Ore. — Local native languages teeter on the brink of oblivion all over the world
as the big linguistic sweepstakes winners like English, Spanish or Mandarin ride
a surging wave of global communications.
But the forces that are helping to flatten the landscape are also creating new
ways to save its hidden, cloistered corners, as in the unlikely survival of
Siletz Dee-ni. An American Indian language with only about five speakers left —
once dominant in this part of the West, then relegated to near extinction — has,
since earlier this year, been shouting back to the world: Hey, we’re talking.
(In Siletz that would be naa-ch’aa-ghit-’a.)
“We don’t know where it’s going to go,” said Bud Lane, a tribe member who has
been working on the online Siletz Dee-ni Talking Dictionary for nearly seven
years, and recorded almost all of its 10,000-odd audio entries himself. In its
first years the dictionary was password protected, intended for tribe members.
Since February, however, when organizers began to publicize its existence, Web
hits have spiked from places where languages related to Siletz are spoken, a
broad area of the West on through Canada and into Alaska. That is the heartland
of the Athabascan family of languages, which also includes Navajo. And there has
been a flurry of interest from Web users in Italy, Switzerland and Poland, where
the dark, rainy woods of the Pacific Northwest, at least in terms of language
connections, might as well be the moon.
“They told us our language was moribund and heading off a cliff,” said Mr. Lane,
54, sitting in a storage room full of tribal basketry and other artifacts here
on the reservation, about three hours southwest of Portland, Ore. He said he has
no fantasies that Siletz will conquer the world, or even the tribe.
Stabilization for now is the goal, he said, “creating a pool of speakers large
enough that it won’t go away.”
But in the hurly-burly of modern communications, keeping a language alive goes
far beyond a simple count of how many people can conjugate its verbs. Think Jen
Johnson’s keypad thumbs. A graduate student in linguistics at Georgetown
University, Ms. Johnson, 21, stumbled onto Siletz while studying linguistics at
Swarthmore College, which has helped the tribe build its dictionary. She fell in
love with its cadences, and now texts in Siletz, her fourth language of study,
with a tribe member in Oregon.
Language experts who helped create the dictionary say the distinctiveness of
Siletz Dee-ni (pronounced SiLETZ day-KNEE), or Coastal Athabascan as it is also
called, comes in part from the unique way the language managed to survive.
Most other language preservation projects have a base, however small, of people
who speak the language. The Ojibwe People’s Dictionary, for example, which went
online this year, focuses on one of the most widely spoken native languages in
Canada and the Upper Midwest.
The 12 other dictionaries financed in recent years by the Living Tongues
Institute, a nonprofit group, in partnership with the National Geographic
Society — which helped start the Siletz dictionary project in 2005 and now uses
it as a blueprint — are all centered on languages still in use, however small or
threatened their populations of speakers may be. Matukar Panau, for instance, an
Oceanic language of Papua New Guinea, has about 600 speakers remaining, in two
Siletz, by contrast, had become, by the time of the dictionary, almost an
artifact — preserved in song for certain native dances, but without a single
person living who had grown up with it as a first language.
There were people who had listened to the elders, like Mr. Lane, and there were
old recordings, made by anthropologists who came through the West in the 1930s
and 1960s, but not much else. Mr. Lane wants to incorporate some of those
scratchy recordings into future versions of the dictionary.
What can also bridge an ancient language’s roots to younger tribe members, some
new Siletz learners said, is that it can sound pretty cool.
“There are a couple of sounds that are nowhere in the English language, like
you’re going to spit, almost — kids seem much more open to that,” said Sonya
Moody-Jurado, who grew up hearing a few words from her mother — like nose
(mish), and dog (lin-ch’e’) — and has been attending with a grandson Siletz
classes taught by Mr. Lane.
“They’re trailblazers, showing the way for small languages to cross the digital
divide,” said K. David Harrison, an associate professor of linguistics at
Swarthmore who worked with the Siletz tribe and the other partners to build the
dictionary. Professor Harrison said he went to Colombia recently, talking to
indigenous tribes about preserving their languages, but when the laptops opened
up, the Siletz dictionary, with its impressive size and search capabilities, was
the focus. “It’s become a model of how you do it,” he said.
