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French Settlers Speaking the Same Dialect

Hanging out

Because much of the popular history of immigration to the United States concerns immigrants fleeing religious persecution, it is tempting to look at the reasons for all French immigrants' departures as being due to the same cause, but they certainly were not. Many people were economic migrants; impoverished in France, they left all that they had known to try for a better life elsewhere. This may especially be true of those who left France during the great wave after the 1848 Revolution and economic crisis, which peaked in 1851, when over twenty thousand French emigrated to the United States. (1)

By the same token, their choices of where to settle and whom to marry often had little or nothing to do with religion. Other influences on some of the French immigrants, which may have been at least as strong as religious preferences, need to be considered. The most important of these may be language.

It is worthwhile to bear in mind that, though many people stated in United States Federal Census returns of the nineteenth century that they were from France, that does not mean that they would have spoken French as their mother tongue. Many would have spoken a regional dialect that may have had a quite different vocabulary and grammatical structure from French. This map shows the "regional languages" of France, with greater refinement than those that divide France into two halves where either langue d'oïl or langue d'oc is spoken:

Carte des langues

The comfort and familiarity of one's native language is very important to most people. Immigrants suffer when they experience extended periods of not being able to speak in their own language with another person.(2) Often, more than for religious familiarity, people seem to have settled near one another because of language familiarity. They may have encountered their future spouses in the new land because they were the people with whom they could communicate in their own language.

The group of French settlers in the early and mid-nineteenth century in Mowrystown, Ohio are a case in point. Many of them were from the Montbéliard region, where Franc-comtois was spoken. The dialect, or patois, is heavily influenced by German and has a vocabulary quite distinct from French, as is graphically demonstrated here. We have been reading the series of online articles about Mowrystown's French immigrants by the late Monsieur Jerry Pruitt on the website of the Highland County Press, entitled "Mowrystown Recollections".

Many of the French settlers can be traced to the department of Doubs, in the region of Franche-Comtois. While Monsieur Pruitt discussed church affiliation at length, we have not yet found any mention of the dialect many would have spoken, yet language surely played a part. Mr. Pruitt mentioned that some of the families came from the same town in France but not that, especially upon arrival and before they had learned English, the only people with whom they could associate were those with whom they could communicate.

Conversely to looking at language to understand why some of your ancestors made certain choices in their new homes, you might look closely at their language to know where they originated in France. If you are lucky enough to have any heirloom with writing in the dialect, or family proverbs that do not sound like true French, we suggest that you research those to identify in which dialect they may be. That, in turn, may help to find a long-sought place of origin.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


(1) Fohlen, Claude, "Perspectives historiques sur l'immigration française aux États-Unis", Revue européenne des migrations internationales, 6 (1990): 29-43, accessed 5 March 2017, DOI : 10.3406/remi.1990.1225.


Hammill, Pete and Miyamoto, Michiko, "The Japanning of New York", New York Magazine, (17 August 1981) p23: "Yes, I get homesick, mostly for the Japanese language....I miss my language. Yes, I miss that."


Putre, Laura, "Trail of Broken Dreams", Cleveland Scene, (23 November 2000) : accessed 5 March 2017: "I missed my family. I missed a lot.....And I miss speaking my language."


"I'm Icelandic and I miss speaking my language" was an advertisement placed in The McGill Daily, vol 75, no 50, 30 Jan 1986, p. 11, ( : accessed 1 March 2017)


Kassabova, Kapka, Street Without a Name: Childhood And Other Misadventures in Bulgaria, (Skyhorse Publishing, 2009), ( : accessed 3 March 2017): " 'I have been successful here,' muses a bespectacled [Bulgarian] scientist in America or Australia, 'but I miss my language.' He chokes on his words."


Countless comments to the same effect among friends and acquaintances in our long years of living in non-English-speaking locales.