French word has evolved or been replaced. Caterpillar comes from the Old French word chatepelose. In modern French, we say Chenille (pronounced "shne" or "shnig"), and toast from the Old French word toster, which has since been replaced with rôtir in modern French. Even the word flour is originally French. It comes from flahr de farine.
If at first glance French seems to resemble English, it is not because the French copied the English, but rather because a good deal of English vocabulary has its roots in French. It is understandable that we might be tempted to think otherwise, considering that the opposite is true today. English is an important language in world politics, in technology and in the global market, so many other languages borrow words from it when necessary, the French and the Québécois included. Language borrowing, then, goes both ways. It's a reality that exists in all societies and is a sign that language is a living thing that changes with the times and the situations.
If you get your oil changed or your tires balanced by my brother Tom this week, be sure to tell him that I finally came up with a reply to the remark he made so many years ago, even if he doesn't remember making it. Tell him, also, that he should get his Christmas card sometime next July.
Works cited : Le Français dans tous les sens. Henriette Walter, Éditions Robert Laffont, Paris: 1988.
Is that your final answer?
The last time you had fish chowder for supper, you were-- (check one) :
A) thinking how good it was.
B) considering going for seconds.
C) worried about all the calories you were taking in.
D) wondering what the origin of the word "chowder" was.
I would be willing to bet that noone answered D, but that doesn't mean you might not be interested now that I've brought it up!
According to the Webster's Third New World Dictionary, the word "chowder" comes from the French word "chaudière". Well, well! A "chaudière" is a "kettle" or a "pot". In English, a "chowder" is "a soup or stew of seafood usually made with milk and containing salt pork or bacon, onions, and potatoes and sometimes other vegetables". As we can see, the English borrowed the word "chaudière" from the French, but not the meaning. The English were more interested in the contents of the kettle, not the kettle itself. (If you've ever eaten in a French restaurant, you would understand!)
The irony in this is that Franco-American French speakers like myself turn around and borrow the word from the English while speaking French. For example, I might ask my mother, "On mange-tu la fish chowder pour souper à soir?" ("Are we having fish chowder for supper tonight?") If I asked my mother "On mange-tu la soupe au poisson à soir" ("Are we having fish soup for supper tonight?") she might not know what I am talking about. She might guess after a few seconds, and then she might say, "Fish chowder? Oui." Franco-American French speakers borrow the word "chowder" because there isn't really an equivalent for it in French. If someone said "fish soup" to you, in French or in English, would you immediately think of "chowder"? Probably not. I know I wouldn't.
In France, the French Academy is a small group of linguists who work to create new words to keep up with advancing technology or anywhere else in the domains of life where new words are needed. Québec has its equivalent, the Office de la Langue Française (OLF). What do the Franco-Americans have? Nothing. We are swimming in an anglophone sea ; therefore, if the French equivalent for words like "chowder" are unknown to us, and there is no organization that will invent a word for us, then it is only logical that we borrow from English.
In the case of "chowder", some might say we are just taking back the word that was ours to start with. But it's not that easy...the French themselves did not invent this word, but borrowed it from the Late Latin word "caldaria" (which is also linked to another English word : "caldron", sometimes spelled "cauldron"). So if anyone could complain about other people taking their words, it would be the Romans. But dead men can't talk, so I guess we can do what we want with their words!
To be or not to be formal...
In the past "Coin Français" articles, I have insisted on the fact that the differences in the French spoken in France and in North America are minimal. The French Canadians preserved an accent and a vocabulary after the Treaty of Paris in 1763 which isolated them from France for several hundred years, and of course the daily contact with the English during this time also influenced the vocabulary in French Canada. Another difference to consider is the use of the formal "vous" and the informal "tu".
Both "vous" and "tu" are the equivalent of "you". The difference between them is that "vous" is used to address more than one person (in English, we say "you", "you guys" or "you all" in the south), or it can be used in more formal situations. "Tu" is used in informal situations, when talking to friends or family members.
In France, it is very important to "vous-voie" (use the "vous" form) with people you do not know, or with people in positions of authority. It would be considered rude and presumptuous to say "tu" to someone you just met or to your teacher. However, at any given time, the person you are addressing can say to you, "On peux se 'tutoier'", meaning you can go ahead and use the "tu" form. This happens quickly between people who are of the same age, but rarely would you hear a teacher say this to a classroom of students!
In North America, it is very common for people to use the "tu" form with people they do not know or people in positions of authority. I was surprised during my first week of classes at Laval to hear students use the "tu" form with the professors. One professor even told me to use the "tu" form with her when she heard me address her as "vous"!
Are the French speakers in North America more rude and presumptuous than the French of France? Of course not! A Parisian traveling in Québec might hastily make this judgment, but a simple lesson in French-Canadian history would help clear up the issue and encourage a better understanding between cultures.
As we know, Québec became an English territory in 1763. For a period of time, the English allowed those who wished to go back to France the right to do so. Of the 70,000 French souls in Québec in 1763, only 270 left. Many did not associate themselves with France because they were born in Canada, and also the voyage across the Atlantic was not cheap. The only people who could afford this trip were the elite, upper class citizens. The majority of the population that remained belonged to the working class. The difference between these two classes is that the first tended to be more educated and thus more inclined to use the more formal "vous" while the second is less educated and tends to use the less formal "tu". With the elite gone home to France, the French Canadians who remained continued to use the "tu" form in all situations, and this use became the norm. So when French speakers of North America use the "tu" form in formal situations, they aren't being rude, but simply following the norm they inherited from their ancestors.
This article is based on a discussion from my class "Le Français en Amérique du Nord".
Ever notice how written language doesn't always look like what you are pronouncing? Consider some of the words in the first sentence of this article : Where does the "w" in "written" come from, and why do we write it if we don't pronounce it? This difference between the written word and the spoken word is problematic in French as well. In fact, it has been at the heart of heated discussions of linguists and writers since the 16th century!
