This paper aims to analyze colonization and language policies in Louisiana and discern why Louisiana Creole has nearly gone extinct. First, it is essential to define Louisiana Creole as it is a unique language formulated under the particular circumstances of historical Louisiana and still plays a crucial role in the region’s culture, including food, music, and traditions. The question at the base of this research paper is how language planning in Louisiana has stigmatized Louisiana Creole and essentially caused it to be repressed. Additionally, as this course focuses on language planning, the study will explore new ways and attempts to revitalize Louisiana Creole and efforts to put the language back on the map.
As Spolsky (2008) points out, although colonization which entails language planning based on the ruling power, inflicts stress on other languages in the region, specifically through linguistic imperialism, it is not the only negative factor. Other factors from colonialism include glottophagy, in which dominating languages incorporate words from the minority languages. Furthermore, the dominating language is the base of government and education. It becomes a tool of persuasion to admire a language and stigmatize others, making them less desirable to be used, learned, and essentially passed down to other generations (Spolsky 232).
These are crucial topics that need to be explored in order to explain the depletion of Creole, which has created a movement of younger generations to reclaim Louisiana Creole and begin to try to revitalize it through the means of what Nancy Hornberger calls bottom-up, which is a self-driven initiative by people of culture to save and revitalize their language by personal motivation (Hornberger 442).
Definition of Creole
The concept of Creole has been widely discussed across academia and in linguistics and language studies. In recent discourse, “creole” typically refers to languages developed under colonial situations (Mayeux 32). As such, these creoles grow out of a mixture of languages: the language of the colonizer and the colonized. This definition is further strengthened by the recognition that these creole languages emerged in times of contact and were used to achieve socialization and to help establish connections between people and nations (Mayeux 59). Traditionally, creole languages were generated in areas of geographic and social separation, allowing languages to develop in isolation and without larger colonial subjugation.
However, two distinct definitions of Creole are widely accepted and applied. Firstly, creoles can be defined in terms of their origin as languages that have emerged due to language contact and borrowing features from other languages (Mayeux 86). Secondly, creoles can be defined in terms of their structure, which is seen as an effort to adjust the language to meet a specific purpose of communication (Mayeux 95). In Louisiana, where the creole language role is distinct, it has been described as an “interlingual” language hybridizing European and African languages (Mayeux 11). Louisiana creole is classified as a vernacular, meaning it has a formal structure defined by elements of language contact rather than one linguistic structure.
In terms of its Louisiana form, Creole involves a combination of various languages and dialects, most notably French and African. In its structure, Louisiana Creole is a type of creolized French. It exhibits elements of syncretic Creole, meaning it is a highly structured language that develops through the combination of languages and adds a layer of native grammar. Because of its unique structure, Louisiana Creole is seen by its speakers as a language in its own right, separate from other languages such as French and African-American English dialects (Mayeux 132). This places it in stark contrast to what linguists consider “standard” French, which is often viewed as the language of power.
As a distinctive language, Louisiana Creole has become a source of identity and a symbol of resistance for its speakers. This is due to its distinctiveness from the French spoken in Europe, as well as its history of being used to assert a sense of identity among those who did not have access to the French language of the elite (Mayeux 161). Thus, Creole is seen as a language of empowerment and resistance, connecting people to their unique history while also imparting a sense of pride in the culture and language of the Louisiana Creole people. As such, many individuals are pushing for language revitalization efforts to preserve the language and keep it a symbol of identity and cultural pride.
Colonization in Louisiana
The colonization of Louisiana has dramatically impacted its Creole culture and language. For instance, this period of colonialism forged a unique Creole language composed of multiple languages and dialects, altering prior French spoken by Native communities and immigrants. According to Valdman, this “linguistic hybridization” created a new Creole culture by introducing Spanish, French, African, and English influences (Valdman 16). Another example of colonization-era influence is highlighted by Hart, who traces the beginnings of Creole resistance during the colonial period as a way for people of color to reclaim and celebrate their identities in the face of oppression (Hart 3). The French language also experienced disruption due to the unpredictable surges in immigration during the colonial period. Marshall demonstrates that multiple Colonizers were constantly influencing and changing the language due to their different origins (Marshall 48). Spears argues that contemporary features of the Creole language can be traced back to the cultural mixing of enslaved Africans and French colonists during colonization (p. 40). As a result, colonists were faced with an everyday struggle to learn, develop and maintain the new language which emerged.
