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Ch’Lanchron en Indiana (U.S.A.)

Communication prononcée le 7 octobre 2010 en ouverture du colloque

"Minority Languages in Europe: Success and Challenges"

qui s’est déroulé à Bloomington, Indiana (U.S.A.) par Jean-Luc Vigneux, secrétaire de Ch’Lanchron
(invité d’honneur d’Indiana University)

"Ch’Lanchron", a weed planted thirty years ago in "Picardie"

The beginnings of this adventure go back to the end of the seventies. Not so far back in time, but everything was so different then. No Internet, no computers, very few copy machines… Had these tools existed then, perhaps the story of "Ch’Lanchron" (the dandelion) would not have lasted more than a spring, just long enough for a dandelion invasion on roadsides and meadows.

At that time, I first met my friend, Jacques Dulphy. We were not quite twenty yet. We met on the editorial team of the student paper. Jacques was publishing comics and verses in "Picard". I enjoyed reading the comics and I tried to set the poems to music. That was the beginning of the "Ch’Lanchron" magazine. It was Jacques’ idea. In June 1979 he asked : "what about doing a newspaper totally written in Picard ? There’s never been anything like it!" And he went on to point out : "So many people I know write in Picard. They are never published. At best, some of their texts can be read in local papers, if they’re lucky."
Jacques had a typewriter. I had an ink mimeograph machine. We were twenty, and the dream came true !
The title was found at once : we wanted a Picard word, a word that was common, colorful and humble. A word which could be all that. We thought "dandelion" was perfect, you know, that weed, nothing more than rabbit food…
That summer, we met regularly; the first pages were taking form.

Pens and pencils, scissors, glue, stencils: those were the tools we had available. The preparation of the magazine lasted nine months : "Ch’Lanchron"’s first issue came out in April 1980. We were concerned only with the Picard language. As we were perfect beginners, we had done no market research, no advertising, but there we were hoping to sell 250 copies of the first periodical written entirely in Picard. We had better sell some of them to cover our paper and ink expenses!
This adventure was born from the idea that a newspaper in Picard was necessary. Was it? Everything makes us think it was : our copies disappeared in two weeks. At the beginning of May we had to print 250 more copies of this first issue. One month later, the second printing was sold out. The local press noticed it at once. To our surprise, articles in the newspapers praised our work from the very start. So we did not have to worry about advertising. Meanwhile, we were already thinking about the second issue. On the cover of the first issue, you could read pour vir "just to see", meaning, "will it work ?". At that point, we felt certain that the publication would succeed. It was in such an atmosphere that I printed the second issue in July. 500 copies. Three months from April to July : "Ch’Lanchron" was to be a quarterly publication.
This reception from the readers was beyond our own capacity of production : we had to write texts, type and format the ones we received, print and manage many other tasks which require plenty of time. We looked for a printer, and in November, the third issue came out in 1000 copies.We now have 500 regular subscribers (most of them in France), and publish 1,800 copies of each issue of "Ch’Lanchron". The newspaper is organized as a non-profit association. All of us are voluntary workers. No advertising, no subsidies, no grants, no partnership in "Ch’Lanchron". In short, "Ch’Lanchron" lives because readers buy it and because authors write texts in Picard. If one of the two components declines and the scale tips, "Ch’Lanchron" will disappear. It is a measure of the vitality of the Picard language. Up to this day, 121 issues have been published, which means more than 5000 pages of Picard by more than 400 authors in 30 years.
I have just hinted at the immediate success of the paper. We had suspected this would be so even before the publication of the first issue because our seniors (most of them might have been our grandparents) had confidence in us right away. "Ch’Lanchron" had been imagined for those who were writing in Picard. They agreed to publish their texts in our pages, and their signatures adorn every issue of "Ch’Lanchron", starting with the first. In this first issue, we also counted on friends, who represented a new generation of Picard writers, as well as authors from our parents’ generation. Three generations supplied us with texts in Picard. This all happened in the most natural way. Picard speakers of all ages were brought together by their love for the Picard language. The fact that the Picard language most often uses the familiar "tu" instead of the formal "vous" as pronouns of address contributed to bringing people together. From the beginning we have selected and published texts from all areas where the Picard language is spoken (although leaning toward our own area, which produces more) provided that they are well written, that their vocabulary is rich, and that their content is inspired. What matters is that Ch’Lanchron contributes to promoting and developing a good Picard language. Careful editing and presentation shows that we have respect for the readers and for their attachment to our common language, another idea that has never waned during the last 30 years. The link between generations guarantees the quality and authenticity of the language. Our aim is not to maintain the language our forefathers used to speak before the first world war. We don’t want to be trapped in a picture of the past."Ch’Lanchron" mixes literary texts, chronicles of current events, and news articles about the Picard language in which we find a language that is adapted to our time. It is sometimes tinged withnew words. The meaning or use of a Picard word may be slightly altered: some attempts fail, others go on and we are very pleased when we notice an elder who uses some word with our new meaning. Thus, we have come to conclude that we share the same way of Picard thought.
"Ch’Lanchron" aims at promoting Picard-language writing. We like to welcome new writers. It’s proof that Picard is alive and we vill continue exploring its great richness for a long time. Therefore, "Ch’Lanchron" has a specific objective which we hadn’t foreseen in 1980 : giving visibility and credibility to Picard literature.
Through the years, "Ch’Lanchron" has become a reference among the western European magazines written in regional languages. We have taken pains to produce a quality publication, but we had never thought we would attract such attention.