When settlers were streaming west in the 1850s on the Oregon Trail and
displacing American Indians from desirable farmland, government Indian policy
created artificial conglomerates of tribes, jamming them into one place even
though the groups spoke different languages and in many instances had little in
The Siletz people were among the largest bands that ended up here on this spit
of land jutting into the Pacific Ocean. By dint of their numbers, their language
prevailed over other tribes, and their dances, sung in Siletz, became adopted by
other tribes as their cultures faded.
“We’re the last standing,” Mr. Lane said.
But the threat of oblivion was constant. In the 1950s, the tiny tribe was
declared dead by the United States — a “termination” from the rolls, in the
jargon of the time. The Siletz clawed back — clinging to former reservation
lands and cultural anchors in songs and dances — and two decades later, in the
mid-1970s, became only the second tribe in the nation to go from nonexistence to
federally recognized status. The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians now have
about 4,900 enrolled members and a profitable casino in the nearby resort town
of Lincoln City.
School was also once the enemy of tribal languages. Government boarding schools,
where generations of Indian children were sent, aimed to stamp out native ways
and tongues. Now, the language is taught through the sixth grade at the public
charter school in Siletz, and the tribe aims to have a teaching program in place
in the next few years to meet Oregon’s high school language requirements,
allowing Siletz, in a place it originated, to be taught as a foreign language.
RIVERTON, Wyo. — At 69, her eyes soft and creased with age,
Alvena Oldman remembers how the teachers at St. Stephens boarding school on the
Wind River Reservation would strike students with rulers if they dared to talk
in their native Arapaho language.
“We were afraid to speak it,” she said. “We knew we would be punished.”
More than a half-century later, only about 200 Arapaho speakers are still alive,
and tribal leaders at Wind River, Wyoming’s only Indian reservation, fear their
language will not survive. As part of an intensifying effort to save that
language, this tribe of 8,791, known as the Northern Arapaho, recently opened a
new school where students will be taught in Arapaho. Elders and educators say
they hope it will create a new generation of native speakers.
“This is a race against the clock, and we’re in the 59th minute of the last
hour,” said a National Indian Education Association board member, Ryan Wilson,
whom the tribe hired as a consultant to help get the school off the ground. Like
other tribes, the Northern Arapaho have suffered from the legacy of Indian
boarding institutions, established by the federal government in the late 1800s
to “Americanize” Native American children. It was at such schools that teachers
instilled the “kill the Indian, save the man” philosophy, young boys had their
traditional braids shorn, and students were forbidden to speak tribal languages.
The discipline of those days was drummed into an entire generation of Northern
Arapaho, and most tribal members never passed down the language. Of all the
remaining fluent speakers, none are younger than 55.
That is what tribal leaders hope to change. About 22 children from
pre-kindergarten through first grade started classes at the school — a
rectangular one-story structure with a fresh coat of white paint and the words
Hinono’ Eitiino’ Oowu’ (translation: Arapaho Language Lodge) written across its
Here, set against an endless stretch of windswept plains and tufts of
cottonwoods, instructors are using a curriculum based on one used at the Wyoming
Indian Elementary School to teach students exclusively in Arapaho. All costs
related to the school, which has an operating budget of $340,000 a year, are
paid for by the tribe and private donors. Administrators plan to add a grade
each year until it comprises pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade classes.
“This environment is a complete reversal of what occurs too often in schools,
where a child is ridiculed or reprimanded for speaking one’s heritage language,”
said Inée Y. Slaughter, executive director of the Indigenous Language Institute,
a group in Santa Fe, N.M., that works with tribes on native languages.
“I want my son to talk nothing but Arapaho to me and my grandparents,” said
Kayla Howling Buffalo, who enrolled her 4-year-old son, RyLee, in the school.
Ms. Howling Buffalo, 25, said she, too, had been inspired to take Arapaho
classes because her grandmother no longer has anyone to speak with and fears she
is losing her first language.