Colonization also resulted in increased standardization and simplification of the Creole language. Rioult explains in their article The Standardization Process of Louisiana French the development of a “standard” written form to simplify spelling constraints and make the language more accessible (Rioult 199). This demonstrates the effort to enforce a “standard form” of the language through standardization and simplification used by the colonizers to demonstrate their perceived superiority of language (Rioult 206). Boles’ work Turning Gumbo into Coq Au Vin, further adds to this conversation, noting that creating a single standard form of the language was used to suppress the distinctive Creole identity (Boles 45). Therefore, the colonization of Louisiana has had an indelible impact on the area’s culture, identity and language. Through linguistic hybridization, changes in immigration patterns and forced standardization of language, Louisiana’s Creole language and culture have been drastically altered. Even today, its legacy continues to serve as a reminder of the power of influence and language.
Near Extinction of Louisiana Creole
Louisiana Creole is a language that has come under threat of near extinction due to various complex language policies and socioeconomic challenges. Thomas and Dajko aver that most Creole-speaking communities in Louisiana have exhibited “a high degree of language endangerment” (p. 11). Louisiana Creole language loss can be attributed to various language policies. For example, Hornberger notes that since the 19th century, French colonies sought to eradicate their indigenous languages “in the interest of achieving a homogenous national language” (448). This suppression of indigenous and creole languages has been magnified by the dominance of English in many areas of the United States. According to Spolsky, the trend of language policy ignores the value of minority languages and often “prioritizes the learning of dominant languages” and supports what he calls “monolingual nationhood” (298).
The erosion of the Louisiana Creole language is also mainly due to the socioeconomic realities experienced by speakers of the language. Bankston III and Henry analyze the economic and educational dynamism within Louisiana Creole-speaking communities and observe that “Persistent and chronic conditions of poverty, language prejudice, and lack of access to consistent educational opportunity have hindered the ability of Louisiana creoles’ to participate meaningfully in mainstream society” (269). This has a cascading effect on the use of the language, as people in these societies become less and less likely to use Louisiana Creole in favor of economically advantageous languages such as English. Furthermore, the education system in many communities has a documented unwillingness to certify or credit students for using Louisiana Creole, further strengthening the language’s provisional status (Hornberger 455).
As language is an essential part of any culture, the near-extinction of the Louisiana Creole language threatens to strip Creole-speaking communities of their cultural identity and heritage. As Hornberger argues, this “compromises [s] the right of a language community to maintain its language as a means of cultural preservation” (463). This is especially pertinent for Louisiana Creole, a distinct language heavily intertwined with the state’s cultural heritage. Without preservation and recognition, the Louisiana Creole-speaking community stands at risk of being permanently erased from the social and cultural fabric of the state of Louisiana. Therefore, Louisiana Creole is facing near-extinction risk due to a wide range of language policies and socioeconomic issues. In recent years, various initiatives have been proposed to combat language erosion within the Louisiana Creole-speaking community. Such initiatives may effectively help preserve the Louisiana Creole language, which is invaluable to the cultural identity of the state of Louisiana.
Revitalization of Louisiana Creole
In Louisiana, efforts to revitalize the state’s creole language have been ongoing. As Albert Camp explains in his 2015 work, L’essentiel ou lagniappe: The ideology of French Revitalization in Louisiana, the state’s French-speaking population has long been subject to linguistic discrimination, with English being the dominant language in formal settings. This has led to a decrease in the use of Louisiana creole, leading to a need for revitalization efforts. To this end, the Louisiana legislature has created a state-funded French Language Immersion Program, which provides immersion-style education to French-speaking students to promote the use of Louisiana creole (Camp 10).
In addition to the Immersion Program, scholars have researched other strategies for promoting the revitalization of Louisiana creole. Portillo and Wagner examined the impact of cultural districts on the revitalization of Louisiana creole. They found that the presence of cultural districts in Louisiana was associated with increased use of Louisiana creole, indicating that such districts can be valuable tools for promoting the revitalization of the language (Portillo and Wagner 663). Another strategy for revitalizing Louisiana creole is focusing on the Cajun population’s language. Dormon explains that Cajuns are integral to the state’s history and culture and have been instrumental in preserving Louisiana creole. Dormon suggests that the presence of Cajun culture in Louisiana can encourage the use of Louisiana creole and preserve the language for future generations (Dormon 1049).