One week after the publication of "Ch’Lanchron"’s first issue, an evening performance in Picard happened to take place at the Abbeville Art Center. The company was a team of young students who were appearing in public for the first time. The repertory and the production had been developped by their English teacher.
The evening of that performance, Jacques and I had brought a guitar to the backstage area of the theatre. During the intermission, we met the organizers and we offered to sing in Picard before the second part of the show. And that is how I performed five or six songs, for the first time live.
The company was on tour in the region and they invited us to join them to produce a show composed of plays and songs in Picard.

The second article of our association charter, states that one central objective of Ch’Lanchron is to : "Give life to the Picard language". We started out in May 1980 and we have never given up: we have produced dozens of shows where theatre alternates with reading or staging of tales. All these performances are accompanied by songs. This activity led to experiences that we could not have imagined in 1980: we have made short films. We have recorded part of our repertory and produced an LP and a CD. These recordings have been sold out for a long time. Nowadays, you can listen to them via the Internet. They included only 24 titles, but our repertoire contains nearly a hundred. We have been the ambassadors of our local Picardie in Brittany, Belgium, the North of France, and last year in Hungary, and of course we are regularly asked to perform in Picardy, naturally our favorite destination.
It has always been our calling "to give life to Picard" in public. The public is the best judge of the authenticity of our speech. We listen carefully to the reactions but we don’t try to stage conventional entertainment. Our main theme is original creation. We want to please them and enjoy ourselves. It is evident that if our shows were delivered in a composite and artificial language, we would be rejected. If that was not the case, it would mean that the public is not able (or is no longer able) to understand the Picard language. This has never happened. It is another proof of the vitality of this regional language during the last third of the 20th century.

The Picard language has so much to say that we soon became aware of yet another need: setting up a collection of books in Picard.
To inaugurate this collection, in 1984, we published the first original comic book in Picard : "Jacques Croédur i voyage". Once more we had the opportunity to bring together the work of several generations of authors : Armel Depoilly, who authored the texts, was born in 1901 ; Jack Lebeuf, author of the scenarios, could have been his son. As for us… we were their "relief team". Our collection of books was of course continued with the publication of works by our good "Picardisants" friends, then it was expanded to the whole "Department of Somme".

