By Juliana L’Heureux
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Finally, someone is challenging the conventional restraints of the traditional
French language. "Le Parler de Chez Nous" (The Language of Our House) is
a new informal dictionary of French "patois", or dialect language translated
according to the positively biased interpretation of Don Levesque. Northern
Mainers know Levesque as editor and columnist of the weekly newspaper "St.
John Valley Times". He is a local humorist and pundit who captures quaint
stories and homespun news in his weekly column "Mes cinq sous" (My Five
French language purists will bristle at Levesque's colorful translations
in his "patois" dictionary, but Franco-Americans will howl at the hundreds
of phrases and words he resurrects from his personal experiences growing
up in New Brunswick, Canada, and working in Maine’s St. John River Valley.
Levesque avoids any claim that his personal dictionary is a collection
of completely pure French words. "I would be astounded if the French is
one-hundred-percent correct", says Levesque.
"My French is phonetic French. I write the way I talk," he says. Readers
are advised to read the dictionary out loud in order to hear the words
like people in the St.John Valley say them. So, for $6.50 plus postage,
anyone can own a copy of Levesque's French dictionary. Actually, the book
is a cultural gift, even if his spelling is sometimes suspect. "I guarantee
my spelling is not always correct!," says Levesque.
Let's face it, our current Franco-Americans generations are likely the
last ones on the planet to use their special patois on a regular basis.
In Northern Maine, about 85 percent of the 20,000 local residents consider
themselves Franco-Americans who still speak French at home and with friends.
Following are the top ten favorite patois picked from the hundreds in
Levesque's lexicon. "Tasse toue une fesse" means "move over!". "Banc d’neige"
is the absolute phonetic translation for a "snow bank". "Licheu" is a flatterer
or a "brown-nose". "Ecornifleux" means "a nosey person". A cute phrase
might be "Il est un ecornifleux licheu" (He is a nosey brown-nose). "Bedenne"
is the patois for "stomach", like the protruding waist of a heavy man.
"Aller ou moving asteur" is patois for "We are going to the movies, now".
Well dressed men wear "claques", especially during a snowstorm. "Claques"
is patois for the protective coverings worn over dress shoes.
"Famme ta boite" is a rude patois for "shut up". This is a common patois
between quarreling siblings. "Faire son samedi" is patois for "clean the
house", or literally translated this means "to do on Saturday". House cleaning
is an big ritual in immaculately clean Franco-American homes. "Ca fait
parler l’djobbe" is an appropriate patois to describe Levesque's contribution
to the Franco-American culture. In other words, the collection of expressions
in Le Parler de Chez Nous are "incredible".
"My dictionary is not a scholarly undertaking", says Levesque. With
all due respect, Levesque is too humble about his dictionary and its contributions
to the Franco-American culture. The dictionary even contains a separate
section of adult phrases, but even this collection of rare and controversial
words are important because harmless cursing is quite common in Franco-American
More information about the unusual dictionary is available by writing
to Don Levesque at 696 West Main Street, Madawaska, Maine 04756.
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Published on March 23, 2000
Copyright 1999-2000, Portland Press Herald, Portland,
Maine and Juliana L'Heureux