The Gaules, who occupied the land mass known today as France before the Roman conquest in around 50 AD, spoke a Celtic language; though this language would eventually disappear in favor of Latin. The Germanic invasions, starting in the 2nd century, would have important consequences on the Latin spoken in France; so much so, that during the 9th century Charlemagne launched a campaign to restore Classic Latin. By this point, though, it was too late. Despite Charlemagne's efforts, history had already decided that the age of Latin was over. The people spoke dialects of Latin that had evolved freely for many centuries ; for political, religious and economic reasons that we won't go into today for lack of space, the particular dialect spoken in Ile de France (Paris) would dominate and evolve into modern French.
For many centuries, though the masses didn't speak or understand Latin, it remained the language of prestige. It wasn't until 1539 that François I signed the "Villers-Cotterêts" which stated that all administrative documents be translated from Latin into French so that the average individual could understand them. But none of this mattered if you were a student at La Sorbonne in Paris : up until the end of the 19th century, classes were held in Latin and you were expected to write your dissertation in Latin!
During the 1500's, politically and culturally, the French were beginning to affirm their identity, and part of this identity involved the codification of the language. In order to be considered great, a country needed to have a language that was well founded in its rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation. At this time in history erupted a huge argument between writers, editors and writers of dictionaries concerning what these rules would be. The "Reformists" like Jacques Peletier du Mans, argued that the written language should resemble the spoken language. For the word "pas", for example, they would suggest eliminating the silent "s" because it cluttered the word and confused the reader.
The "Traditionalists", like Henri Etienne, were adamantly opposed to such changes. The "s" in "pas" served as a reminder of the Latin origin of the word, "passus". For the "Traditionalists", it was important to establish the link between French and its noble and ancient father, Latin.
Who won the argument? Open any French book and you will see that the "Traditionalists" did. Sans problem! (Note the silent "ns" in "sans"!).
This article is based on my class L'Histoire de la langue à travers les textes with Claude Verreault at University Laval.
How Little Mention Was Made
A couple weeks ago I got my hands on a copy of Virginia Plaisted Moulton's A History of Jay, Maine from its settlement as Phips, Canada (1995) which includes photos and vital records from 1795 to 1891. The book is informative and interesting to read and I learned a lot about our town. However, as a Franco-American who is proud of her heritage, I was sad to see how little mention was made about the Franco-American population. (The descendants of Italian and Irish immigrants might feel the same). In fact, if I began reading this book without any particular intention of finding evidence of the Franco-American presence in Jay, I might finish it not knowing that the Franco-American population existed at all! But with a little careful searching, here is what I found :
1. Comparing the lists of names of Jay residents who served in the Civil War and in World Wars I, I found only 2 out of the 58 names in the list for the Civil war were French, but 50 or so years later, 55 French names stand out in the list of 138 names for WWI.
2. Taking a look at the names of priests who presided over St. Rose from 1881 to 1937, only the first two out of the seven were not French names. When the church burned down in 1848, the people of the town gathered to rebuild it. Moulton lists 17 people were directly involved ; ten of them were French. If someone knew nothing about the French-Canadian population, information would tell them what religion they followed.
3. Finally, this is what Moulton writes about the KKK : "Violence was so prevalent during this strike , residents found themselves confronted by the KKK. [...]the Klan burned crosses on Dean's Hill (Spruce Mt.) across from the Catholic Church, Ste-Rose. [...] Some residents in the area remember men, with burning torches, traveling north on Main Street to the Otis Mill (p. 44)." This is interesting. My knowledge of the KKK is that they oppose groups of people who do not share their ideologies and who pose a supposed threat to America just by virtue of the fact that they have a different skin color or go to a different church. It would make more sense that the KKK's presence in Jay would be directly related to the immigrant groups of French-Canadians, Irish and Italians that were coming in large numbers to work at the mills, because they were taking away jobs from "real Americans", they spoke funny, and they practiced a different religion. (The same arguments that come up every time a new group of people come to an area and "threaten" to change the status quo). And it's no coincidence that the KKK chose to burn crosses in view of the Catholic Church, and institution that they oppose. (For more info, see Ben Levine's documentary Reveil : Waking up French).
It isn't uncommon in history books that the working population, certainly the immigrant working population, gets left out, while those who build the enterprises (like the Otis and IP mills) take all the glory. This doesn't mean that these "forgotten" Franco-Americans, as well as the Italian and Irish immigrants, were not important or that they contributed any less to Jay's development. Behind every town's sucess are the people who go to work every day and raise their children in the hopes of providing good lives for them. The French-Canadians who migrated to Jay at the beginning of the last century added a color and uniqueness to Jay that's worthy of mention, not only because they contribute to its history, but also because their descendants continue to live, work and play here, thus securing its future as a lively place to be. Or, if you don't agree that it's a lively place to be, think about how you can change this by contributing to the community with your time and energy. Thus concludes my soap box speech for the week!
...j'ai fermé ma porte a clé...T'as barré ta porte?...J'ai barré ma porte...
As a junior at the University of Maine at Farmington,
I spent a semester abroad in Le Mans, France. I lived in a tiny little
room on the 6th floor of a residence hall at the Université du Maine
au Mans. The doors to the rooms locked automatically, so I often locked
myself out without meaning to. The first time this happened to me, I climbed
down the six flights of stairs to find the concierge, a heavy set woman
who was drinking coffee with a couple other staff members. I said, "Pouvez-vous
venir m'ouvrir ma porte? J'ai barré ma porte pis mes clés
sont dans ma chambre." ("Can you come open my door? I locked my keys in
my room.") She looked at me like I was speaking Chinese. "Barrer la porte",
apparently, is an old expression that comes from a time in history when
people physically locked their doors by sliding a bar across the width
of it. Hence the word "barre". I only learned later (not from her, of course,
because she was too impatient with me to explain the misunderstanding!)
