France & New England-Volume 3

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by Allan Forbes & Paul Cadman

 This is the third volume of a series published during the 1920s that was prompted by the 100th anniversary of the visit of the Marquis de Lafayette to America at the end of his life to farewell the country he had helped establish, and his presence at the dedication of the Bunker Hill monument.  Long out of print, the set has been difficult to acquire.

 More than two million Americans speak French as a first language, and more than eleven million Americans are of French descent.  In Maine (which at one time was a part of Massachusetts) there is a French-American Day when the legislature conducts business in French, says the Pledge of Allegiance in French, and sings the Star Spangled Banner in French. Prejudice has been replaced by appreciation and reacquisition classes conducted in public libraries to help French Americans recover their laFrance and New England 3 COVER copy copynguage.

 One challenge is that New England French is different from modern Parisian French. It would be readily understood by Louis XIV, and Yvon Labbé, director of the Franco-American Center at the University of Maine illustrates this: “French-Americans may say “chassis” instead of “fenêtre” for window, “char” instead of “voiture” for car… many French-Americans pronounced “moi” as Molière did: “moé.” A saying illustrates 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”).

 This trilogy on the links between France and America that Westphalia has now published should help in some small way to fill a gap in knowledge about an important part of American history, and of the advantages of having such sturdy foundations for the continuing friendship between the two countries. The nearness of Quebec and the Maritimes to New England should guarantee that the French connection will remain significant. It has been the quietest of histories for too long.