Presentations in schools constitute another chapter of our activities . We had always wished to pass on the Picard language to the young people. And to do that we could share some of our experience of Picard with their teachers.
The Picard language is not part of the compulsory curriculum of the pupils, still it is not totally rejected by the French Educational system. Some teachers get official training during professional development activities in which we are invited to share some of our experience.
Now and then, schools ask us to present classroom activities that familiarize students with the Picard language.
There is no doubt that our experience and our undertakings have been influenced, in large part, by the era we live in. For instance, better communication and easier travel have brought together many Picard speakers living in different regions and even in two different countries. Our magazine publishes authors from these different areas and is read by an even greater number of readers from those different parts. Beyond that, at the beginning of the 1980’s we developed a whole series of meetings about Picard language and culture. The project, entitled "Chés quate écmins" (The crossroads), has enabled us to compare experiences in Picardy and Belgium. So we have built new friendships with important players in the promotion of the Picard language. For thirty years, the cultural exchanges have not ceased between the Belgian Hainaut (the "Northerners" of the Picard) and us (the "Southerners") !
After our first festival of the "Picard song" in July 1982, the prestigious Maison de la Culture in Amiens organized, in January 1983, the second festival "Écoutez-les chanter en ce pays" (Hear them sing in this country).
We have been invited to collaborate with the official local authorities to write the official report on culture in Picardy. We were guests of honor at the bicentennial celebration of "the Somme Department", where we had a chance to sing in Picard. And lastly, we regularly collaborate with local libraries to prepare exhibits about the Picard language. All these different activities have attracted the attention of various organizations and agencies at various government levels and have been recognized with numerous awards. For example, in January 2006, we received the "Talent départemental" award for the national and international influence of "Ch’Lanchron". Very few Picard cultural players have received this award.
Our own library is constantly being enriched and diversified. We regularly share it with students or researchers who come to consult it. This year alone, we had visitors from Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and the USA ! However we are not specialists, neither linguists nor teachers. Only lovers of the Picard language. As I have just said, our team is still unpaid. All of us have a "real" job beside our passion : Jacques is a journalist, Delphine is a librarian, and I am a pharmacist in a hospital. So, we devote our spare time to "Ch’Lanchron", which, as you may guess, has had some impact on our personal lives…
Two years ago, we collaborated with other Picard promoters to create the "Agence pour le picard" (Agency for Picard), an independent association that is supported by the regional authorities. This new agency organizes lectures, courses, festivals and other activities. Three of us (members of "Ch’Lanchron") belong to the board of directors of this agency.
This governmental support for Agence pour le picard does not amount to an official recognition of Picard as a regional language, but it does recognize a fact long ignored: there is a Picard language, and the local governmental agencies now provide some financial support in its promotion.

Picard has come a long way during the past 30 years. 25 years ago, a group of "Ch’Lanchron" members decided to give a public face to Picard by putting up about 50 signposts with the names of towns or villages written in Picard. For example, below the official signs for Bourseville and Feuquières-en-Vimeu, Borséville and Feutchére signs were added. This action was welcomed by the population, but rejected by the authorities. At last, this year, after the intervention of various defenders of the Picard language, the Somme Department has posted twenty signposts in Picard alongside their French counterparts. We had to wait a quarter of century for these signposts to be officially put up.

"Ch’Lanchron" is taken seriously because "Ch’Lanchron" takes Picard seriously (even when it has fun). Maybe this is the secret to its longevity. Maybe the facts that we were so young when this adventure started and that our passion for Picard has never waned have helped, too. Before us, very few young people chose to become Picard defenders. Gaston Vasseur, the founder of the Picardisants du Ponthieu et du Vimeu is a notable exception. But in the 20th century, the custom was to write in Picard for the first time when you retired. We broke with this tradition (unconsciously).
Moreover, unlike our elders, we don’t write for readers or speak for listeners who live in our small region. We target a wider audience but it doesn’t prevent us from remaining faithful to the Picard of our poéyi, our little corner. In our magazine, each text is dated, signed by their author, and associated with the name of their village. So, we can track the place and time of texts from all over the Picard linguistic area.