Finally, Baird offers some insight into language policy and language strategy that can be used to revitalize Louisiana creole. Baird argues that the state must create a cohesive language policy, which includes the promotion of bilingualism, increased funding for language instruction, and the adoption of standardized orthography, to ensure the language’s long-term success (Baird 83). Additionally, Baird suggests that language revitalization efforts should also include a focus on language strategies, such as creating language-learning communities and using media to promote the language (Baird 87). Likewise, Mayeux’ provides insight into language contact and change, which is essential for revitalizing the language (Mayeux 13).
Laws/Policies That Prevent the Usage of Any Languages Outside of English Which Discriminated and Negatively Impacted Creole (Jim Crow)
As many as 10 to 25 million Americans speak English-based Creole languages, commonly referred to as Jim Crow (Beaubrun 196). Unfortunately, this language has been discriminated against for years due to its strong roots in African-American Vernacular English (AEV). As a result, various laws and policies have been enacted restricting such languages’ usage, particularly in educational settings. This discrimination has had a significant, negative impact on Creole-speaking communities. The language has been relegated to second-class status, with the implicit message that language is not valued or respected.
The roots of this discrimination can be traced back to the Jim Crow era when laws were enacted in the United States to restrict the rights of African American citizens. During this time, laws were passed banning the use of any language other than English in educational and other public settings, thus preventing Creole-speaking citizens from fully participating in society (Henderson 45). This discriminatory policy created a situation where Creole-speaking individuals felt ostracized and disrespected, and their language and culture were devalued by society.
Over the past few decades, increased awareness of the struggles of Creole-speaking communities has led to a shift in policy. Although the Jim Crow policies remain in place in some states and localities, the federal government and many state governments have tried rectifying the situation by enacting new laws and policies that provide greater protections for Creole and other non-English languages. For example, in 2001, Congress passed the Equal Education Opportunities Act, which banned discrimination against students based on their primary language and provided additional resources for English language learners (McDougall 101). This law provided increased access to resources for individuals struggling to learn English, thus protecting individuals speaking Creole.
More recently, there has been further progress in language and education policy. Many states, such as Louisiana and Virginia, have passed laws allowing Creole to be used as a medium of instruction in schools (Beaubrun 198). Such policies reflect a significant shift in attitude, as they recognize the value of Creole and its importance in the lives of Creole-speaking individuals. Additionally, many school districts across the country have adopted standardized testing policies that recognize the existence of AEV, making it easier for students to succeed academically (Henderson 48). This shift in attitude signals an increased acceptance and appreciation for the diversity of language, which also protects Creole-speaking individuals’ rights.
The Jim Crow era has left a long-lasting legacy of discrimination against Creole, and establishing laws and policies to counter it has been a slow and imperfect process. Rather than accepting single language-based discrimination, communities and governments should continue to strive for an increased understanding of the role of all languages in educational and civic life and create further protections for Creole-speaking individuals. Such shifts in policy are essential to ensuring that all individuals, regardless of language, can fully participate in and benefit from society and contribute to its dynamic cultural landscape.
Application of Constructivist Philosophy
The constructivist paradigm is well-suited for the current study of the near extinction and revitalization of Louisiana creole. According to Bailey (2019), “The constructivist paradigm has often been advocated to facilitate student-centred learning and an accompanying valuing of multi-voices, multiple perspectives and varied knowledge” (p. 174). This can be especially beneficial for the current study as the research involves interviewing local speakers as part of data collection. By orienting the research towards a constructivist paradigm, there will be more emphasis on student-centred learning and the multiple perspectives shared by speakers. Thus, speakers’ voices will be prioritized and respected throughout the research process.
Additionally, the constructivist paradigm can aid the researchers in their exploration of the endeavors by NOUS to revitalize the Creole. Since the constructivist paradigm emphasizes understanding the local context and culture, the researchers can make more informed decisions in their data collection. Additionally, the constructivist paradigm can aid in the understanding of experiments conducted by NOUS to save the Creole (Samardžija, 2020, p. 41). With its focus on different perspectives, the constructivist paradigm is well-poised to understand better the work being done by NOUS.