Such sentiments are not uncommon on the reservation and have become more
pronounced in the five years since Helen Cedar Tree, at 96 the oldest living
Northern Arapaho, made an impassioned plea to the tribe’s council of elders.
“She said: ‘Look at all of you guys talking English, and you know your own
language. It’s like the white man has conquered us,’ ” said Gerald Redman Sr.,
the chairman of the council of elders. “It was a wake-up call.”
A group of Arapaho families had sent their children to a pre-kindergarten
language program for years, but it was not enough. Heeding Ms. Cedar Tree’s
words, the tribe began using Arapaho dictionaries, night classes, CDs made by
the tribe, and anything they could find to help resuscitate the language. In the
end, “we knew in our hearts that immersion was the only way we were going to
turn this around,” said Mr. Wilson, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe.
He was referring not just to the potential for the Arapaho language’s extinction
but to a host of other problems that have long plagued the vast reservation,
which the tribe shares with the Eastern Shoshone.
“Language-immersion schools offer an environment that goes beyond teaching the
language,” Ms. Slaughter said. “It provides a safe place where a child’s roots
are nurtured, its culture honored, and its being valued.”
According to tribal statistics and the United States Attorney’s Office in
Wyoming, 78 percent of household heads on the reservation are unemployed, the
student dropout rate is 52 percent and crime has been rising.
Most recently, in June, three teenage girls were found dead in a low-income
housing complex. The F.B.I. has not yet released autopsy results, but many
tribal members think drugs or alcohol were involved. The deaths left the
reservation reeling. Officials here hope that the school will herald a positive
change, just as programs elsewhere have helped native youth become
conversational in their tribal languages, enhancing cultural pride and
participation in the process. A groundswell of language revitalization efforts
has led to successful Indian immersion schools in Montana and New York.
Studies show that language fluency among young Indians is tied to overall
academic achievement, and experts say such learning can have other positive
“Language seems to be a healing force for Native American communities,” said
Ellen Lutz, executive director of Cultural Survival, a group based in Cambridge,
Mass., that is working with the Northern Arapaho. At a recent ceremony to
celebrate the school’s opening, held in an old tribal meeting hall, three young
girls sang shyly in Arapaho. Behind them, a row of elders sat quietly, their
faces wizened and stoic, legs shuffling rhythmically as familiar words carried
through the building.
“They are the ones who whispered it on the playground when nobody was looking,”
Mr. Wilson said, referring to the elders. “If we lose that language, we lose who
This article has been revised
to reflect the following
Correction: October 20, 2008
Because of an editing error, an article on Friday about a new school in Wyoming
that will teach students in Arapaho in hope of preserving the language described
similar schools in Hawaii incorrectly. They are native Hawaiian language
schools; they are not Indian immersion schools like ones in Wyoming, Montana and
This article has been revised
to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 23, 2008
An article on Friday about a new school in Wyoming that will teach students in
Arapaho in hopes of preserving the language referred incorrectly to the school’s
curriculum. The curriculum, which will be taught in the Arapaho language, is
based on a curriculum used at the Wyoming Indian Elementary School, a public
school that teaches its students in English and adheres to Wyoming state
education standards. The state did not specifically approve an Arapaho
curriculum for the new school.
September 18, 2007
Filed at 2:44 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON (AP) -- When every known speaker of the language Amurdag gets
together, there's still no one to talk to.
Native Australian Charlie Mangulda is the only person alive known to speak that
language, one of thousands around the world on the brink of extinction.
From rural Australia to Siberia to Oklahoma, languages that embody the history
and traditions of people are dying, researchers said Tuesday.
While there are an estimated 7,000 languages spoken around the world today, one
of them dies out about every two weeks, according to linguistic experts
struggling to save at least some of them.
Five hotspots where languages are most endangered were listed Tuesday in a
briefing by the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages and the
National Geographic Society.
In addition to northern Australia, eastern Siberia and Oklahoma and the U.S.