All the changes described here have had a major impact on Picard literature: authors from different regions, of all age groups, of both sexes have submitted texts that push Picard literature into directions it had never ventured into before. Classical poetry is gradually being replaced by prose (and even by longer texts in prose) : novels in Picard have begun to appear in print. We had the great pleasure to publish the first of them : "Chl’autocar du Bourq éd Eut" (The bus for Ault).
Moreover, beyond genre, content is changing. Texts that were narrative, descriptive or nostalgic in the past now give way to fictional works and "timeless stories" which give the Picard language a depth it had rarely known in this modern period.
Even though "Ch’Lanchron" is not the sole force behind all those literary events, we believe that our penchant for these literary forms of expression has contributed to fostering the literary efforts of other authors and encouraged them to explore these new modes of expression.

Another kind of writing has taken on more importance in recent years: translation. Our language has won fame through texts of great notoriety translated in Picard. It began with the translation of an adventure of Tintin, in Belgium (in 1980). "Ch’Lanchron" was not involved. But this translation was a turning point, because it made the Picard language accessible to a large public.
Then, in 2004, an Astérix comic book was translated into Picard. Jacques and I had been contacted by the publisher himself. We asked Alain Dawson, a specialist of Picard in the North of Picardy, for help. Our "trio" wanted to produce a translation that would be, first of all, respectful of Uderzo and Goscinny’s work, but also, one written in a good Picard language that would be easily understood by everybody and, of course, entertaining. We have risen to the challenge. It was a success. 100,000 copies were sold in less than one year. That means as many as the original work in French the year before, in the same distribution area : an unexpected success and a popularity absolutely unknown for a work in Picard - or for any regional language in France. We have no explanation for this success, except the fact that readers have a real love for their Picard language.

We are now called - in a personal capacity - to take part in various activies. Jacques has been invited to write a weekly chronicle in the "Courrier picard" (the main newspaper in the Somme). As for myself, I have produced several programs on the local cable channel, and for ten years, I gave a course on contemporary Picard literature at the University of Picardy.I had no academic qualifications, only my practical experience. Needless to say, I was quite surprised to have been chosen.

After this long journey, we celebrated the 30th birthday of our publication in May 2010. It began with an evening show with songs in Picard. Six "old" singers of our generation (about fifty years old) had expressed their desire to take part in this event. After them, at the end of the evening, the seventh and last singer was also the youngest. He has been singing Picard songs on stage for only three years. The highlight of the celebrations took place on the second day, : we had concocted a new program for our friends and faithful readers. Four hours of reading, interpretation of texts, comics, dialogues and retrospective of the songs in our repertory. All that filled the lovers of our Picard language with enthusiasm. There were so many of them that the hall of the Abbeville "Maison pour tous" (House for everybody) was too small. The dandelion seeds were naturally coming back to their birthplace. It is in this house, on the very same cobblestone floor, that in April 1980, we had printed the first pages of this first issue of the magazine entirely in Picard : "Ch’Lanchron".

A magazine which has just made me speak English for a long time, here in the United States, far away from Picardie.
Of course, you have noticed that it was difficult for me to speak your language, and that I have a natural inclination for my grandparents’ language. Albert and Lucienne Lion, Maurice and Aline Vigneux, passed on this heritage to me. If they were still in the Land of the Living, I can imagine their surprise at seeing me here, today - and to know the reason why we meet here tonight : The Picard language ! - a modest but also precious language that their parents and teachers fought, for fear that young Picard individuals could not carve out their place in French society.
I thank you for your attention, and still more for your kindness.
"Marci" (thank you) and "adè" (goodbye)

Jean-Luc Vigneux

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