Also, the constructivist paradigm can help the researchers consider the active participation of children in the revitalization of Creole. Through a constructivist approach, researchers can understand the implications of the work done by children to revitalize the Creole as they “play an active role as experts and participants of the language” (Tamamounides Castineira, 2022, p. 10). By understanding the children’s active role, the researchers can better understand the effectiveness of NOUS in reviving the dying Creole.
Finally, the constructivist paradigm can augment the research by providing a platform to challenge the current paradigm. The researchers can use this to challenge “the rationales and outcomes of US foreign language education,” presented through the constructivist paradigm (Reagan & Osborn, 2019, p. 83). With this new perspective, the researchers can provide an alternative account of the revitalization of Louisiana creole that is distinct from the traditional one instated by the current paradigm. As such, the constructivist approach of the research can provide a more nuanced image of the Creole and its revitalization efforts.
Therefore, the constructivist paradigm is a suitable approach for the current study, which seeks to understand the near extinction and revitalization of Louisiana creole. Through its focus on student-centred learning and understanding different perspectives of the locals, the constructivist paradigm is well-suited to provide an in-depth account of the language. Additionally, the constructivist approach can challenge existing rationales and outcomes the current paradigm presents. Thus, the constructivist paradigm is a beneficial tool for the current study in gaining a deeper understanding of Louisiana creole.
Use of Interviews
Given the current study’s quest to determine the near extinction and revitalization of Louisiana creole, interviews can be a valuable data collection tool for understanding the various nuances of the language. A fundamental starting point for any investigation should be determining the sociocultural and linguistic contexts through which the language is used (Sippola 91). This can be achieved through interviews since they facilitate access to a participant’s perspectives, allowing the collection of both explicit and implicit information (Nero 343). Moreover, interviews are suitable for accessing the multiple contexts in which a language is expressed (Schneider 12). In the more specific case of pidgins and creoles, such as Louisiana Creole, interviews can be used to obtain “explicit statements of communicants [or] information about the complexity of their linguistic repertoires” (Sippola 101). This is especially important given the potential social implications of creole languages in specific communities, such as the erosion of local varieties due to their use as a marker of identity (Nero 358).
To understand how Louisiana Creole lives in contemporary times and the bottom-up nature of the new movement of the revitalization of the language, the study implemented personal interviews with individuals who have learned Louisiana Creole. Examples of the questions asked within the interviews are ‘What does “creole” mean to you?’ and ‘Is it more of a language or a cultural aspect to you?’ Later asked, ‘Can you think of ways Creole influences your life in Louisiana?’ Additionally, the interview probed for examples and stories that would help to strengthen and enrich the research.
Despite their efficacy, caution must be taken when collecting such data since understanding the nuances of the speaker’s usage can be difficult. For instance, ambiguity may exist between the terms Creole, pidgin, and dialect, leading to misunderstandings (Quinones 8). A difficulty may also arise in the case of mixed varieties, when, for example, it is hard to identify which varieties of the language are being spoken and how they interact with mainstream standards (Sippola 102). Therefore, in order to properly understand the language being used and its various influences, it is essential for the interviewer to have strong language comprehension and “specify exactly what type of data [they] are looking for” (Sippola 106).
Therefore, interviews offer an ideal scenario for collecting accurate data on Louisiana creole and its near extinction and revitalization. The interviewer can form an approximation of the language used by the participant by making use of their familiarity with the language and its characteristics to identify patterns and complexities. Furthermore, interviews can provide helpful information on the broader contexts of language use, such as the participant’s identity and social structure. Thus, although caution must be taken when using interviews as a data collection tool, they can be an efficient and reliable way of gathering the necessary information for this current study.
Definition of Creole From the Interviews
Alysson understood Creole as both a language type and a cultural identity. Alysson stresses the importance of individuals being able to tell their stories for external audiences to understand the nuances of Creole and its various distinctions, such as Cajun and Louisiana Creole (Nous Interview 2, p. 2). Creole is ultimately a cultural identity that is distinct from other languages and cultures, though it is characterized by diverse stories and people from different backgrounds (Nous Interview 2, p. 2).