About 3 years later, I found myself at the Univeristy of Laval as a teaching assistant through the University of Maine at Orono caught in the same situation. After searching a while for someone who could help me, I ran into a man who had a huge chain of keys attached to his work belt. Thinking I had learned my lesson, I walked up to him and said, "Excusez-moi, mais j'ai fermé ma porte a clé et j'ai laissé mes clés dans ma chambre. Pouvez-vous venir ouvrir la porte?" (Excuse me, but I locked my door and my keys are inside my room. Can you open my door?). He said, "T'as barré ta porte avec tes clés dans la chambre?" ("You locked your door with your keys in your room?"). I just smiled and thought of my French concierge and how much nicer this man was! It was refreshing to hear him use this expression. After living in France for two years, I thought maybe my parents and relatives had made it up! This man proved me wrong and I was glad to be wrong. Hearing this man use an expression I hadn't heard anywhere else but at home helped me validate the French I was raised speaking rather than think it was strange compared to France French.
According to The Glossaire du parler français
au Canada (Rivard, 1930), the expression "barrer la porte" comes from the
French dialects of Poitou and Saintonge, two regions in France. In old
French, the word "barrer" also meant "fermer, obstruer à l'aide
d'une barre" (to close, obstruct with a bar). This expression can probably
still be heard in these two particular regions by the older people, but
it is not a common part of standard French (as my concierge made it quite
clear!). In Québec today, you can hear both of these expressions.
The use of one or the other depends on the person and the social situation.
The Prime Minister would probably say "fermer à clé" in the
company of the rich politicians, but the average person might come across
as a little snobby if he said anything short of "barrer la porte" to his
friends. The reason you would only hear "barrer la porte" in our towns
is because the French-speakers, unlike the people of Quebec, have not been
exposed to France and its
On being human
Recently, I finished reading Letters to a Young Contrarian (2001) by Christopher Hitchens and was very interested by some of his insights on politics, society and religion. One of my favorite passages discusses Hitchen's reactions to filling out the 'RACE' section on a routine security check form where he worked in New York City. Rather than check off the word white, he would just write human. I have also found myself hesitating in front of these sections while filling out applications for various jobs or school admissions. Usually I check off the word other and fill in the blank with Franco-American. What does it matter, you wonder?
Last year while I was working at the Preble Street
Resource Center in Portland, a specialist on discrimination issues came
to talk to the staff about being more sensitive around different ethnic
groups and counseled us on the ways in which we could prevent friction
and hate between native-born Americans and the various immigrant groups
that used the services of the resource center. Then she listed off the
ethnic groups that have experienced (or are experiencing) discrimination.
When she finished, I raised my hand and kindly pointed out that she had
left out the Franco-Americans. Without hesitating, she looked at me and
said, 'But you are white', as though being white immediately exempted a
person from ever feeling discriminated against. Of course, looking at my
skin, I could not deny her this. But this, I told her, is just the color
of my skin. White people can also belong to ethnic groups, and by all definitions
of the word, Franco-Americans constitute an ethnic group. Though I
In an earlier article, I mentioned the presence of the KKK in Maine. In his documentary, Reveil : Waking up French, Ben Levine discusses some of the hate crimes committed against Franco-Americans. What the KKK and other groups did not like about the French-Canadian immigrants was their language and their religion as well as the fact that they were coming in vast numbers and refusing to assimilate to American life. One of the women he interviews talks about the pressure she felt to hide her French-Canadien ethnic identity behind the color of her skin. This was easy to do because she was white.
I, too, am white, but I am more than just the color of my skin! And I despise filling out the 'RACE' section of application forms because the only option that suits me is white. My history as a Franco-American is not the same as that of the traditional Anglo-Saxon protestant of New England. German-Americans, Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans...they too have something in common that makes them unique groups of people whose history and culture is not accounted for if they check of the word white. What I like about Hitchen's idea, then, is this : if I have to be a part of a greater group that doesn't allow for details, I would rather that group be human than white. Being human suggests, at least, that I have something in common with ALL groups of people, whether those groups be poor or rich, educated or not. But then, I like wearing my Franco heritage on my sleeve; thus, in the future, I may just fill in the blank with Franco-American Human.
Blé d'Inde, anyone?
When a person speaks, she uses a vocabulary that is ingrained and understood both for her and the person being addressed. There is no need to stop and think about these words and what they mean. But it's still fun sometimes to isolate a word and find out exactly where it comes from and what it means. In fact, that is my favorite part about studying North American French.
Take the word Blé d'Inde for example. Blé d'Inde means "corn". If I had to write this word the way I grew up pronouncing it, it would look more like this : blédeng. If you break down the word into its parts, the first one (blé) means "wheat", and the second one - which is actually two words ? (de + Inde = d'Inde) means "of India". How does wheat of India come to mean "corn"?
According to the Petit Robert de la Langue Française, the word blé didn't mean "wheat" until 1160. Blé has its origins in the Francique word blad, meaning "product of the earth". The word blad is itself a derivation of the Indo-European root-word bhle- or bhlo- meaning "flower" and "leaf" respectively. (These roots are also found in English bloom, in German blume, and in Netherlands Dutch bloem meaning "flower" or "flour"). Finally, in Gallo-Roman (a Latin-based language of the Gaules who lived in France at the beginning of the Christian era) the word blada took on the meaning of "harvest". From this information, we could hypothesize that blé d'Inde doesn't really mean "wheat of India", but something more like "harvest of India" or "product of India". I know very little about the agriculture of India, but perhaps at one time France imported corn from India and this product then became associated with this country. In any case, we know that at one point in history, blé d'Inde meant "corn" in France because we can find this word with this meaning in the dictionaries Littré and Larousse.
In France the word for corn is maïs. Again, according to the Petit Robert, maïs was borrowed from the Haïtian word maiz and is attested in the French language since 1544. The date that this word was adopted into French is interesting and helps explain why in Quebec and New England we continue to say blé d'Inde. Jacques Cartier claimed New France in 1534 and the first colonists began settling here in 1604. If the word maïs is attested in the French language since 1544, this doesn't mean that everyone started using it instead of blé d'Inde overnight! In an age without phones, email, television and radio, it would take perhaps several centuries for the word maïs to completely replace blé d'Inde. And during these centuries of transition from maïs to blé d'Inde in France, the colonists in New France were saying blé d'Inde. After the conquest in 1769 ? a little over 300 years after the apparition of the word maïs in France ? the Quebecois would be cut off from France and therefore no longer subject to the influences of language change in France.