Southwest, many native languages are endangered in South America -- Ecuador,
Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia -- as well as the area including British
Columbia, and the states of Washington and Oregon.
Losing languages means losing knowledge, says K. David Harrison, an assistant
professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College.
''When we lose a language, we lose centuries of human thinking about time,
seasons, sea creatures, reindeer, edible flowers, mathematics, landscapes,
myths, music, the unknown and the everyday.''
As many as half of the current languages have never been written down, he
That means, if the last speaker of many of these vanished tomorrow, the language
would be lost because there is no dictionary, no literature, no text of any
kind, he said.
Harrison is associate director of the Living Tongues Institute based in Salem,
Ore. He and institute director Gregory D.S. Anderson analyzed the top regions
for disappearing languages.
Anderson said languages become endangered when a community decides that its
language is an impediment. The children may be first to do this, he explained,
realizing that other more widely spoken languages are more useful.
The key to getting a language revitalized, he said, is getting a new generation
of speakers. He said the institute worked with local communities and tries to
help by developing teaching materials and by recording the endangered language.
Harrison said that the 83 most widely spoken languages account for about 80
percent of the world's population while the 3,500 smallest languages account for
just 0.2 percent of the world's people. Languages are more endangered than plant
and animal species, he said.
The hot spots listed at Tuesday's briefing:
-- Northern Australia, 153 languages. The researchers said aboriginal Australia
holds some of the world's most endangered languages, in part because aboriginal
groups splintered during conflicts with white settlers. Researchers have
documented such small language communities as the three known speakers of Magati
Ke, the three Yawuru speakers and the lone speaker of Amurdag.
-- Central South America including Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia
-- 113 languages. The area has extremely high diversity, very little
documentation and several immediate threats. Small and socially less-valued
indigenous languages are being knocked out by Spanish or more dominant
indigenous languages in most of the region, and by Portuguese in Brazil.
-- Northwest Pacific Plateau, including British Columbia in Canada and the
states of Washington and Oregon in the U.S., 54 languages. Every language in the
American part of this hotspot is endangered or moribund, meaning the youngest
speaker is over age 60. An extremely endangered language, with just one speaker,
is Siletz Dee-ni, the last of 27 languages once spoken on the Siletz reservation
-- Eastern Siberian Russia, China, Japan -- 23 languages. Government policies in
the region have forced speakers of minority languages to use the national and
regional languages and, as a result, some have only a few elderly speakers.
-- Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico -- 40 languages. Oklahoma has one of the
highest densities of indigenous languages in the United States. A moribund
language of the area is Yuchi, which may be unrelated to any other language in
the world. As of 2005, only five elderly members of the Yuchi tribe were fluent.
The research is funded by the Australian government, U.S. National Science
Foundation, National Geographic Society and grants from foundations.
WASHINGTON, July 29 — Voice of America, the
government-sponsored news organization that has been on the air since 1942,
broadcasts in 44 different languages — 45 if you count Special English.
Special English was developed nearly 50 years ago as a radio experiment to
spread American news and cultural information to people outside the United
States who have no knowledge of English or whose knowledge is limited.
Using a 1,500-word vocabulary and short, simple phrases without the idioms and
clichés of colloquial English, broadcasters speak at about two-thirds the speed
of conversational English. But far from sounding like a record played at the
wrong speed, Special English is a complicated skill that takes months of
training with a professional voice coach who teaches how to breathe properly and
Mario Ritter, a Special English writer and producer, arrived at Voice of America
five years ago with many years of experience. Mr. Ritter has been training for
six months to be a Special English broadcaster. In August, he said, he will be
ready to go on the air live.
“It’s kind of ironic that I normally speak slowly, but it doesn’t give me a leg
up in being a Special English broadcaster,” Mr. Ritter said.
Shelley Gollust is chief of Special English at Voice of America. “People in this
country have likely never heard of Special English,” Ms. Gollust said, “and, if
they have, they often don’t understand the significance of it to people in other
countries. They hear it and make fun of how slow it is.”
