New England French

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New England French
français de Nouvelle-Angleterre
Native toUnited States
(New England) (primarily Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont)
Native speakers
120,000 (2001),[citation needed] 170,000 (2015)[1][a]
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Population speaking French at home in New England, percent by county.svg
Percent of population speaking French at home, including other dialects (2015)[1]
Speakers by total population

Population speaking French at home in New England, sum by county.svgPopulation speaking French at home, including other dialects (2015)


New England French (French: français de Nouvelle-Angleterre) is a variety of Canadian French spoken in the New England region of the United States.[2]

New England French is one of the major forms of the French language that developed in what is now the United States, the others being Louisiana French and the nearly extinct Missouri French, Muskrat French and Métis French.

The dialect is the predominant form of French spoken in New England (apart from standard French), except in the Saint John Valley of northern Aroostook County, Maine, where Acadian French predominates.

The dialect is endangered. During the 1960s and 1970s some public schools would discipline students for speaking French in the classroom; however, in recent years it has seen renewed interest and is supported by bilingual education programs in place since 1987.[2] A continuing trend of reduced bilingual and foreign-language education has impacted the language's prevalence in younger generations since 2010.[3] However, cultural programs in recent years have led to renewed interest between older generations speaking the dialect and newly arrived refugee populations from Francophone Africa in cities such as Lewiston.[4]


Reliable figures of the dialect prove difficult as the French language is only differentiated from French Creole in US Census Bureau figures. According to the 2016 American Community Survey, in total there were about 170,000 residents in New England who spoke some form of the language at home, with the highest population in Massachusetts, and the highest per capita residential population in Maine. By county, the 2015 American Communities Survey showed the highest populations of French speakers in Middlesex County, Massachusetts with 16,593 household speakers, and Hartford County, Connecticut with 11,620. Per capita, the only county with more than 10% of residents speaking any form of French at home was Aroostook County (9,800 or 14.6%), due to its geographic proximity to Canada and speakers of Acadian and Quebec French. Coos County, New Hampshire (2,923 or 9.6%), Androscoggin County, Maine (8,913 or 8.8%) and Essex County, Vermont (374 or 6.3%) were the only other counties with more than 5% of the population speaking French, with Androscoggin County, home to Lewiston, Maine, being the sole county not bordering Canada with such a proportion of speakers.[1][5]

French-speakers by state[edit]

The figures below include speakers of any French dialect, as estimated during the 2012-2016 American Community Survey:[5]

State Number of speakers Proportion of state's population
Maine 38,695 3.06%
New Hampshire 21,260 1.68%
Vermont 8,508 1.43%
Rhode Island 9,382 0.94%
Massachusetts 54,710 0.86%
Connecticut 25,828 0.76%

Francophone communities[edit]

French language spoken at home by more than 10% of the population, as estimated for the 2011-2015 American Community Survey:[6][7][8]

Community State Percent French-speaking Total population of community (2010 census)
Lewiston Maine 14.7% 36,592
Berlin New Hampshire 16.7% 10,051
Sabattus Maine 12.9% 4,876
Lyman Maine 10.1% 4,344
Fort Kent Maine 47.5% 4,097
Madawaska Maine 61.8% 4,035
Van Buren Maine 56.5% 2,171
Milan New Hampshire 13.6% 1,337
Frenchville Maine 67.4% 1,087
Stewartstown New Hampshire 16.0% 1,004
Canaan Vermont 22.8% 972
Eagle Lake Maine 40.1% 864
St. Agatha Maine 56.6% 747
Wallagrass Maine 46.9% 546
St. Francis Maine 38.2% 485
Grand Isle Maine 62.6% 467
Portage Lake Maine 15.7% 391
New Canada Maine 40.7% 321
Caswell Maine 14.7% 306
Dummer New Hampshire 12.2% 304
Errol New Hampshire 13.1% 291
Saint John Plantation Maine 44.2% 267
Clarksville New Hampshire 17.2% 265
Winterville Maine 39.0% 224
Hamlin Maine 62.8% 219
Norton Vermont 24.2% 169
Cyr Plantation Maine 55.9% 103
Wentworth's Location New Hampshire 12.1% 33
Ferdinand Vermont 30.0% 32
Dennistown Maine 59.3% 30
Averill Vermont 11.1% 24


Wikitongues interview in New England French with Christian, a New Hampshire resident discussing common criticisms of the dialect, as well as the mélange of others spoken in the northern New England states, 2015

Although many variations of French are spoken by populations within New England, including Quebec, Acadian, and European French, a 1961 speaking study conducted by the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare found a number of features of the New England dialect that were prevalent in the mid-20th century. Some colloquialisms found in New England French are similar to rural Quebec French with the use of words like char (roughly, "chariot"), compared with the standard French word for car, voiture ("vehicle", "automobile"), and represent words regarded as archaic in standardized French or words used in other dialects but of similar, yet distinct, usages. When respondents were presented with more advanced Standard French prompts, however, they generally demonstrated comprehension and code switching. Some examples of responses provided in the study include:[9]

English Standard French New England French
bottleneck goulot gougeau
corn maïs blé d'Inde
car voiture char
dollar dollar piastre
heavy lourd pesant
mirror miroir glace
potato pomme de terre petate
strainer passoire tamis
sweeper balayeuse balai

Code switching in English[edit]

Given the ubiquity of English in the region as well as the close proximity of French and English speaking groups, oftentimes code switching is used extensively by Franco-American families even when French isn't spoken by all members of the household. Many of these words are used as terms of endearment between grandparents referring to their grandchildren, or by their parents, and often picked up by the children themselves, in households of Franco-American families whose youngest generations primarily speak English.