Finally, if you look up blé d'Inde in the Glossaire du Français Parlé au Canada, (1930), you will see that it took on several other meanings unique to Quebec. Pousser un blé d'Inde is "to insult someone" or just plain old blé d'Inde! can be used as a sort of swear word. I am not sure if anyone still uses this word with these meanings. I've never heard it used, but it would be funny (and nice) to imagine a world in which people yell blé d'Inde at each other rather than a few other choice words I know.
A bouquet of flour
In the last Coin Français article, I talked about the origins of the word blé d'Inde. This got me thinking about another word that I'd like to discuss today : fleur meaning "flour". (We pronounce this word more like flahr).
A person who has studied Parisian French and has no knowledge of the history of the language and its implantation in North America may, upon hearing the word fleur used to mean "flour" by a Franco-American, immediately assume that it is simply the English word flour pronounced à la française. Here's what he might deduce : In English, flour and flower have the same pronunciation regardless of their difference in meaning. In Parisian French, fleur means "flower", but not "flour". This second meaning is represented by the word farine which is clearly different in pronunciation than fleur. Therefore, the Franco-American must be confused! He or she must have taken the English word flour and just pronounced it with a French accent! Hey! that's not real French!
Oh, but it is, silly French student! Fleur de farine is a term that means "la partie la plus fine de farine" (the most delicate, highest quality part of flour). You can find this definition in the dictionary Littré (1863), as well as in the Dictionnaire du Français Plus (1987). It is also important to note here that the word farine is not unknown to Franco-Americans. In fact, you can hear both of these words used interchangeably if you listen long enough, though from my experience fleur tends to dominate. In any case, if there was confusion somewhere along the lines concerning this word, it had nothing to do with English, and it certainly didn't start with the Franco-Americans.
The Glossaire du Français au Canada or GPFC for short (1930), lists the word fleur with the meaning "flour", stating of course that it is a simplification of the expression fleur de farine, and that fleur de farine comes from the French dialects proper to Normandy and Ardenne in northwest France. From this we can assume that the first French colonists in North America were already using the word fleur to mean "flour" when they landed here and that this use continued to be used in Quebec. But according to the Dictionnaire Québécois d'Aujourd'hui - and my Québécois friend Myriam - , the Québécois today use farine and not fleur for "flour". So when did farine replace fleur in Quebec? Not before 1930, at least, if we consider its presence in the GPFC. And by 1930, the immigration of 900,000 Québécois to New England had reached its end. Those immigrants brought with them the language they inherited from their parents and grandparents, the word fleur included.
Dieu et Clovis (God and Clovis)
So far in the Coin Français articles, we've focused mostly on some of the particularities of the language. This week, I would like to focus on a cultural aspect of the Franco-Americans: the importance of the Catholic Church in our history and thus its consequences on our traditions.
France hasn't always been France. The first inhabitants were called the Gaules. They were conquered by the Romans around 50 A.D. and adopted the latin language and roman way of life. When the Germanic tribe, the Francs, began invading in the 400's A.D., the country was called Gallo-Roman. Clovis was the first king of the Francs. In 496, Clovis converted to Catholicism after marrying Clothilde, a Christian. This conversion was by no means an act of love, but rather a political move. At this time in history, the Catholic Church was a new institution of great wealth and power; thus, anyone who aligned himself with it would reap the benefits.
Clovis' conversion would forever unite France with the Catholic Church, and thus subsequently New France. After the French ceded Quebec to the English in 1763, the French in Quebec turned to the Church as its sole guide and guardian.
The Church took on this role, and encouraged a practice called Revenge of the Cradle. Under English rule, but with the freedom to speak their own language and practice their own religion, the French people would rise against the English--not with guns, but with children. People were encouraged to have large families in order to ensure a large population of French speakers amidst the English conquerers. In fact, the secretary at the TLFQ library at the University of Laval said her mother remembers the local priest going from door to door to check on the married women: those who were pregnant received his praise, and those who weren't were told that they were in a state of sin!
From 1860 to 1930, about 900,000 French-Canadians crossed the borders into the New England states to find work in the factories here. They came with their religion and their language. Still dedicated to the Church, they continued to have large families, at least for the first couple of generations, whether or not they were even aware that they were following a tradition. Most Franco-Americans my age today cannot claim to have 10 brothers and sisters like I do, but ask them how many sisters and brothers their parents or grandparents had, and you'll be surprised to learn that it could be anywhere from 10 to 20! "Oh, my God!", you may say. But really, God wouldn't have anything to do with it if Clovis hadn't converted in 496.
Works cited: Le français dans tous les sens. Henriette Walter, Paris, 1988.
A little word with a big history
One of my favorite North American French words is "itou" (pronounced ee-too), meaning "also" or "too". This is not because it sounds any better than any of the other French words you might hear spoken around town or because it's any more poetic. It is simply because this word provided the bridge I needed to cross over from one attitude I used to have (that Franco-American French is not "real French") to the one I have now (Franco-American French is as real as it gets).
When I first went to Le Mans, France, on exchange for a semester during my junior year at UMF, I joined the university choir. One of the songs we sang was written by an old woman (who was dead at the time we were singing) who had lived her whole life in the countryside of Western France. I am not sure exactly which region. The song caught my attention not only because my name was in it: "Bonjour mam'zelle Adele je viens exprËs pour vous; on me dit que vous Ítes si belle je veux Ítre votre Èpoux" ("Good day miss Adele, I came to see you; they say you are so lovely I want to marry you"), but also because the word "itou" was part of the lyrics!