A 1948 law prohibits Voice of America from broadcasting in the United States,
but audio and text files of Special English are on the Voice of America Web
Students and teachers in other countries say Special English is a good learning
tool. “I like that the program is based on 1,500 words,” Sarah Paulsworth said
in an e-mail message from Azerbaijan, where she works as a journalist and a
volunteer English teacher. “It is a very tangible goal for students. I can
literally see some of my students counting the words they know.”
A vocabulary of 1,500 words is adequate for news reporting, but for features and
biographies, more words are allowed if they are explained in the context of the
Words can be added or dropped from the vocabulary. “Sabotage,” a word used often
in the World War II era, may be dropped because it is rarely used in news
Jim Huang Jiwen, a 69-year-old mechanical engineer from Hangzhou, China, said he
had listened to Special English on the radio for more than 20 years and, more
recently, on the Internet. He said it had helped him improve his ability to
write and understand English.
“The pronunciation is beautiful, the sentence is sweet and short, and the
content is interesting and friendly to our daily life,” he said in an e-mail
message, adding that he particularly liked technical programs.
François Rennaud, 56, a teacher at a vocational school in Paris, has found
Special English useful in his business and economics classes. “It closes the gap
between textbook English and traditional broadcasts such as BBC or CNN, which
are too difficult for the average student,” Mr. Rennaud said.
A Special English editor at Voice of America, Avi Arditti, said: “There is a
fine line between simplifying and simplification. It’s not so much simplifying,
but clarification. Simplifying can seem somewhat demeaning. You’re not dumbing
it down, but you’re making it understandable to your audience whether they have
Ph.D.’s or are in middle school.”
But some listeners, like Ali Asqar Khandan, 36, an assistant professor from
Tehran, said Special English seemed like “a special program for advertising
American life and culture, not a simple radio station for broadcasting news or
“We hear this message everywhere: not even in education reports and culture
reports, but in science reports and agriculture reports,” Mr. Khandan wrote in
an e-mail message.
The link between learning English and learning about America has been a constant
thread in the debate in Congress this year about revising immigration policy.
But at home, the Special English branch at Voice of America would support the
use of its programming for recent immigrants in a bilingual model if the law did
not prohibit it.
“If new immigrants could turn on their radios at 8 o’clock and listen to a
half-hour of Special English to listen to the news, it would be very
beneficial,” Ms. Gollust said.
Mr. Ritter added, “That would be a great use of a resource that already exists.”
July 22, 2006
The New York Times
By ELIZABETH JENSEN
The PBS documentarian Ken Burns has been
working for six years on “The War,” a soldier’s-eye view of World War II, and
those who have seen parts of the 14-plus hours say they are replete with salty
language appropriate to discussions of the horrors of war.
What viewers will see and hear when the series is broadcast in September 2007 is
an open question.
A new Public Broadcasting Service policy that went into effect immediately when
it was issued on May 31 requires producers whose shows are broadcast before 10
p.m. to adhere to tough editing requirements when it comes to coarse language,
to comply with tightened rulings on broadcast indecency by the Federal
Most notably, PBS’s deputy counsel, Paul Greco, wrote in a memo to stations, it
is no longer enough simply to bleep out offensive words audibly when the camera
shows a full view of the speaker’s mouth. From now on, the on-camera speaker’s
mouth must also be obscured by a digital masking process, a solution that PBS
producers have called cartoonish and clumsy.
In addition, profanities expressed in compound words must be audibly bleeped in
their entirety so that viewers cannot decipher the words. In the past, PBS
required producers to bleep only the offensive part of the compound word.
Since May 31, bits of dialogue have been digitally obscured about 100 times in
four PBS programs, most often in two episodes of the music documentary “The
Mr. Burns, in an interview, said he was not worried that his work, which he
called a “very experiential take on the Second World War,” would be affected by
the policy, noting that while the series includes some “very graphic violence,”
there are just two profanities, read off camera.
But several other senior public broadcasting executives said “The War” was
likely to become a test case for PBS and the F.C.C.
