Thursday, December 18, 2008

Parlez-vous français, mon frère?

I was reading the most issue of The California Mason and noticed a very interesting article. The theme of the magazine was food but I noticed a very different topic. The article featured not one but two lodges in California working the ritual in French.

“Wait, what?!”

That’s right. The article, entitled Bon Appétit by Cason Lane, describes these two Lodges, La Parfaite Union Lodge #17 located in San Francisco and Vallee de France #329 located in Pasadena who do their ritual work. This fact piqued my curiosity. I visited the history section of Vallee de France’s and found that originally this Lodge was chartered by an obscure Louisiana Masonic body and then received another charter from the Grande Lodge Symbolique Ecossaise based in Paris. The Lodge was considered clandestine but sought recognition from the Grand Lodge of California which had absolute jurisdiction over conferring the first three degrees.

Vallee de France Lodge finally surrendered its charter from Grande Lodge Symbolique Ecossaise and received a new charter from the Grand Lodge of California with a special dispensation to continue to work in French and to confer the first degree as it had always done. It is really amazing to think that there are Lodges in this country working the ritual in another language. This got me thinking, why don’t more Lodges work in other languages?

Many new immigrant groups live and work in this country seeking the American dream. Although they may know basic words of English, they may not feel completely comfortable with speaking a new and unfamiliar language. Perhaps we, as Freemasons, should allow the creation of Lodges that use the mother tongue of these new immigrant groups.

In my state, we have many new immigrant groups from many continents. They are Hmong, Somalis, Ethiopians, Liberians, Russian, Indian, Latin and South Americans as well as many others. I love living in Minnesota with the mixture of cultures, clothing and languages where there are many choices of food and activities originating from these cultures. However, I sometimes think that Freemasonry has a major hurdle for these groups, language. The ritual is in English. It is okay for me to be a Mason because English is my natural language. Why shouldn’t we extend this ability to understand the ritual to a worthy man who has another mother tongue other than English?

In Minnesota, Norwegian immigrants maintained newspapers that were only in Norwegian until late last century, and created fraternities like the Sons of Norway to preserve their culture. In the Texas Hill Country, ethnic Germans lived in small isolated conclaves preserving their language for generations. Although these languages began to lose their mark on these population, they were still important to those first two generations.

Masonry seeks to be the great tree of morality, we may have different branches but the trunk is the same for all of us. Perhaps allowing brothers to do the ritual in their own language will help to foster this understanding amongst our brothers and keep bonds within new immigrant groups.

Now, here is your French lesson for today.


Still Justa Mason said...

The GL of California also had Hermann Lodge which worked in German. Someone can correct me, but I believe Speranza Lodge in San Francisco originally worked in Italian.

La Parfait Union works a First Degree in an old French ritual annually and it's apparently quite something to see, though I've missed it the times I've been down there.


Dean said...

e have a lodge in my jurisdiction that opens and closes in French and has a sister lodge in Paris. Here is a link to more info.

I have not been to the lodge but keep meaning to go.

Jeff said...

I just added better multi-lingual support to today, so this post went right along with what I've been thinking about all day.

I agree that language should not be a barrier to the Fraternity, so long as there are enough speakers of the language involved in a particular location to sustain the work there. I would also say there should be some intermediate work, such as degree lectures provided in foreign languages that can be offered in any Lodge when someone whose primary language isn't English receives their degrees.

I believe translated ritual needs to be gone over with a fine tooth comb, however, to make sure it maintains not just the same outward meaning as the original, but the same inward meaning, the same parallels and symmetry within the whole work. In other words, the translation needs to be done by a superbly well versed Mason fully knowledgable in both languages.

I do not think it is in GL's best interests, however, to simply adopt existing foreign language versions of the ritual. The work should be fully equivalent with the existing work in the jurisdiction. Unless they also want to open the door to having alternate English versions as well.

Millennial Freemason said...

I agree completely with you. I think it is very possible to get the same inward meaning from a translation. I would love to hear the ritual in another language yet still understand the meaning that is being presented in the ritual.

Je te remercie pour ton commentaire. Je voudrais visiter une loge qui travaille dans français. Ce serait très bon.

Sorry that I don't know any German or Italian except what I know from WWII movies. Phrases like "Schweine-Hund" and "Hände Hoch". I checked it out and yes, Speranza Lodge (which merged with Golden Gate #30 to become Golden Gate Speranza #30) originally spoke in Italian after the vistory of Garibaldi. It is really fascinating to read about its history which can be found here:


Chris said...

Are there Spanish-speaking lodges in California?

I know that there are Welsh-speaking lodges in London--I met a brother from one on the bus one evening after leaving my own Lodge's Festive Board. He addressed me as Brother after noting that I was not only dressed in a dark suit but had my apron-case.

Millennial Freemason said...

It appears that there aren't any Spanish speaking Lodges in California but they do exist in New York and Florida. Here is a rather outdated Short Talk paper about different languages being used.
I did a little research online and it seems that some of the Lodges do work in the language while others have ended that practice; in fact, it seems that most Italian speaking Lodges have converted to English.


Chris said...

Hm, I would love to go to a UGLE lodge that spoke French, say, to help to improve my very faulty command of it. Being familiar with the ritual in English would be an advantage when listening to it in another language.

I am surprised that there are no Spanish-speaking lodges in California--one would think that would be a natural, but "oh well" (in American English, which equals "heigh ho!" in English English).

Greg Stewart said...

The French degrees here in L.A. are a bit of a big deal, and when ever there is one being held, its widely announced lodge to lodge. I have yet to see one sadly, as my schedule has always conflicted.

There is also a Spanish lodge here in Los Angeles in Granada Hills, which should be mentioned in that issue of CA Freemason, but it is a recent charter to operate in espanol.

Millennial Freemason said...

Thanks Greg. I looked it up and the Lodge is Logia Panamericana #513. So Chris, there is a Spanish speaking Lodge in California.

If we can do ritual work in English, French, Italian and German in this country in recognized Grand Lodges, there should be no reason why other languages couldn't be used. There are many new men from many different countries that could form Lodges; the question is how do these men form a Lodge using a different language?


Greg Stewart said...

Fairly simply really. If all the brothers are in the same lodge, they can petition the grand lodge for dispensation to work in their own language, or by default, if no other brothers object, then they could work in the tongue that they are most proficient with.

Frederic L. Milliken said...

It's not only the use of another language which is important here but also reaching out to men in other cultures who speak other languages. It's high time Freemasonry in the USA made a serious outreach effort to Hispanic men to name only one segment. For too long American Freemasonry has been a WASP organization. We just need to be more welcoming to other cultures. Freemasonry is Universal.

Millennial Freemason said...

I think that your comment is the key to my article. I know that it is possible to have a lodge using another language, rather, it is the difficulty of a member of another culture knowing how to join at all. We have not done the proper outreach to these communities that we could be doing.


Anonymous said...

Funny enough, we work here (in the ivory coast) in french. i would love to work in english.