“Use your tongue” (speak French)

“Use your tongue” (Speak French)

By Louise Peloquin

Before PIP #9, here’s a throwback on Thanksgiving 1944.


 L’Etoile November 22, 1944


in times of war is different than that in times of peace.

Let us be grateful for our victorious armies, for those who maintain their faith in good despite oppression, for the hope of a just and durable peace, for an abundant harvest. Let us strive to always keep the traditions of this typically American holiday alive.

Rare Turkeys.
                                                                          SUPER Quality MARKETS  (1)       


 In 1944, Lowell offered options to those who chose to eat out.


L’Etoile November 22, 1944

Lowell Center’s Most Comfortable Restaurant

CELEBRATE HERE THANKSGIVING                                                                DELICIOUS TURKEY DINNER


Orders prepared to take out

Above Schulte’s Cigar Store

Lowell Center’s Most Comfortable Restaurant


Go have fun at the Tremont Café on the eve of Thanksgiving

  •  Good cocktails
  • Good wines
  • Various liquors

Tremont CAFE

Corner of Tremont and Moody Streets


 Use your tongue (PIP #9)

Last week’s November 14th peek into the past showed how many young Lowellians had courageously served in World War 1, among them many Franco-Americans. The latter’s bilingualism was an asset on battle fields in the Somme, L’Aisne and other hot spots.

The first excerpt reports on French teaching to the military.

The second brings up a diehard debate about linguistic “purity.”


L’Etoile, July 9, 1917

Teaching French to the Military

     The Massachusetts Public Education Bureau will have French courses given to American soldiers of the state bound for France. This fact proves once again that the knowledge of French cannot harm anyone, on the contrary. Franco-Americans, urged at times to abandon their mother tongue because English is the official language in this country, would be very mistaken to listen to these people who, most of the time, having lost their own language, demonstrate the renegade’s zeal to engage others to follow their bad example.

     Knowing two languages, said an eminent pedagogue, is being twice the human being. There is certainly a superiority in whoever masters English and French, as the Franco-American conscripts will realize once they are in France. They will find it very practical and even advantageous to know how to speak French.

     If Mr. Harold Gosselin, a young compatriot from New Hampshire, was named secretary of General Pershing’s staff in France, it is precisely because he knows both languages well. It is a great honor, owed in large part to his knowledge of French.

     The time has therefore come to congratulate ourselves for having the intelligence and the common sense, despite the chauvinists and the short-sighted francophobes, to conserve… this beautiful heritage, this sweet language which comes to us from our ancestors’ country, the land we are called today to defend, along with other Americans, against Teutonic barbarity.

     We shall thus continue to have our children learn French, without prejudice to English, which is the official language of this republic….

     To conclude, here is information on the French courses for the military:

      The project received approval from General Sweetser, commander in chief of the National Guard troops of our state. These instructors will all be French-language American citizens who are not of military age and therefore are not concerned by the enlistment. The courses were prepared by the French officials who presently manage the Harvard University officer training school. These courses will include daily conversation and teaching military terms and expressions. The American officers and soldiers will be taught about French currency and measurements, French army formations, French geographical terms.

     The Federal Government will pay for the instruction given to the troops.

     The regular army troops will be able to follow this teaching exactly like the National Guard. Special attention will be given to pronunciation. Each class will be made up of 20 students.

      All of the officers seem to be enthusiastic about the Public Education Bureau project. The instructors will soon be named. It is assured that many French-origin Americans will be among them.

     The favour which the French language presently enjoys in Massachusetts has spread all the way to the state of New York. Indeed, dispatches inform us that the many French-language merchants of Plattsburg, where the vast officer training camp is located, have resolved to speak only French to the members of the military who patronize their establishments in order to teach them to converse in this language.

     We know that two thirds of Plattsburg’s population is made up of people whose fathers came from Canada.

     Police Chief Sénécal gave the order to all Franco-American agents to respond in French to all questions posed by the men in uniform….

     This great war will have an unexpected result in the United States by familiarising hundreds of thousands of American officers and soldiers with the French language. We are convinced that upon their return from France – those who will not have fallen on the field of honor, of course – proud of having been able to express themselves in French, will honor us with their esteem for having preserved … the beautiful language which they will have learned to love, and they will then realize that the legend of a French-Canadian “patois” was only a myth.

 It is indeed the case to say – out of bad comes good; every cloud has a silver lining. (2)


 L’Etoile, July 14, 1917

 The Canadian Dialect

      Many people are lead into error by the Courrier-Citizen’s Washington correspondent who announced that Mr. François-Xavier Delisle, private secretary of Lowell Congressman Rogers, had just entered into General Pershing’s staff as interpreter with the rank of lieutenant because of his knowledge of pure French and of the Canadian DIALECT.

      The term “dialect” mystified many people.

     It is obvious that Mr. Delisle is simply speaking of the French which he learned with his family and on the benches of the Collège Saint Joseph with his other classmates. This knowledge of French won him the post of interpreter and we congratulate him. The Courrier-Citizen should have simply mentioned the fact that Mr. Delisle speaks and writes French without uselessly adding his “Canadian dialect” which leads to believe that the dialect spoken in Franco-American communities and in the province of Québec essentially differs from real French.

      The legend of the Canadian patois is difficult to uproot, which explains why we are a bit touchy in this respect.

      But the fact is that we speak a French dialect in the strict meaning of the word, much like the inhabitants of Brittany speak the Breton dialect and the inhabitants of other French provinces express themselves in their own dialect. Naturally, they all speak French. According to the dictionaries, a dialect is a regional variety of a national language. There is the Parisian dialect, otherwise known as “Parisian French” which is so dear to Americans who believe to have learned it in high school.

     Webster says that a dialect is a way of speaking which is particular to a region, like the English dialect in Yorkshire. Kitteridge adds that a dialect is not a “corrupt literary language.”

      The inhabitants of the United States have their dialect, that of Boston differs slightly from that of New York, from that of Chicago, of New Orleans, of San Francisco. But no one would claim that the language generally spoken in the United States is not English. Why then would the Canadians of Québec and the Franco-Americans not speak French?

      Mr. Delisle does not know any language other than that which his compatriots in Lowell and in New England speak in their homes. That is his “pure French” and we are convinced that he will be able to make himself better understood by the French people in France than the high school students who imagined they learned “Parisian French.”


  1. This as well as all following translations by Louise Peloquin.
  2. In French – “A quelque chose malheur est bon.”

One Response to “Use your tongue” (speak French)

  1. Paul Marion says:

    Louise, Thanks so much for the shout-out to the Chinese restaurant on Merrimack Street. Reproducing the ads in your posts really “adds” a lot. Second, more thanks for the deep dive on the cultural front regarding who speaks what French. The judges and juries are moving targets. Often self-appointed.