The series includes language for which the F.C.C. has previously issued fines,
said a PBS spokeswoman, Lea Sloan. “At this point, the only thing we can do, and
fit the guidelines as they are laid out, is to make sure the series airs after
10 p.m,” outside the F.C.C.’s “safe harbor” zone of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., when
children are most likely to be watching, Ms. Sloan said.
Mr. Burns, perhaps best known for his prize-winning series “The Civil War,”
insisted that “The War” would be shown in the preferred time slot of 8 p.m. He
said he was “flabbergasted” that F.C.C. policy was being applied to
documentaries, particularly when President Bush himself was inadvertently heard
using vulgar language, broadcast on some cable newscasts, at the recent Group of
Eight summit meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia.
He added that he hoped PBS and public television stations could unite and “stand
our ground” in opposing the self-censorship sought by F.C.C. policy, but he
noted that “we’ve also experienced as a family the devastating consequences, and
it is not something that any station or any executive wants to see repeated.”
In March, the PBS station KCSM in San Mateo, Calif., was fined $15,000 over
profanities in “The Blues.” That fine is being appealed.
Ms. Sloan said PBS had to institute the policy after successive F.C.C. rulings
steadily narrowed what is permissible. Moreover, legislation signed into law
last month by President Bush increased by a factor of 10 the fines for broadcast
indecency, to $325,000 a station for each instance.
That was “a real deal breaker,” Ms. Sloan said. “For many of our stations, a
single fine of that magnitude would put them into bankruptcy.”
PBS plans to ask the F.C.C. to re-examine its policies regarding documentary
programming. “We believe that there is a place for documentary filmmaking that
uses language in context,” Ms. Sloan said.
The F.C.C. declined to comment. An F.C.C. official, who did not want to be named
because the issue is the subject of litigation, noted that “there aren’t any
cases where the commission has fined a broadcaster when an obscenity has been
inaudible” but not digitally obscured, adding that “the commission’s analysis
always takes context into account.”
Margaret Drain, the vice president for national programs at WGBH in Boston, said
her station was already examining how it would probably have to edit references
to sexual activities in a coming “Masterpiece Theater” production, “Casanova.”
She said that while she understands how PBS arrived at its policy for
documentaries, the station might not adhere to it for series like “Frontline”
and “The American Experience,” particularly when tackling war topics where
strong language reflects reality.
“The decisions we make in the future, to pixelate or not, may put us in the
position of negotiating with or telling PBS about our position,” she said.
Ms. Sloan of PBS said, “This is an unhappy situation for all of us and we’re
very concerned about the situation,” but added that producers are required to
submit F.C.C.-compliant material.
In mid-June, shortly after the PBS edict, “Frontline” scheduled a last-minute
rebroadcast of an episode on the Iraqi insurgency and digitally obscured the
mouth of a soldier. Ms. Drain said that the same decision might not be made
today, “now that we’ve had time to absorb everything.”
Producers are in a difficult position, she said. “What we’re trying to do is do
our work and bring the same kind of high-quality broadcast programs to the
public. We don’t want to overreact, and we don’t want to self-censor.”
As for “The War,” Ms. Drain called it “the perfect test case for the F.C.C.,
because who’s going to take on veterans of this country who put their lives at
risk for an honest, just cause?”
“It’s not pornographic; it’s not scatological,” she said. “It’s an emotional
expression of a reality they experienced, and it’s part of the historical
SOUTH FREEPORT, Me. — Frederick Levesque was
just a child in Old Town, Me., when teachers told him to become Fred Bishop,
changing his name to its English translation to conceal that he was
Cleo Ouellette's school in Frenchville made her write "I will not speak French"
over and over if she uttered so much as a "oui" or "non" — and rewarded students
with extra recess if they ratted out French-speaking classmates.
And Howard Paradis, a teacher in Madawaska forced to reprimand French-speaking
students, made the painful decision not to teach French to his own children. "I
wasn't going to put my kids through that," Mr. Paradis said. "If you wanted to
get ahead you had to speak English."
That was Maine in the 1950's and 1960's, and the stigma of being French-American
reverberated for decades afterward. But now, le Français fait une rentrée —
French is making a comeback.
