In a move that has surprised educators nationwide, the Portland Board of Education announced that, beginning January 1, all Portland schools would provide teacher and parent training in Yankee English, or so-called Yankonics, recognize Yankonics as distinct from standard English, and help Yankee children who use Yankonics to master standard English.
In its resolution, the Portland school board described Yankee English as a distinct language, rather than a dialect of standard English. The district said it would not teach Yankonics, derived from the words Yankee and phonics, in place of standard English, and would not try to classify Yankonics-speaking students as bilingual in order to obtain federal funds.
Both the Clinton Administration and congressional Republicans resolved quickly to attack the announcement, with the Administration emphasizing that it would refuse to grant special funding. In Augusta, Gov. Angus King (Ind.) defended the resolution. "They're not trying to teach Yankee English as a standard language. They're looking for tools to teach children standard English so they might be competitive," King told reporters. An estimated 53 per cent of Portland's 13,000 students speak Yankee English at home and district officials say they have the lowest average grade point averages in the district.
Reaction in the city was guarded, but supportive. Lobsterman John Nadeau, 43, of Fore St. said, "Every yeah it gets hahda and hahda for ouah kids to get the jawbs they need. I cahn't say if this will wohk oah nawt, but at least its a staht."
The lunch crowd at Demillo's echoed Nadeau's position. Mary Lamoreaux, 54, of Falmouth Foreside concurred. "I've got two daughtahs, neithah of whom cahn undahstahnd hahlf the things they heah on TV. Something needs to be done."
Patrick Payson, 35, a developer at One City Center, admitted that he's found his linguistic heritage a difficult cross to bear at times. "I went down New Yahk a few weeks ago foah some meetins. It took me close to two days to figuah out what people weah tahlking about. Rest assuahed, I was wicked confused when I gawt bahck."
Some, however, were not convinced. Arthur Wentworth, 87, a scrimshaw artist in the Old Port said, "Deah Gawd. Yeahs ago no one cahed so much about this soht of thing, we just went on about ouah business. I don't see much use in this. If people from away cahn't understahnd what weah saying, then they just ought head back to Massasstwosits, oah wheyevah they came frawm."
Asked if he'd lived in Portland all his life, Wentworth replied, "not yet."