Correspondingly, Taalib views Creole as a bastardized version of French spoken by older generations in Louisiana, especially in areas such as Vasari, Breaux Bridge, and Saint Martinville. It is often regarded as a “simple” or “uneducated” language in comparison to the more polished Louisiana French dialect (Taalib Interview p. 3). Creole is typically spoken at home but can also be used to communicate with others. Generally, older white folks usually have Creole as their first language while they are capable of speaking french when speaking to others (Taalib Interview p. 3). Creole is the result of a long history of the struggle to combat Americanization in the region (Taalib Interview p. 3).
Jonathan defines Creole as an ethnicity and language formed through colonialism. It was often born out of the conditions of slavery, making it a language of survival for those who experienced such struggles. Louisiana Creole, or “Kouri-vini” as some may call it, is distinct from French and Cajun French as it is believed to have originated from a combination of African and European influences (Jonathan 1 p. 2). There is also speculated influence from Native Americans. However, many prefer not to refer to them as such due to the oppressive nature of the term “American” imposed on them by British colonizers. Creole is an identity and language firmly rooted in survival and adaptation (Jonathan 1 p. 2).
Finally, Christophe is a Creole speaker who has long been exposed to the language. Growing up, he was partly exposed to French due to family and being swept up in the linguistic movement in Louisiana while in elementary school. He explained that French was everywhere in Louisiana, from street signs to conversations (Christophe Interview p. 2). However, he only switched from French to Creole when he heard a professor speaking Creole at a cafe on the University of Lafayette campus (Christophe Interview p. 6). He was inspired to promote Creole and has since become a passionate advocate who works to preserve Creole’s rich history and bright future. While for many, Creole represents a language associated with Louisiana labor and working in the cane fields (Christophe Interview p. 2), Christophe has opened up Creole to a broader audience, celebrating its value and fostering its appreciation and acceptance.
Therefore, Ceole is a complex language and cultural identity strongly intertwined with the history of colonialism in the Louisiana region. Alysson emphasizes the need for individual stories to be told to foster a deeper understanding of Creole and its various dialects, such as Cajun and Louisiana Creole (Nous Interview 2, p. 2). Taalib shares that Creole is both a language and an ethnicity, with older people in areas such as Vasari, Breaux Bridge and Saint Martinville speaking Creole as their first language (Taalib Interview p. 3). Jonathan additionally provides insight into the formation of Creole, which is believed to have been a result of African and European influences and an adaptation to the oppressive culture of colonialism (Jonathan 1 p. 2). Finally, Christophe is an example of someone who has used Creole to express and preserve his identity, rise from oppressive labor conditions, and promote the appreciation of Creole as a survival language (Christophe Interview p. 2). Creole is a unique and essential language that offers individuals a way to fight against oppression, connect to complex historical experiences, and promote a rich shared cultural identity.
Other Definitions of Creole
The definitions of pidgins and creoles can be divergent. Baptista et al. state that “pidgins more closely resemble contact languages, characterized by limited and reduced grammatical structure, while creoles are structurally distinct and stable” (434). However, this simplified distinction is only sometimes accepted. Thus, Constance offers a more complex definition that “argues for a continuum of structures between pidgins and creoles, but generally accepts that pidgins have a simplified grammar, a smaller lexicon, and limited functions in the speech community; whereas creoles are languages with a more mature syntactic development bearing full lexical meaning, and social functions and acceptance” (322). These definitions agree on the fundamental premise that pidgins feature a limited structure, whereas creoles have a more robust and socially accepted structure.
Selbach extends this line of thought, basing her definition of creoles on their origin. She posits that “there is a consensus that creoles originated as pidgins that resulted from contact between two different language communities, with the mother tongues of the speakers providing grammar and lexicon, with substrate influence and evidence of rural and regional variation” (366). From this perspective, creoles are seen as a distinct yet interconnected language. They are distinct as they exhibit characteristics that allow them to be distinguished from pidgins in terms of structure and social acceptance. However, they are interconnected because they evolved from contact language between two different language communities.
McWhorter further adds that creoles can be identified by their primary differences from typical languages: structural complexity, lexical density, and functional diversity (para. 4). Specifically, he argues that “creoles sharply contrast with pidgins in having complex structures, rich vocabularies, and a multidimensional syntax” (para. 4). From this, creoles can be characterized as languages that are distinct from their parent languages, that exhibit a set of shared characteristics, and that are typically more socially accepted than pidgins.
