Tragic decline of the French language in the St John Valley area

A new opportunity is available to anyone living in the St John Valley area who grew up hearing French, but never really learned to speak it, or who has since lost the ability. At several events during the week of September 14, the public is invited to return to its roots and “wake up” its French, according to University of Maine at Fort Kent Professor Dr. Katharine Harrington, one of the organizers of the event.

The University is collaborating in this French-language revival project with Julia Schulz, co-founder of Rockland, Maine’s not-for-profit Penobscot School, a center for language learning and international cultural exchange.

"We have wanted to bring Julia Schulz up to the Valley for some time now. She has done such exciting work in other parts of Maine, New England and Louisiana; it only makes sense that she should bring her French reacquisition approach to the Valley," said Dr. Harrington.

"Tragically, the decline of the French language is a reality here in northern Maine, and I know that many people regret that fact.
“I have met so many people all over Maine who say they heard French as children and can not speak it. I’d like to see if what the brain researchers are saying is true: That is, if a young child is exposed to a language, does that language stay imprinted somewhere in that person’s brain even into adulthood? And can it be reawakened with renewed exposure?” says Schulz. “Our idea is to gather, to have a little conversation, and see what is familiar. From there, we will together find out what people can do to eventually be able to function in French.”
The loss or suppression of that mother tongue creates an emptiness that no other language can fill. It even causes us to question who we are. For the St John Valley, the loss of the French language means the first step in the disappearance of a culture, and eventually, of a people. We are at risk of becoming Franco-Americans whose only claim to a rich, vibrant heritage is the fact that we eat ployes and use the expression ‘Wayons!’

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