French in Louisiana (but what sort of French?)

In the sixteenth century, Spanish explorers began mapping the area now known as New Orleans and the Mississippi River. In the following century, France made claims and set up forts in the area. Control of the area switched back and forth between the two over time.

Meanwhile, up north, French settlers and their descendants resisted Great Britain in Acadia, an area now known as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec. With the Treaty of Paris of 1763, the colonial powers ended the Seven Years’ War and recognized Great Britain as the ruler of Canada.

The treaty also gave Acadians, who refused to sign an oath of allegiance to Great Britain, 18 months to settle elsewhere. Many moved south, all the way down to Louisiana, where the dominant ruler of the time, Spain, welcomed them as fellow Catholics.

In 1800, Napoleon secretly purchased Louisiana (the larger meaning that covers what is many states today) from Spain and sold it to the United States three years later.

The Acadians in Louisiana, known now as Cajuns, have maintained their culture and their language to this day. (See, for example, Rebecca Wells’s novel “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood,” which includes French in the dialogue.)

As is all too common, French-speaking children were punished in Louisiana when the school board made a decision that French would not be allowed in schools. That was followed by a constitutional amendment a few years later which also forbade French in the schools.

In 1968, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana was established to develop and maintain French. Today, there are immersion programs to revitalize French, but, as elsewhere, it is a difficult battle, and the teachers in the schools teach standard French, not Cajun French (frc). Also, Council’s budget was slashed dramatically last month. Ultimately, the survival of the language depends on the speakers; outside of the classroom, there is not much opportunity or incentive to use French.

Read more in the article “In Cajun land, a reveille to French heritage.”

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