Though providing a single, unmarked definition of a creole language is complex, the above sources can provide general guidelines. A creole can be generally understood as a language derived from contact between two different language communities and features a complex structure, rich lexicon, and wide range of social functions. As each Creole is distinct from the parent language and others, further distinction and research into the specific features of each Creole are necessary to gain a multifaceted understanding of this language type.
Linguicide. Linguicide, or the systematic destruction of a language, constitutes an enduring plight across global contexts. This idea is demonstrated through the plight of Louisiana Creole, which has experienced a sharp decline in use and is near extinction in contemporary society (Migge and Léglise 299). This decline has occurred over time due to the increasing number of immigrants to the state and the consequential shifting of language use (Migge and Léglise 301). This shift has perpetuated the rise of English as the language of choice and has left Louisiana Creole facing a lack of recognition and appreciation. At the same time, it has further denigrated the population of Louisiana Creole speakers, ultimately leading to the language’s near extinction (Robins 168).
To help prevent linguicide, the Louisiana-based organization Network for the Conservation of Louisiana Creole has worked to establish an outreach and awareness program designed to chronicle the language’s history and promote its revitalization (Bell 90). Through the program, the organization has sought to take decisive action to erase the various forms of discrimination ingrained within contemporary attitudes towards Louisiana Creole (Bell 104). By appealing to individuals of diverse backgrounds — especially younger generations — the organization has made strides in helping to spread knowledge and promote the academic exploration of the language (Hartford, Valdman, and Foster 65).
The organization has also sought to create a platform that provides the community with a voice to discuss and express the various aspects of the language by hosting conversations and conferences dedicated to Louisiana Creole (Hartford, Valdman, and Foster 73). Through discussion, the organization has sought to create a shared culture of ownership, allowing for a greater appreciation and understanding of the language. This has extended to promoting programs designed to help people of various ages learn and develop their skills in Louisiana Creole (Bell 102). In doing so, the organization has sought to combat linguicide and bolster the declining population of speakers within Louisiana and beyond (Robins 181).
Ultimately, the organization’s efforts have documented the history and use of Louisiana Creole to chronicle its current state and herald a new era of revitalization within the words of its few remaining speakers (Migge and Léglise 314). In doing so, the organization has sought to continue to document the language’s use to help preserve its use within Louisiana and beyond in the future. This has provided an invaluable platform for educational outreach and to provide individuals with the support, knowledge and status to help endure the language’s survival. In this way, the Network for the Conservation of Louisiana Creole has, more importantly, sought to ensure the language’s resilience and stave off linguicide across the international community (Robins 194).
Glottophagy. As Louisiana Creole is spoken throughout the state, it is no stretch to say that this tradition of glottophagy, combining French and African American vocabulary and grammar, is a staple of the culture. Melancon attempts to characterize the Creole identity and illustrates this unique melding of two different linguistic traditions (533). The French-African melding manifests itself mainly in the vocabulary of Louisiana Creole. Likewise, Ancelet posits that the language borrows from its two predecessors and utilizes the vocabulary for new expressive capacity never seen before in either language (126). Additionally, Picone indicates that while grammatical aspects of the French language are retained, they are less dominant than the African American aspects and may be modified to fit the African American idiom (117).
Kihm illustrates the use of French lexemes with less efficient inflection and more reliance on creole particles like “fini,” letting the speaker convey a variety of affected attitudes through the combination of French and African American grammar and dialect. This adoption and alteration of French vocabulary also influence the subject’s urgency or politeness in their speech. Additionally, Berlin attempts to study this unique adaptation of French vocabulary and how it changed how African Americans viewed and interacted with the French language (251). Berlin postulates that through this linguistic blend, African Americans could create a form of French that more adequately communicated the African American experience in mainland North America.
