Wednesday, June 14, 2006

French Renaissance in the State of Maine.

As we mentioned in a post some time ago, the state of Maine has (comparatively) quite a few French speakers. That's because Maine has a history of strong French influence:
Not surprising in this part of the world, the first European settlers in Maine were a French party in 1604 (including famous explorer Samuel de Champlain). The French named the area that includes Maine as Acadia.

More interestingly though is the situation today. The five largest ancestries in the state are:
English (21.5%), Irish (15.1%), French (14.2%), American (9.4%), French Canadian (8.6%).
Maine is second only to New Hampshire in the percentage of French Canadians in a U.S. state. It also has the largest percentage of non-Hispanic whites of any state and the highest percentage of current French-speakers.
Census figures also show Maine has a greater proportion of people speaking French at home than any other state in the nation, a result of Maine's large French-Canadian community. That's also because people of French descent poured into Maine and other New England states from Canada beginning in the 1870's and became the backbone of textile mills and shoe factories.

It is all relative of course : only 5.3% of Maine households are French-speaking, compared with 4.68% in Louisiana. (In Maine, Spanish is the third most spoken language at 0.8%, followed by German and Italian).

According to this New York Times article (from June 4), and against all odds, French is making a comeback in Maine.
The State Legislature began holding an annual French-American Day four years ago, with legislative business and the Pledge of Allegiance done in French and "The Star-Spangled Banner" sung with French and English verses.
Now of course, a French (from France) would not necessarily be so quite sure the language people speak there is really French. Just like French speaking Canadians can sometimes be hard to understand for people from France:
French-American French, derived from people who left France for Canada centuries ago, resembles the French of Louis XIV more than the modern Parisian variety, said Yvon Labbé, director of the French-American Center at the University of Southern Maine.
French-Americans may say "chassis" instead of "fenêtre" for window, "char" instead of "voiture" for car. Mr. Labbé said many French-Americans pronounced "moi" as Molière did: "moé." A saying illustrated French-Americans' inferiority complex about their language: "On est né pour être petit pain; on ne peut pas s'attendre à la boulangerie" ("We are born to be little breads; we cannot expect the bakery").


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