Examples include substitutions as simple as calling grandparents mémère (shortened mémé) or pépère (pépé), while a 1969 study found other more opaque examples, a small sample of which includes:[10]

  • baboune (noun), to press one's lips together and outwards in a pouty expression or "duck face". For example- "Don't make a baboune like that, your face will stay that way."
  • pépéte (noun), bird, as in "Do you see the little pépétes?"
  • quenoeil (noun), eye, as in "Make pretty quenoeils for mémère."
  • séssi (verb), sit down, particularly in the context of an exclamation as in "Séssi! You séssi now!"
  • tante or oncle, aunt or uncle


Though not offering weekly or monthly coverage, the New York-based bilingual France-Amérique magazine writes periodic news stories on Francophone community events and institutions in New England.[11][12] With the exception of Francophone group publications such as the newsletter of Boston Accueil, no regular French periodicals are extant within New England today. In other mediums the language is rarely found, with the exception of Canadian French AM repeaters of Radio-Canada from Quebec.

Historical newspapers[edit]

Left to right: The Courier de Boston, published in 1789, it was the city's first French newspaper, coverage including George Washington's inaugural speech in French and English in its May 14, 1789 issue; an 1893 issue of Le Défenseur, a Holyoke French weekly extant from 1884 to 1894; a 1943 issue of La Justice de Biddeford, published from 1896 to about 1950

During the late 19th through mid-20th centuries, the dialect was supported with more than 250 French newspapers extant in New England, many being published weekly and only seeing publication for a few years, while some would endure from the late 1800s and early 1900s into the interwar period, with 21 newspapers and 4 monthlies in existence in 1937, and a handful publishing through the 1960s, such as Le Messager in Lewiston, Maine, L'Indépendent in Fall River, Massachusetts,[13] and La Justice in Holyoke, Massachusetts.[14] However, competition with the daily English press, a lack of public support from non-speakers, and the availability of larger Quebec publications like La Presse in Montreal led to a gradual decline of the New England French newspaper trade. In one 1936 editorial in the Woonsocket L'Union, the editorship described an apathy that had set in with the French community in response to an increase in advertising for financial support-[14][b]

"Our press is barely able to maintain itself ... One of our weeklies has just expired; others live almost exclusively on ads; many get only blame and denigration in return for the free publicity they give to Franco-American works ... It's all the hostility, the apathy, the indifference of Franco-Americans that prevent our newspapers from achieving perfection ... Their defects come from their relative helplessness rather than from their incompetence."

Many of these ads would increasingly appear in English, and changing mediums like radio, as well as a frustration with the helpless financial situation leading to more ads only aggravated the decline.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Including all dialects of French spoken in New England, except French Creole
  2. ^ Original in French: "Notre presse réussit à peine à se maintenir...Un de nos hebdomadaires vient encore d'expirer; d'autres vivent presque exclusivement des annonces; plusieurs n'obtiennent que blâme et dénigrement en retour de la publicité gratuite qu'ils donnent aux œuvres franco-américaines...C'est surtous l'hostilité, l'apathie, l'indifférence des Franco-Américains qui empêchent nos journaux d'atteindre la perfection...Leurs défauts proviennent de leur impuissance relative bien plus que de leur incompétence"


  1. ^ a b c "Language Spoken at Home by Ability to Speak English for the Population 5 Years and Over (B16001): Connecticut, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates". U.S. Census Bureau American FactFinder. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
  2. ^ a b Ammon, Ulrich; International Sociological Association (1989). Status and Function of Languages and Language Varieties. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 306–308. ISBN 978-0899253565. Retrieved April 3, 2012.
  3. ^ "French is dying in northern Maine. Here's why". News Center Maine. Portland, Maine. April 30, 2019. Archived from the original on May 1, 2019.
  4. ^ Fillak, Jessica (August 7, 2018). "In Maine, French Culture Experiences a Revival". Frenchly. New York: French Morning Media Group. Archived from the original on May 21, 2019.
  5. ^ a b "Language Spoken at Home by Ability to Speak English for the Population 5 Years and Over (B16001): All States Within United States, 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates". U.S. Census Bureau American FactFinder. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
  6. ^ "Language Spoken at Home by Ability to Speak English for the Population 5 Years and Over (B16001): All County Subdivisions within Maine, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates". U.S. Census Bureau American FactFinder. Retrieved April 12, 2018.
  7. ^ "Language Spoken at Home by Ability to Speak English for the Population 5 Years and Over (B16001): All County Subdivisions within New Hampshire, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates". U.S. Census Bureau American FactFinder. Retrieved April 12, 2018.
  8. ^ "Language Spoken at Home by Ability to Speak English for the Population 5 Years and Over (B16001): All County Subdivisions within Vermont, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates". U.S. Census Bureau American FactFinder. Retrieved April 12, 2018.
  9. ^ Brault, Gerard J. (December 1961). "New England French Vocabulary". The French Review. American Association of Teachers of French. XXXV (2): 163–175.
  10. ^ Cagnon, Maurice (Autumn 1969). "New England Franco-American Terms Used in Spoken English". Romance Notes. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. XI (1): 219–225.
  11. ^ Thiery, Clément (March 7, 2019). "Le français, un investissement dans le Vermont et le New Hampshire". France-Amérique (in French). Archived from the original on March 20, 2019.
  12. ^ Thiery, Clément (March 7, 2019). "Le retour du français (et de l'Alliance Française) dans le Maine". France-Amérique (in French). Archived from the original on September 12, 2019.
  13. ^ National Endowment for the Humanities. "About L'Indépendente". Chronicling America. Library of Congress. Archived from the original on May 21, 2019.
  14. ^ a b c Ham, Edward Billings (March 1938). "Journalism and the French Survival in New England". The New England Quarterly. The New England Quarterly, Inc. 11 (1): 89–107. doi:10.2307/360562. JSTOR 360562.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]