The glottophagy of Louisiana Creole has become a cultural hallmark, blending the French and African American vocabulary and grammar that historically characterize the area. This blending of vocabularies and grammar has allowed Louisiana Creole speakers to create a unique linguistic stamp rich in African American and French heritages. This particular melding of languages has been explored for its effect on the participant’s speech and its expressions of politeness, urgency, and attitude through the combination of African American and French syntax and vocabulary. This unique blurring has allowed its participants to craft a language that more accurately reflects their narrative and allows them to express their lived experiences better. As a marker of the rich history of Louisiana, the glottophagy of Louisiana Creole is a sign of resilience in the face of both colonial and linguistic suppression.
Christophe reveals the institutional and systemic forces that worked to erase Louisiana Creole from the narrative during the interwar period. He states, “you get this sort of stereotype that was created about the French language in Louisiana. But outside of the community, it is all just French, right? And so everyone was put in the same basket” (Christophe Interview p. 2). This reflects the dominance of English in the United States and the imposition of a single language narrative despite its apparent nuances, variations, and complexities. As St-Hilaire demonstrates, the nationalist impulse to deny and erase Louisiana Creole could exclude and erase aspects of local culture (158).
Christophe further illustrates this point when he states that “In the late 1960s, you get this like renaissance with French, and it’s a very bourgeois renaissance right through code of feel and W and, you know, the delegations from Canada and from France and Belgium and on and on and on. And that changed the nature of how locals, and outsiders perceive the French language in Louisiana, it sort of upped it a bit right where you didn’t. You no longer thought about it as backwards and just like stagnant or anything like that. You started to associate it with mobility” (Christophe Interview p. 2). Here, Christophe demonstrates the privileging of certain aspects of the French language and its usage in Louisiana while neglecting Creole. This selective privilege of particular languages reflects the various power structures in play, where languages are treated as symbols of identity and class.
Christophe directly alludes to this erasure when he remarks, “And so nothing really was happening with Creole” (Squint). By making this comment, Christophe conveys the idea that Creole was neglected in the realm of language preservation and recognition in the late 1960s, a point highlighted by Kirstin L Squint in her comparison of Haitian Creole and Louisiana Creole. She argues that “attitudes concerning language attitudes have been particularly hostile toward the Creole language created in Louisiana and other French Creole territories” (Squint), showing that Creole was not incorporated into language discourse as much as other French dialects. Moreover, Darensbourg and Price further discuss the cultural erasure that Creole faced during the interwar period when they state, “Despite the persistent presence of French Creole culture through the 20th century, the perception of it has been heavily altered” (14). This statement further emphasizes that Creole has been subject to significant erasure due to the power structures at play. Additionally, its presence has dwindled due to its exclusion from language discourse, the rise of English, and the need for recognition and investment from those in authority. This is reflective of the sentiments expressed by Christophe, which demonstrates the extinction of Louisiana Creole and reflects the systemic elements that ultimately led to its erasure.
Another interviewee, Taalib, comments on the process of Americanization that has led to the extinction of Louisiana Creole. As St-Hilaire explains, this process “…often involves eradicating the language and cultural heritage by introducing an American English-only ideology, which has occurred in Louisiana for the last four generations’ ‘ (158). This can be seen in Taalib’s comments regarding other languages affected by this ideology, such as “Texas German speakers, Pennsylvania Dutch speakers and Missouri French speakers” (Taalib Interview p. 4). The impact of ex-communication on the Louisiana Creole language is also illustrated in Taalib’s comments. As Darensbourg and Price point out, this type of exclusion from a community hinders conversations on preserving Louisiana Creole and other languages since it can lead to the “allocation of pride and egos’ ‘ that keep people from participating (14). This further perpetuates the decline of Creole language and the “lack of bilingualism amongst the younger generations” (Taalib Interview p. 5). Taalib also speaks on his experience of Americanization’s effects, such as the censorship of Creole orthography from the Kristof community (Taalib Interview p. 5). This insight shows how people can be censored from language revitalization efforts and denied the connection to their culture. It further laments the lack of support these individuals are given amidst this supposed effort of preservation (Squint). In the end, this lack of acceptance affects the growth of Louisiana Creole and the continuation of its cultural identity. Therefore, Taalib’s interview comments demonstrate the extinction of Louisiana creole due to the Americanization process and the resulting lack of support and censorship of language revitalization efforts. This threatens the recovery and evolutionary development of the language and its culture. As St-Hilaire illuminates, “this situation, if not activated, would ultimately lead to the complete extinction of language and an irreparable cultural loss” (168).