I remember the choir director, Evelyn, coaching us on the proper way to pronounce the words. What she wanted, in fact, was for us to sing as though we had the French-Canadian accent! I don't remember if any of the other words in the text were particular to North America, but I remember being fascinated by the presence of that little word, "itou". Was it possible, I thought? I had always assumed that this word was just an anglicized version of the English word "too". Finding this word in the song was monumental for me because it was the first time I had ever seen, in writing, a word that I thought only people in Jay used when they spoke French.
Maybe you're thinking, "Well, maybe this woman lived alongside some English speakers or something...maybe she lived in England for a while and picked up the word over there..." Et non! In the Glossaire du Parler Francais au Canada, Rivard lists the word "itou" and notes that it comes from Old French as well as from the dialects proper to twelve different regions of France, all of them in the West where the majority of the original colonists come from. He also notes that the word is sometimes pronounced as "etou" or simply "tou". The Acadian Dictionary by Poirier notes that the word may come from "et tout" meaning "and everything".
Chances are, you will not hear the word "itou" used today outside of the Franco-American pockets of New England or maybe amongst some of the older folks living in Quebec. In standard French, we say "aussi". Of course, just like we saw in a previous article about flour where I said that we can hear "fleur" used interchangeably with "farine" by Franco-Americans, it isn't unheard of to hear them use the word "aussi" as well as "itou". Again, all this shows is that the vocabulary used by the Francos is that much richer than standard French vocabulary which has, through history, eliminated the use of "itou" in favor of "aussi". Franco-American French: 2 points. Standard French: 1 point.
Right as Rain
Last summer I read a book called Right as Rain by Bernice Richmond (1946), a native of Livermore Falls. The book recounts the goings-on of Livermore Falls at the turn of the 1900's. The narrator is Bernice Richmond herself as a little girl who grows into an adult by the end of the book. I thought Right as Rain was marvelous. Not only is it well-written and interesting, it also has enormous historical value, giving us modern folks an idea of the way things were and how people lived.
What was most interesting to me about this book was the author's mention of the French-Canadian influx into town. Bernice's grandmother lived on the other side of the bridge, in Livermore, and from her porch they watched "the procession of Canadian French" back and forth to the mill. Bernice says her grandmother had no fault with these immigrants. One day, they watched bare-foot children run across the bridge and jump into their father's arms and the old woman told her granddaughter to note of how much the children loved their fathers.
Regardless of the kind and generous outlook the grandmother shared with her young granddaughter about the French, Bernice was also making her own observations from her parent's house on Main Street in Livermore Falls. From her bedroom at night she could her "strange words" and when she went for walks with her mother after supper, they would always turn around at the "line" between Chisholm and Livermore Falls. From her side of the line, she could see "tiny, unpainted shacks built close together, torn curtains streaking from the window and groups of barefoot children playing in the center of the dusty road".
She also heard talk from her neighbors about the new immigrants : "they spend all their earnings on Saturday night getting drunk" and "the men beat up their wives and children". Bernice said that she felt that the French were "unwanted, unwelcome [...] and unclean".
Whether or not Bernice's description of the French-Canadians is positive or not, it does offer an insight into the lives of those early immigrants. Those "shacks" they lived in, were actually the tenement buildings built quickly and cheaply by the mills to house the large numbers of immigrant workers. If the curtains were torn and the children were barefoot, it's because they were poor (and this is not a crime). And no one's a saint. Drinking is a way to drown your sorrows, and I'm sure being poor and uneducated, a foreigner and overworked for little pay would drive many to drink! As for beating on wives and children, I'm sure there must be some truth to this as well, but this is true of all people, particularly those who, like I just mentioned, might take their anger and frustration about being poor and overworked out on their wives and children. (If you ask me, any poor immigrant population new to an area will get accused of having these same tendencies, so I take it with a slight grain of salt).
Things change, though. As we know, the French have become a part of the community. The integration has come at the cost of language loss and even a loss of awareness on the part of many about their French ancestry. In Right as Rain we see an early instance of the crossing of the lines between the French and the non-French. In her old age, the grandmother adopts a young girl, Mildred, who grows up and marries a young French-Canadian boy. At this time, Bernice is an adult so it must be at least the mid-nineteen thirties. The author describes him as being "full of good health and good nature", and says that "his first name is so hard to pronounce" that she just calls him "Beau" (said like "bow").
I chuckled when I read this. The author grew up fairly well-to-do (she says at one point that she got everything she wanted for Christmas plus a pocket watch, and her family is the first in town to own a car ? I wonder if it's the one that hit and killed my Aunt Jeanette's brother in 1909?). Regardless of her grandmother's generous outlook on the French-Canadians, regardless of Mildred's marriage to a French-Canadian and despite the changing times, we still see the author's reticence to fully accept the French-Canadians. By simply tagging the boy with a name that was easy for her to pronounce rather than make an effort to pronounce his real name (which is quintessential to a person's character), Bernice keeps the line between "them and us" drawn, at least for herself. (At this time in history, I'm sure she wasn't alone).
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about the history of our towns and would like to thank Joyce Spurlin of Cleveland, Tennessee (a one-time resident of Chisholm) for bringing it to my attention.
"blé d'inde"--"maïs soufflé" ou "popcorn" is "popcorn" pronounced à-la-française, of course...
Last May I substituted at Jay Middle School and ran into Jean Gilbert who commented on the Coin Français article about "blé d'inde" (corn) in which I had written that the French use the word "maïs" to mean "corn". She told me that she had gone to a sports game in Canada and heard vendors yelling out that they had "maïs soufflé" (popcorn) for sale. This got me thinking about the way the Quebecois and the French go about naming objects that have North American origins.
In France, if you went to a movie theatre and you wanted popcorn, and you asked for "maïs soufflé", the person behind the counter might look at you funny. First, he'll wonder what "maïs soufflé" is, and when he figures it out, he'll wonder why anyone would want to eat during a movie. (It's not the custom in France to eat during movies, really.)
