From the March 2016 Desktop News | Dr. Michael Picone, a professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Classics, didn’t get a white horse or a suit of armor, and no one tapped him on the shoulder with a sword, but on January 29, he was officially decorated with the Palmes Académiques distinction by the French Ministry of Education—making him a French knight in the Order of the Academic Palms.
“It is a recognition for the wonderful work he has been doing for many years in promoting our language and culture,” said Solène Vilchien, Deputy Cultural Attaché for the French Consulate in Atlanta, who officiated at the ceremony. “As a teacher, he has inspired many students to learn about France and the French-speaking world. His entire career is a testament to his lifelong dedication to the promotion of the French language and French culture in Alabama.”
Picone’s first introduction to French was in junior high school in Chicago.
“It was not that long after Sputnik was launched,” Picone said. “Suddenly America woke up and realized that they were behind the Soviet Union, so they immediately went into a crash program of revising education in the country—not only in the sciences but fortunately in the humanities as well.”
Prior to that time, foreign language education had largely been restricted to high schools, so Picone’s junior-high French class was the first one ever to be offered at the school. He was lucky enough to be taught by a native speaker.
“I got a good foundation, especially in pronunciation,” he said.
Though Picone eventually expanded his studies from French to linguistics, his love of French has remained constant. He lived in France for nearly nine years and received a doctorate of linguistics at the Sorbonne (University of Paris) in 1987. In 1988, he was given an appointment at The University of Alabama, and he has been here ever since.
Of Picone’s many scholastic accomplishments in his 28-year career, his work with Cajun French and Louisiana Creole is some of his most distinguished. Not only has he published many articles on that topic, but he also participated in the first-ever collaboration of professional linguists, ethnographers, and educators to document, preserve, and promote the historic French of Louisiana. The team’s decade-long efforts culminated in 2010 with the Dictionary of Louisiana French.
Picone has also studied the history and interaction of languages and dialects across the Gulf South, and in 2015 he co-edited New Perspectives on Language Variety in the South. In a newer thrust, he has been investigating French graphic novels—an important art form in France. He is interested in the way that images, words, the arrangement of panels, onomatopoeias, and a gamut of symbols all work together to create meaning.
“I love being in academia and being an educator,” Picone said. “It’s a privilege to have a job where I can do something that I love that also expands my horizons. I am very appreciative to have this honor.”