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.
Maine elected its first openly French-American congressman, Michael H. Michaud,
in 2002. And Gov. John E. Baldacci has steadily increased commerce with
French-speaking countries and led a trade delegation to France last fall, one of
the first since tension with France began after the Sept. 11 attacks. In an
interview, the governor, who is of Lebanese-Italian descent and studied Russian
in high school, added, "I've been working on my French."
The Franco-American Heritage Center, opened in Lewiston a few years ago, fines
guests at its luncheons up to a dollar if they lapse into English — jovial
retaliation for the schools that once gave students movie tickets or no homework
if they squealed on French speakers.
"Reacquisition classes" and conversation groups have sprung up at places like
the South Portland Public Library, giving people a chance to relearn their
mothballed French. Census figures show Maine has a greater proportion of people
speaking French at home than any other state — about 5.3 percent.
And in South Freeport, there is L'École Française du Maine, a French-immersion
program that began as a preschool in 2001 and proved so popular it has added a
grade each year. Many students have French-American parents who were estranged
from the language, and some commute long distances to the school.
"My dad grew up speaking only French and went to school and got teased by other
kids, and he wanted to spare his kids that experience, so both my wife and I are
kind of a generation that got skipped," said Bob Michaud, whose son, Alexandre,
attends second grade at L'École Française, 45 minutes from home. "I'm doing it
because I want Alex to learn more about our heritage and background."
The school has made Anna Bilodeau, 8, and her brother Markus, 7, so fluent that
they routinely speak French with their grandmother Arlene Bilodeau, 68, who
regrets that she did not ensure her own children were well versed in French.
"It made me feel sad — this was our language," Ms. Bilodeau said. "When I hear
Anna and Markus speaking, I just admire what they're doing."
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. But resistance developed, and people began stereotyping the newcomers
as rednecks, dolts or inadequate patriots. In 1919, Maine passed a law requiring
schools to teach in English.
French-Americans had a saying: "Qui perd sa langue, perd sa foi" ("Who loses his
language, loses his faith"). But many assimilated or limited their children's
exposure to French to avoid discrimination or because of a now-outmoded belief
that erasing French would make learning English easier.
"There was just a stigma that maybe you weren't as bright as anybody else, that
you didn't speak English as well," said Linda Wagner, 53, of Lewiston, who takes
classes to reclaim language lost as a child.
Suzanne Bourassa Woodward, 46, of South Portland, who recently joined a
conversation group and enrolled her 10-year-old daughter in French classes, said
"my French went underground" in fourth grade because "I was ridiculed, the dumb
Frenchman jokes came out."
"After that," she said, "my parents would always speak to me in French, but I
always responded in English."
As recently as the early 1990's, a character named Frenchie, who caricatured
French-Americans, was a fixture on a Maine radio show until protests drove him
off the air.
The stigma was compounded by the French-American dialect, which can differ from
French spoken in France in idiom, pronunciation, vocabulary — like British and
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
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
"We were always told that we spoke bad French, that we were worthless as people
because we spoke neither French nor English," said Ms. Ouelette, 69.
Indeed, when Jim Bishop, son of Fred Bishop (né Frederick Levesque), took high
school and college classes to recapture French "it was just a nightmare," he
said. "At times I would say words and they would turn out not to be real words."
Maine's French renaissance is partly due to the collapse of the mills and
factories, which put French-Americans into the mainstream. It was aided by a
group of legislators who in 2002 began holding weekly meetings in French.
The revival includes both French-American patois and culture, celebrated at
places like the Lewiston center, and Parisian language and curriculum, taught at
L'École Française. The government of France is also involved, seeing "very big
potential" to "develop trade relations, tourism," said Alexis Berthier, a
spokesman for the French consulate in Boston, which is promoting programs and
events in Maine and working to establish sister cities.
Most Maine schools, like those elsewhere, teach considerably more Spanish than
French. But for those like Norman Marquis of Old Orchard Beach, who takes
reacquisition classes, the resurgence of his lost language is profound.
