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Signs at University of Maine Now Bilingual — English and Penobscot

July 25, 2019

The University of Maine’s flagship campus in Orono now has signs in both English and Penobscot – including the indigenous words for “book house” outside the library, “he reminded him” outside a museum, and “place where you play a variety of games” outside an indoor sports facility.

Supporters inspired by Canadian universities have been thinking of changing the signs since the 1990s, one professor told the Bangor Daily News.

To do it they had to make up certain words in the Penobscot language, since “library” and “museum” were not current concepts among the Penobscot tribe members when their language still had numerous native speakers.

“It’s not exactly translation. It’s something else. It’s interpretation. It’s an act of creation,” said Darren Ranco, a professor and chairman of Native American Programs at the University of Maine as well as a member of Penobscot Nation, according to the Bangor Daily News. “It was a very thoughtful process. We really had to think about what each place means within the context of the landscape.”

The Penobscot Indians once predominated in what is now Maine.

Members of the Penobscot tribe spoke Eastern Abenaki, an Algonquin language of Indians in Quebec and northern New England. The last known fluent speaker died in 1993.

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