In France, the word for "popcorn" is "popcorn" pronounced à-la-française, of course. According to the dictionary Le Petit Robert, this word appeared in the French language around 1893 but only began to be used regularly after 1946.
The word "popcorn" has also existed in Quebecois French. However, the Quebecois chose to replace "pop-corn" with "maïs soufflé". This choice can help us understand something about the Quebecois culture and their attitude towards language.
In Quebec, the word for "corn" is "blé d'Inde". Why did the Quebecois chose to replace "popcorn" with "maïs soufflé" instead of "blé d'Inde soufflé"? And then again, why did the Quebecois feel a need to replace the word at all, considering in France it is perfectly acceptable to borrow the word "popcorn" directly from the English?
I'll start by answering the second question first. If you check out the Glossaire du Francais Parler au Canada, you'll see this commentary attached to the word "popcorn" : "disparaît (heureusement)". ("disappearing (thankfully)). One thing is clear. English words that made their way into the vocabulary of the French in Quebec was not looked upon favorably. English was seen (and is still seen) as a vicious enemy that needed to be fought off in order to keep the French language pure. The French of France, apparently, do not have this worry. They adopted the word "popcorn" directly without fear that it would invite t.otal destruction of their language over time. This difference is easy to explain. The French of France are not surrounded by the English language like the French of Quebec and the threat of take-over is less imminent.
The response to the first question relates to a desire the Quebecois had during the early part of the 1900's to rekindle their ties with France, especially in the language domain. So, despite the fact that the Quebecois had a perfectly good word to signify "corn", that is "blé d'Inde", they opted to use the France-French word "maïs" instead.
Imagine the struggle of making this choice! In order to be "more French", they should have kept the word "popcorn" because that's what the French of France had been using since 1893...but the Quebecois were trying to avoid English! And they couldn't very well have chosen "blé d'Inde soufflé" because the French didn't recognize this word. The solution? A compromise: maïs soufflé. Both of these words are recognizable to a French person, and can therefore be understood by them, and at the same time, neither w.ord is English. I am happy to report that no one was maimed, hurt or killed in this small struggle of words in the long battle for keeping the French language alive in North America.
What's in a name?
This semester, I am taking a seminar in lexicography
(the study of dictionaries) with Jean-Claude Boulanger and the theme for
the seminar is "La place du nom propre dans le dictionnaire" (The proper
name in the dictionary). All of the students had to pick a topic from a
list that professor Boulanger gave us, research it, write a 15 page paper
on it and present our findings in a 30 minute session in class. I picked
"La formation du nom de famille au Québec" (The formation of the
family name in Quebec) because I wanted to add the twist of the Franco-American
family name. I really enjoyed this research project and had a difficult
time keeping my presentation to only 30 minutes because there is so much
to say about the family name!
Works cited : Dauzat, Albert (1946) Les noms de personnes: origine et évolution, Paris, Librarie Delagrave.
What's in a name?
Finally... the week has passed and you can find out why Franco-American family names with non-connected and half-connected articles (Le or La, meaning "the") are so numerous while in France and Quebec they are relatively rare. Most likely, the town clerks at the turn of the last century are responsible. There is no proof for this, but it is easy enough to reconstruct the scene. A French-Canadian immigrant goes to the town office to get a marriage license, pay his taxes, or register a vehicle. Perhaps theT town clerk, who was conscious of the fact that the French language contains articles, separated the article or capitalized the letter of the word following the article when he registered this person's name. Or, maybe the town clerk didn't understand the name and asked that the person repeat himself slowly. In repeating slowly, the person would most likely say La or Le (wait a few seconds) and then the rest of the word, like Fleure, for example. I said last w! eek that there are cases of these variations iTn the Quebec phone book. They are minimal, though. For example, out of the 500 plus Labrecques in Quebec, only one of them spells his name La Brecque. Perhaps this La Brecque is the descendant of someone who went to work in the New England factories just long enough for his name to be changed before coming back to live in Quebec. This is very possible because many immigrants did return to Quebec. But according to my professor Jean-Claude Boulanger, the changing of names is probably a recent fashion in QuebTec. People simply want to distinguish themselves with a name that is spelled just a little differently from the norm.
The town clerks were responsible for other changes in French family names. These changes weren't acts of maliciousness but simply based on their interpretation of what they were hearing. Some of the more obvious ones concern the loss of accents in names like Labonté to Labonte, the loss of the final silent "e" in names like LaBarre to LaBarr or Labranche to Labranch, and the simplification of double consonnants in names like Labonneville to Labonville and Lahousse to Lahouse.
It is very common in North American French to pronounce "e" like an "a" in certain words, especially in front of "r". (like "ferme" which is pronounced "farme" - this has nothing to do with English influence because this pronunciation existed in the dialects of France!). So, when Monsieur LaBerge pronounced "LaBarge" to the town clerk, that is what the town clerk wrote!
Sometimes the spelling of a French name looks like an English word. This can also be explained by way of the town clerk's interpretation. When the French person pronounced his name, the town clerk wrote something "close to" how he thought the word might be spelled, and because he spoke English, naturally he borrowed words or spelling formations that were familiar to him and that were "close enough". Some examples include Labbé to LaBay/La Bay, Ladebauche > Ladebush, LaCroix > LeCraw, Ledoux > LaDew; Leduc > LaDuke and LaHaye > Lahey. Because these are not translations, the original meaning of the words are lost, but I won't go into that now.
And finally, there are the translations. As immigrants, the pressure to assimilate is great. One way to hide your "foreignn- ness" is to translate your name into it's English equivalent : Abbot from Labbé (l'abbé); Branch from LaBranche; Coombs from LaCombe; Cross from LaCroix; Duke from Leduc; Fountain from LaFontaine; and Plant from LaPlante.
The observations I made in the last two articles are only the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty more particularities and differences concerning Franco-American family names to look into, but (again!) for lack of space, we have to stop here! (But this doesn't mean you can't investigate further on your own!)
