Italian Refugees in Marseille
A Bit of Geography and How Your Ancestors Travelled Around France

Summer Fun - Find Your Ancestor's Region With a Fable


This is rather fun. Two sprightly researchers named Philippe Boula de Mareüil and Albert Rilliard, working at the Laboratoire d'Informatique pour la Mécanique et les Sciences de l'Ingénieur (LIMSI) have produced an interactive map of the dialects of France, the Atlas sonore des langues régionales de France. Really, it is of the dialects for which they could find living speakers, so not all are represented, but there are still a good two dozen.

Each speaker reads the same fable by Aesop, "La Bise et le Soleil", ("The Wind and the Sun").

La bise et le soleil se disputaient, chacun assurant qu'il était le plus fort, quand ils ont vu un voyageur qui s'avançait, enveloppé dans son manteau. Ils sont tombés d'accord que celui qui arriverait le premier à faire ôter son manteau au voyageur serait regardé comme le plus fort. Alors, la bise s'est mise à souffler de toute sa force mais plus elle soufflait, plus le voyageur serrait son manteau autour de lui et à la fin, la bise a renoncé à le lui faire ôter. Alors le soleil a commencé à briller et au bout d'un moment, le voyageur, réchauffé a ôté son manteau. Ainsi, la bise a du reconnaître que le soleil était le plus fort des deux.

Click on the different cities on the map to hear the story read in the local dialect and to see, at the bottom of the screen, the text spelt as read.

How will this help you find your ancestor? It will not be automatic or easy but it might be possible. Here are some suggestions:

  1. We have already discussed in a previous post how people who spoke the same dialect tended to stay together after immigration. If, for example, you know that your ancestor settled in Missouri with a group of people originally from Sablonceaux, but you can find no trace of him or her in Sablonceaux, do not let your research become blocked at the administrative borders of the department of Charente-Maritime, where Sablonceaux is located. Instead, look at this map to see the reach of the language and use that as your search area.
  2. In the same way, look at the map above of the old French provinces and compare it with the map of dialects. There are some surprises, particularly in Bourgogne, which is much larger than the area where bourguignon-morvandiau was spoken. 
  3.  Use the written version of the text on the map to compare with any letters or journals your ancestor may have left. Many in the nineteenth century had only a rudimentary education and their spelling was not ideal. This could be a boon, if they spelt as they spoke. With a bit of imagination and sounding out aloud, you may find a match between what you ancestor wrote and one of the written versions on the Atlas sonore. This would give you a linguistic search area on which to focus.
  4. We are assuming that you have no oral history recorded of the French ancestor you cannot place for, if so, it probably also contains the place of origin. The next closest thing is any song or poem or saying that has been handed down the generations. Try writing it down as it sounds to you and compare that with how the language sounds in the dialects. You could find a match!

To our ears, the dialects sound vastly different from one another, particularly those in Alsace, a tricky research locale for most. Perhaps this map can be of help.

Failing all else, it is a lot of fun to listen to the various versions and voices.


©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy