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Louisiana French (French: français de la louisiane, Louisiana Creole: françé la lwizyann) refers to the group of French dialects spoken in the U.S. state of Louisiana, and formerly elsewhere in colonial Lower Louisiana. It comprises several distinct varieties. Figures from the United States Census report that roughly 3.5% of Louisianans over the age of 5 were claimed to speak French or a French-based creole in their homes.
The most widely spoken form of Louisiana French is Cajun French, sometimes known as Louisiana Regional French. It developed after the arrival of Acadian migrants during the Great Upheaval of the 18th century. A prestige dialect known as Colonial or Plantation Society French was formerly prominent, but has now largely been subsumed into the Cajun dialect. Additionally, Louisiana Creole French is a related creole language.
Speakers of Louisiana French identify ethno-racially as Creole, French Creole, Spanish Creole, Mississippi Creole, Alabama Creole, Texas Creole, California Creole, African-American, Black, Chitimacha, Houma, Biloxi, Tunica, Choctaw, White, Cajun, Acadian, French, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Syrian, Lebanese, Irish and others. Individuals and groups of individuals, through innovation, adaptation and contact, continually enrich the French language spoken in Louisiana, seasoning it with linguistic features sometimes only found in Louisiana.
As of Autumn 2011, Louisiana has French-language total immersion or bilingual French and English immersion in ten parishes: Calcasieu, Acadia, St. Landry, St. Martin, Iberia, Lafayette, Assumption, East Baton Rouge, Jefferson and Orleans. Students placed in the program begin in kindergarten or 1st grade and continue until high school.
The Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) recruits teachers locally and globally each year. Les Amis de l'Immersion, Inc. is the parent-teacher organization for students in French immersion in the state. Les Amis organizes summer camps, fundraisers and outreach for teachers, parents and students in the program.
The immersion programs as of Autumn 2011 are as follows:
|Church Point Elementary||K-4||Church Point||Acadia|
|Pierre Part Primary||K-4||Pierre Part||Assumption|
|Pierre Part Middle||5-8||Pierre Part||Assumption|
|Belle Rose Primary||K-2||Belle Rose||Assumption|
|Winbourne Elementary||K||Baton Rouge||East Baton Rouge|
|Henry Heights Elementary||K-5||Lake Charles||Calcasieu|
|Gillis Elementary||K-5||Lake Charles||Calcasieu|
|Prien Lake Elementary||K-5||Lake Charles||Calcasieu|
|Moss Bluff Middle||6-8||Lake Charles||Calcasieu|
|S.J. Welsh Middle||6-8||Lake Charles||Calcasieu|
|Alfred M. Barbe High||9-12||Lake Charles||Calcasieu|
|Daspit Elementary||K-6||New Iberia||Iberia|
|North Lewis Street Elementary||K-6||New Iberia||Iberia|
|S. J. Montgomery Elementary||K-3||Lafayette||Lafayette|
|Myrtle Place Elementary||K-3||Lafayette||Lafayette|
|Edgar Martin Middle||6-7||Lafayette||Lafayette|
|Paul Breaux Middle||6-8||Lafayette||Lafayette|
|Audubon Montessori||K-8||New Orleans||Orleans|
|Ecole Bilingue de la Nouvelle-Orléans||Nursery-6||New Orleans||Orleans|
|Hynes Elementary||K-3||New Orleans||Orleans|
|International High School of New Orleans||9-10||New Orleans||Orleans|
|International School of Louisiana||K-8||New Orleans||Orleans|
|Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orleans||Pre-K-2||New Orleans||Orleans|
|Park Vista Elementary||K-2||Opelousas||St. Landry|
|South Street||K-3||Opelousas||St. Landry|
|Cecilia Primary||K-3||Cecilia||St. Martin|
|Teche Elementary||4-6||Breaux Bridge||St. Martin|
|Cecilia Junior High||7-8||Cecilia||St. Martin|
|Cecilia High School||9-12||Cecilia||St. Martin|
The Consortium of Louisiana Universities and Colleges unites representatives of French programs in Louisiana Universities and Colleges, and organizes post-secondary level Francophone scholastic exchanges and provide support for University students studying French language and linguistics in Louisiana.
The grammar and syntax of Louisiana French is the same as that of French spoken elsewhere in the world. There are, however, some syntactical features that were once present in the French-speaking world, that remain present in Louisiana. The difference between je étais après manger and j'étais après manger ("I was eating"; cf. Irish English I was after eating) is in the spelling; there is no audible difference.
Lexically, Louisiana French differs only minutely from other varieties of French spoken in the world. However, there are several lexical treats stemming from many linguistic origins; some are unique to Louisiana French, while others are shared sporadically throughout the Francophone world.
Place names in Louisiana French usually differ from those in International French. For instance, locales named for American Indian tribes usually use the plural article (les) before the name, instead of the masculine or feminine singular article (le/la). Likewise, movement towards those locations necessitates the plural – aux – before the place name.
In informal Louisiana French, most US states and countries are pronounced in English and therefore require no article (California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Mexico, Colorado, Mexico, Belgium, Morocco, Lebanon, etc.).
In formal Louisiana French, prefixed articles are absent, however the names of the states and countries usually are in French (Californie, Texas, Floride, Belgique, Liban).
In informal Louisiana French, often contractions are absent.
(I learned from the grandparents). Instead of *J'ai appris des grand-parents.
(The skylight.) Instead of *La lumière du ciel.
Francophones and Creolophones have worked side-by-side, lived amongst one another and have enjoyed local festivities together throughout the history of the state. As a result, in regions where both Louisiana French and Louisiana Creole are spoken (or once were), the inhabitants of the region often code switch, beginning the sentence in one language and completing it in another.
Taxonomies for classing Louisiana French have changed over time. Until the 1960s and 1970s, Louisianans themselves, when speaking in French, referred to their language as français, or créole. In English, they referred to their language as Creole French, and French, simultaneously.
In 1968, Lafayette native James Domengeaux, a US Congressman and State Representative, created the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL), whose mission was to oversee the promotion, visibility and expansion of French language usage in Louisiana. His mission is clear: (re)create a European French bastion in Louisiana by making all Louisianans bilingual in International French and English. To accomplish his goals, he teamed up with political leaders in Canada and France, including former French President Georges Pompidou. Louisiana French, he found too limiting, so he imported Francophone teachers from Europe, Canada and the Caribbean to teach normative French in Louisiana schools. His penchant for International French caused him to lose support in Louisiana: Louisianans, if they were going to have French in Louisiana schools, wanted Louisiana French, not "Parisian French."
Simultaneously, an ethnic movement took root in South Louisiana led by Francophones like James Donald Faulk, Dudley Joseph Leblanc and Jules O. Daigle. James Donald Faulk, a French teacher in Crowley, Louisiana, introduced using the term Cajun French, for which he created a Curriculum Guide, or Teacher and Student Manual for institutionalizing the language in schools in 1977. Roman Catholic Priest Jules O. Daigle, who in 1984 published his Dictionary of the Cajun Language, followed him. Cajun French is intended to imply a variety of French spoken in Louisiana by descendants of Acadians, an ethnic qualifier rather than a linguistic relationship.
Linguists and social scientists then categorized Louisiana French into a tripartite system based on colonial class lines: Colonial French or Plantation Society French, Napoleonic French, Acadian French/Cajun French and Louisiana Creole French, though these academic terms did not last long before quickly fading away.
In 2009, Iberia Parish native and activist Christophe Landry introduced three terms representing lexical differences based on Louisiana topography: Provincial Louisiana French (PLF), Fluvial Louisiana French (FLF) and Urban Louisiana French (ULF).
That same year, the Dictionary of Louisiana of Louisiana French, subtitled "as spoken in Cajun, Creole and American Indian communities," was published. It was edited by a coalition of linguists and other activists. The title clearly suggests that the ethno-racial identities are mapped onto the languages, but the language, at least linguistically, remains shared across those ethno-racial lines.
These are the academic taxonomies applied to categorizations of Louisiana French. With nationwide ethnicization came internal sub-divisions that, some of the state's inhabitants, insist are ancestral varieties. As a result, it is not odd to hear the language referred to as French, Canadian French, Acadian French, Broken French, Old French, Creole French, Cajun French and so on. Still other Louisiana Francophones will simply refer to their language as French, without qualifiers. Internally, two broad distinctions will be made: formal French ("good French" or "proper French") and informal French ("broken French").
Formal French is the language used in all administrative and ecclesiastic documents, speeches and in literary publications. This variety of French, also known as Urban Louisiana French (ULF), is spoken in the urban business centers of the state. These regions have historically been centers of trade, commerce and contact with speakers of French from Europe. This would include New Orleans and its environs, Baton Rouge and its environs, St. Martinville (here, along class lines) and other once important Francophone business centers in the state. ULF sounds almost identical to Standard International French, with guttural Rs and intonation that varies from European to North American.