Past and Present
I am reading The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner. The main character is reading to his wife from journals he had kept while traveling to Denmark. I found one passage of particular interest : "Something happens to immigrants [...] who left the old country they were at home in in order to better themselves in the land of opportunity. [...] Forever will they love [...] the old sod. They bring it all with them in its 1890 or 1900 version, and they plant it in America without modification and then spend the rest of their lives defending it ÿagainst change, while in the old country what they knew changes so as to be unrecognizable. (p. 34)"
I was struck by this passage. Stegner's character, who is the son of an immigrant woman from Denmark, could easily be talking about the Quebecois immigrants : the dates coincide with the height of their immigration to New Enland, and the reason for their coming ? to better themselves ? is the same. Under English rule, the average French-Canadians were poor and poorly educated. They were also devout Catholics who followed the rule of the church, la revenche des berceaux (the revenge of the cradle), that I mentioned in an earlier article. The immigrants who came to New England continued to live this life and guard their values, passing them on to their children with great conviction. Like Stegner's immigrants, the Quebecois immigrants feared change.
During the 1960s, through their work, Quebecois artists and writers began questioning the norms of their culture and highlighting the problems they considered detrimental to their future. Politicians and economists began fighting for the right to govern and work in French, educators began fighting for the right to use French as the language of instruction in public schools. In 1960, for the first time since 1763, a politician name Jean Lesage made an official visit to France with the hopes of renewing educÿational, cultural, political and economic ties with France.
This movement is what we call today the Quiet Revolution. Without spilling any blood, the French-Canadians took control of their own destiny. They wanted their future to be out of the hands of the Church which had been pushing them to raise large families they could not feed and thus prolonging their poverty and preventing them from going to school and climbing the social and economic ladder. By assimilating to the English-Canadian way of life, they could have easily accomplished this, but they wanted their future to be in French. In order to ensure themselves oÿf this, they needed political recognition and solid educational institutions, they needed to unite as one people with one vision, and that vision was to live in French in North America with the same status as an English speaker.
From what I have seen from my time in Quebec, they have succeeded. The Quebec I know is not the one my grandparents would recognize, just as Stegner says. And to be completely honest, I am quite glad that it is not. I love traditions and I think it is important to celebrate and remember our heritage. However, I think it is equally important to look to the future and consider the ways in which the French language and culture of Franco-Americans can survive complete assimilation. In my opinion, if there is tÿo be a future for Franco-Americans, it needs to be forged in a decided manner, gathering its strength through education and political backing on both the local and state level, and renewing our ties with the very modern neighboring Quebec. In other words, there needs to be a second Quiet Revolution right here in Maine!
What's in a Place Name
In the weeks past, I spent a lot of time talking about family names. Here's some news you can use on place names. In a prior Coin Français article (from quite a while ago, I believe!), I mentioned that Québec was founded in 1608 and that Québec is an American-Indian word that means "where the river narrows".
The river in question is the Saint Laurent, or the St. Lawrence, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. And because it flows into an ocean, it is called a fleuve rather than a rivière which flows into a lake or other water source. In all my travels, it is the widest river I have ever seen. Last winter I was surprised to see that it had completely frozen over. I didn't think a salt water river with such strong currents could freeze over ; this should tell you how cold it gets in Quebec! The Saint Laurent is a major route of transportation, though, so all winter long the ice is broken up by barges in order to allow the passage of cargo ships.
After 1608, further expeditions brought explorers further into the heart of North America by route of the Saint Laurent. Like all explorers of the era, the French were looking for the famous passage to the Indies. Along the way, they settled at two more places : Trois-Rivières and Montréal. These two places, along with Québec, make up the original Colonie Laurentide, laurentide being a reference to the river.
Trois-Rivières, which means simply "three rivers" was founded in 1634, exactly one hundred years after Jacques Cartier claimed New France for King Louis the 14th. If you happen to have a map of Québec, you will see that between Québec and Trois-Rivières, the Saint Lawrence thins out quite significantly, but that it widens into something that looks almost like a small lake just south of Trois-Rivières. From the south end of this "lake" flow two of the three rivers that give this city its name, the other floÿwing into it is at its north end. (I am not sure what the names of these rivers are; the maps I have do not name them).
Finally, Montréal was founded in 1642. The geographical situation of Montréal is interesting. Again, if you look at a map, you will see that the Saint Lawrence forks, coming back together after a while. In between the place it splits and comes back together is Montréal, an island essentially. Like Québec and Trois-Rivières, the word Montréal also has a story. Réal is a noun or an adjective that means "royal". The Petit Robert de la Langue Française notes that réal is attested in the French language since the 1500's but that it is no longer a common word today. Montréal then, means something like "royal mountain". I have a cousin named Real. The next time any one of you sees hime, tell him that his name means "royal"...but that he shouldn't let it get to his head!
How to swear like a Frenchman
I was with a friend the other day and he let fly a great big swear word : "stie". Before coming to Quebec, I had never heard this word used before. Now I hear it all the time. It's simply a shortened version of the word "hostie", which is the wafer representing the body of Christ that Catholics go to receive from the priest during mass. I asked one my professors, Jean-Claude Boulanger, about it and according to him the word came into use in Québec during the 1920's. Since most of the immigrants were established in the Jay area way before this time, this explains why we don't hear it used around here. But more importantly, why in the world does this word qualify as a swear word?
First, consider the swear word in general. In English, most swears are taboo words related to parts of the human body or sexual relations. In France, the same thing is true. You can also hear words like "bordel" and "putain" which mean "whore house" and "whore" used in daily speech. Because it is forbidden to speak openly in public about these taboo things, they become parts of our language reserved for moments when anger overcomes us, we are surprised, etc., and they are poorly received by the cultured ear.
In Quebec, like in France and America, the people also use taboo words to express anger, frustration, surprise or as fillers when speaking. The difference is the source of the taboo.