"It's almost like I found religion," said Mr. Marquis, 68, suddenly choking with
emotion. "My religion, No. 1, was French. I have a personal movement in my heart
Ariel Sabar contributed reporting from Augusta, Me.,
WASHINGTON, May 26 — What happened to the
Maybe it went the way of his poll numbers. Maybe this is a newly reflective
President Bush. Or maybe the first lady had her say.
Whatever the case, when Mr. Bush said at a news conference on Thursday night
that he regretted some personal mistakes, like declaring "bring 'em on" in 2003,
he seemed a little like the chastened husband who finally admitted he had done
something wrong. Whether it worked or not depends on whom you ask.
"Sad day in Crawford, they're hanging their heads," said William J. Bennett, the
former education secretary and conservative radio talk show host. Mr. Bennett
said many of his listeners expressed dismay at what they considered Mr. Bush's
"One of the attractive things about the president is that he talks Texas," Mr.
Bennett continued. "But what broke my heart is when he said, 'I need to be more
sophisticated.' What is this, Kerry talk? Is he going to use 'elan' the next
time he speaks?"
Hold on a minute, said Kenneth M. Duberstein, President Ronald Reagan's last
chief of staff. "The country loves mea culpas from the president," Mr.
Duberstein said. "It makes them human. This is part and parcel of the influence
of Josh — making sure you don't go out there and thumb your nose at the entire
"Josh" is Joshua B. Bolten, the new White House chief of staff, who was reared
inside the Beltway, educated at Princeton and has never uttered a Texas
colloquialism that anyone has heard.
Mr. Bush's Texas twang intensifies and recedes depending on the setting. But he
has always prided himself on being plain spoken. When it comes to military and
national security, he made the heaviest use of Texas talk in the first term,
initially after the Sept. 11 attacks and then after the Iraq invasion.
On Sept. 15, 2001, Mr. Bush declared that he would go after the perpetrators of
the World Trade Center attack and "smoke them out of their holes." On Sept. 17,
2001, Mr. Bush declared that he wanted Osama bin Laden "dead or alive." On July
2, 2003, Mr. Bush taunted militants attacking American forces in Iraq with
"bring 'em on."
White House officials have defended his Texas talk as the kind of plain-spoken
language Americans like to hear, but Laura Bush has at times tried to rein him
in. In a widely reported comment at the time, Mrs. Bush sidled up to her husband
after he said he wanted Mr. bin Laden "dead or alive" and asked, "Bushie, are
you gonna git 'im?"
On Thursday, in response to a question about what he thought was his biggest
mistake, Mr. Bush termed his words "kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the
wrong signal to people." He added that "I learned some lessons about expressing
myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner" and that "in certain parts
of the world it was misinterpreted."
White House officials would not say Thursday whether Mr. Bush's response had
been planned, but they did say they had prepared for the question. In fact, they
have prepared for the question ever since John Dickerson, then of Time magazine,
asked Mr. Bush at a news conference in April 2004 if he could name the biggest
mistake he had made, and Mr. Bush, struggling, said nothing popped into his
But Mr. Bush's comments were his most personal so far about mistakes he has
made, and they mirrored, friends said, his private conversations.
"What he did last night, which was obviously thought out, was the most complete
public expression of what's happened," said Tom Rath, a New Hampshire Republican
with ties to the White House. "Anybody who has seen him talk about it privately
has seen that he's been consumed with this for three years."
Others were less impressed and said Mr. Bush had made far worse mistakes. "If
there were decisive mistakes, these were not them," said Paul Burka, senior
executive editor of Texas Monthly, who closely followed Mr. Bush when he was
Texas governor. "It's easy to say that he was popping off. But then you get to
issues like should the Iraqi army have been disbanded, did Bremer know what he
But Mr. Burka, who was referring to L. Paul Bremer III, the former top American
civilian administrator in Iraq, said Mr. Bush's Texas talk was popular in the
"I don't think he ever had a self-reflective moment in Texas," Mr. Burka said.
"And let me tell you, even worse, we liked it that way."