This variety of Louisiana French, also known as Provincial Louisiana French (PLF), Cajun French and Acadian French, or le cadien, has its roots in agrarian Louisiana, but is now also found in urban centers due to urbanization beginning in the 20th century.
Historically, along the prairies of Southwest Louisiana, Francophone Louisianans were cattle grazers and rice and cotton farmers. Along the bayous and the Louisiana littoral, sugar cane cultivation dominated and in many parishes today, sugar cultivation remains an important source of economy (e.g. Iberia and St. Martin parishes).
In this variety of LF, the Rs are alveolar (not guttural, they’re flat), the AU in words becomes /aw/, the vowels at the beginning and end of words is usually omitted (Américain -> Méricain, Espérer -> Spérer). Likewise the letter O following an É frequently disappears in spoken informal LF all together (Léonide -> Lonide, Cléophas -> Clophas).
The nasality and pitch in PLF is akin to pitch and intonation associated with provincial speech in Québec. In terms of nasality, Louisiana French is not far different from French spoken in Brussels, Paris and Dakar (Senegal). Among these three varieties, and others, there is, however, a difference in stress (inflection, accentuation), rhythm (cadence and lilt), articulation, timbre (character and quality of each phoneme, or sound), form and sound fluctuations (modulation), and tone (intonation). The pitch of PLF and Provincial Quebec French (PQF) share a predominantly agricultural history, close contact with pre-Columbian peoples and relative isolation from urbanized populations.
Particular mention should be made to the Francophones of Bayou Lafourche. There’s an interesting linguistic phenomenon here that is absent everywhere else in Louisiana. Some Francophones along Bayou Lafourche pronounce the G and J in French as the English letter H (as done in Spanish), and others pronounce these two letters in the ordinary manner of other Francophones.
Two theories exist to explain this unique feature. On the one hand, some activists and linguists attribute this feature to an inheritance of Acadian French spoken in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and other Canadian maritime provinces, a theory based entirely on observation of shared vocal features rather than the communities being linked by migration.
On the other hand, it has been suggested that there may be a linguistic link to the Creole Hispanophones living at the Mississippi River and Bayou Lafourche junction, who were more numerous than the Acadians who lived in the immediate vicinity.
Interesting side note: the Louisiana Creole spoken in Lafourche Parish in and around Kraemer, Choctaw, Bayou Bœuf and Chackbay contains the letters G and J, but they are voiced as they are in LC spoken elsewhere in the state, and as the French spoken elsewhere – not as the aspirated Hs in Lower Bayou Lafourche French.
Musically, Louisiana French is and has been the traditional language for singing music now referred to as Cajun, Zydeco, and Louisiana French Rock. Today, Cajun, Creole Stomp, and Louisiana French Rock remain the only three genres of music in Louisiana utilizing French instead of English. In Zydeco, most artists interject expressions and phrases in French in songs predominantly sung in Louisiana English.
Medicine men and women, or healers, called traiteur/traiteuse in French, are still found throughout the state. During their rituals for healing, it is often French that is employed to summon the gods for a speedy recover to normalcy.
Signage, packaging, and documentation in French exists throughout the state. Beginning in the 1990s, when cultural and ethnic tourism proved a lucrative enterprise, luring large numbers of Francophones to Louisiana, State and local tourism bureau commissions were influential in convincing city, parish and state officials to produce bilingual signage and documentation. French and English bilingual signage is therefore usually confined to the old districts of cities, like the French Quarter in New Orleans, downtown Lafayette, New Iberia (trilingual with Spanish), St. Martinville, Breaux Bridge, and several other cities. Locals continue to refer to the place names in English and for postal services the English version is generally preferred.
To meet the demands of a growing Francophone tourist market, tourism bureaus and commissions throughout the state, but particularly in southern Louisiana, have information on tourist sites in both French and English (as well as in other major languages spoken by tourists).
Similarly, the state government passed measures in 2011 to provide Louisiana French Language Services at the governmental level, with particular mention to cultural tourism and local culture and heritage. The legislative act was drafted and presented by Francophone and Francophile Senators and Representatives. It asserts that the French language is vital to the economy of the state. Accordingly, the bill sets forth that each branch of the state government shall take necessary action to identify employees who are proficient in French. Each branch of the state government shall also take necessary steps in producing services in the Louisiana French language for both locals and visitors. This bill is, however, an unfunded state mandate.
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