As I've mentioned more than once in previous articles, the Catholic Church and its teaching is omnipresent in the history of Quebec, certainly after the defeat by the English in 1759. After this date, the Church became the sole guardian and leader of the people. The people were loyal to the Church and regarded all things about her as sacred. For this reason, the most sure-fire way to express your anger, frustration or surprise in Quebec was to use words related to the church.
In Quebec, then, you can hear people use three different kinds of swear words : those that you might hear in France - these are called "des jurons"; and those that are related to church items that you can only hear in North America - these are called "des sacres". The third kind are the softened, polite versions of the second. The Quebecois were and still are pretty ingenious when it comes to warping the original word so that it doesn't carry the full meaning - or the full consequences - of belting out a " sacre".
Some of my favorites include "Crimme" and "Cristophe" from Christ; "tabernouche", "taberouette" and "tabernack" from tabernacle; "mautadit" and "mardit" from "maudit" and "câlinne" from câlice. In the event that you ever hear a Franco start stringing these words together, like "mautadit tabernack" or better yet "câlinne de crimme de calvaire!", the first thing you should do is just get the heck out of the way! (Imagine in English hearing someone whose just smashed his finger with a hammer yell out the equivalent : "chalice of Christ of the calvary!"... It just isn't the same!)
Well, now that I have acted in a most blasphemous way and you all think I am going straight to H-E-double hockey sticks for writing down all these words... let me just remind you that you have just committed the blasphemous act of reading them!
On being Canadian
Today if you hear the word Canadien (or Canadian for you Anglos out there), you probably make the association with people who live in Canada, and if I dare assume, most likely it's the English population that comes to mind. Of course you are exactly right. The dictionary Petit Robert gives this definition for les Canadiens : "les habitants du Canada. Les Canadiens anglais. Un Canadien français (Acadien, Québecois), qui parle franco-canadien". (Unfortunately, the dictionary leads us to believe that French Canadians can only be found in the maritimes and Quebec, but there are communities throughout Canada as well... but that's another story!).
This definition that I just quoted, however, is a fairly recent as far as the history of languages go. It's only during at the beginning of the 1800's that the word Canadien took on this meaning.
The word Canada, again according to the Petit Robert, is a word of Huron origin meaning "village". It was Jacques Cartier who borrowed this word to name the country. It dates back to 1535. So, during the 1500's and half of the 1600's, the word Canadiens or, as it was sometimes spelled, Canadois, was simply used to describe the American Indian populations living along the Saint Lawrence River.
By the mid to late 1600's, the word took on a different meaning. By this time in history, the French colony was pretty well established and there were people of French descent living in New France who were also born in New France. Mixed in with the permanent population, you could find French soldiers and administrators who were only passing through for a couple years to work or explore the new territory. Thus, in order to distinguish the two groups of French people, the word Canadien began taking on the meaning of "People born in Canada". The first time this word ever appeared in print, in the composed version of Canadien français with this meaning, was 1688. By the early 1700's the word Canadien this became the exclusive meaning. No one thought of American Indians anymore when they said Canadien.
After the English conquered Québec, the term Canadien became even more anchored in the society to mean "born in Canada of French ancestry" in order to distinguish the French from the English who were simply called les Anglais. By the early 1800's the term Canadien anglais came into being and thus begins the era in which Canadien takes on the meaning we have today : someone born in Canada. We distingish the English from the French by tacking on français or anglais at the end.
However, the story doesn't end there. Most likely if a person is born and raised in Québec, she will call herself first a Québécois and not a Canadien français, a term which is used more often for French speakers who live outside the province of Québec. If a person is of Acadien descent, he refers to himself as a Français d'Acadie because the term Canadien is traditionally reserved for francophones living in Quebec, not Acadia.
Those of you who are regulars of the Coin Français articles have read more than a handful of times in these articles that languages borrow from each other. French is a product of Latin that has, through the centuries, borrowed from the Celts, the Germanic tribes, the English, and a number of other languages. (In France today, the Arabic language exercises a great influence on the vocabulary).
North American French has and still does borrow mainly from English by simple virtue of the fact that it is surrounded by English. Today I want to talk about a special case of borrowing that I find very interesting that we discussed last week in my Anglicismes seminar with Claude Poirier at Laval University.
The word robineaux (or robineause if you're a woman), according to the Dictionnaire Nord-Américain de la Langue Française, means "he/she who drinks alcohol in secret; a drunkard". Though this word follows all standards of French pronunciation and spelling, you won't find it in the Petit Robert dictionary of France. The reason is both historic and social.
Robineaux is derived from the word robine which
is a francisized pronunciation and spelling of the English word rubbing
(alcohol). In Canadian French, robine means "rubbing alcohol" or "bootleg
liqueur". Someone who drinks "bootleg liqueur" (or even
In this case, the word that was borrowed was rubbing. The borrowing entailed a modification of pronunciation and spelling of a word coming directly from English, which results in what is called an "anglicisme". However, the word robineaux is not considered an "anglicisme" for the simple reason that is not borrowed directly from English. It is a word that is derived from an Anglicism, and though it may owe its existence to English, it is technically called a "creation" because it was created, not borrowed.
According to my professor, M. Poirier, the Quebecois no longer use robine to mean "rubbing alcohol". What's more, aside from those of us who study languages, most people who use the word robineaux probably have no idea that it comes from the anglicism robine. Since the 1960's, the anglicisms in the French vocabulary of Canada have diminished quite a bit. However, robineaux has survived. Since I've been living here, I have heard it used on several occasions. But don't worry, mum, no one has used it on me!
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|N.D.L.R.: How this exchange came about [--connections,
I hope the festival in Waterville went well. I've been submitting articles lately to the Livermore Falls Advertiser in Jay/Livermore Falls, Maine about the French spoken in our towns. Julia Schulz mentioned to me that you might be interested in putting them in your 'ezine as well. I've cut an pasted the latest one into this email, so if you are interested, please consider using it...
...Merci for the info about the web site. I did
a little surfing on it last night and I really like it. I wish I had known
about it before...it's quite a resource, and the people/organisations who
use it as one are quite impressive.