Revitalization of Creole in Louisiana
Use of Art. Jonathan’s comments illustrate one of the significant actions some have taken to help revitalize Louisiana Creole and combat its extinction; that of art (Jonathan 2 p. 2). Art is a universal language which offers a degree of accessibility not limited by linguistic barriers (Ferrara and Holbrook 59). Music and symbolism of Creole culture can be expressed through visual art, performance art, films, and other artistic outlets, creating awareness and interest in both Louisiana Creole speakers and non-speakers (Picone 97). By appealing to more of the public, the culture and the language can be promoted and embraced by more, allowing a degree of longevity which may otherwise not be possible.
The cultural and symbolic significance of the language is an integral factor to note in terms of revitalization as well. As Jonathan mentioned, language is not just an indicator of heritage and community but also an expression of identity, especially in the case of Louisiana Creole (Portillo and Wagner 654). The language’s strength lies in its imbuing with regional customs, inflexions, and individual histories, tying them all in with the language itself (Gold 127). By preserving and propagating the culture, identity and language, not only are citizens of the areas encouraged to be proud of where they come from but so too can their generational descendants.
The art forms mentioned by Jonathan have become ensconced with Louisiana Creole culture and have thus become a beacon for others to view and appreciate. Recognition of these art forms and the culture by larger-scale media outlets is significant as it further shows that this is an integral part of American culture (Picone 99). Integrating it into the current entertainment schemata allows more widespread access to the language and culture, becoming a stage to express the language in a larger context, garnering the interest of various individuals. Though on a grand scale, this may seem like a small contribution to the revitalization of Louisiana Creole and a means to its longevity, it is nonetheless significant. By allowing art forms of Louisiana Creole culture to intertwine with popular culture, perspectives are brought to the forefront, instilling pride in descendants and boosting its presence. With attempts to give it the appropriate platform, Louisiana Creole has maintained its presence in modern society, speaking to the successful revitalization effort taken by many.
Community Involvement. Likewise, Christophe explains his involvement in the revitalization of Creole in Louisiana. Ferreira and HoLbrook note, “Many revitalization efforts have been undertaken, mindful of the threats to their continuing vitality” (83). With her mentor, Debbie, Cristophe translated all of the texts into a Creole exhibition in 2003. However, his activism was already in place when he started learning French from his family in middle school (Christophe Interview p. 3)). Cristophe’s experiences helped him appreciate the cultural advancement of Louisiana Creole as he began to draw people to their heritage, something that Picone describes as “Language along the Levee: Just Another Big Slice of the American Pie” (98). His intimacy with the culture meant that he saw it as more than a language but a part of people’s lives, something that was coming to the forefront.
As a result of his experiences and activism, Cristophe helped create spaces in which Louisiana Creole could be taught, described by Portillo and Wagner as setting “the context for urban revitalization” (658).In his research, Gold describes this as a “return to roots” (129) and notes that it is through activities like Cristophe’s involvement in both French activities and the Creole exhibition that Creole culture began to be taken seriously in the state (Christophe Interview p. 3). Similarly, his efforts to involve everyone from the community, including visitors from other countries, to become involved in the language played a crucial role in its revitalization (Christophe Interview p. 3). His work helped ensure that Louisiana Creole would continue to be taught and access to it would be preserved, furthering the chances of preventing its extinction.
Christophe’s involvement in revitalizing the Creole culture is a testament to the power of language exchange, which Ferreira and Holbrook can do through “increased opportunities for cultural exchange” (84). Additionally, Picone points out that “the only language that really matters to many people is the one they feel closest to” (97); it is through the promotion of Creole culture that it could become closer to the hearts of individuals. Through Christophe’s involvement, the public was exposed to the language and its capabilities, providing an opportunity to strengthen or revive the language and allowing people to draw closer to the distinct linguistic culture of the area.
Therefore, the efforts of Cristophe and others to revive the Louisiana Creole culture demonstrate the power of language exchange and the need to bring it to the forefront of public discourse. Through his involvement in various French-related projects and translating and teaching the language, he helped prevent its extinction. He started to cultivate an understanding and appreciation of the language and its culture. As with any other language, it is essential that the efforts of people like Cristophe continue to ensure that the culture of the area and its language remain alive and accessible to those who are part of it.
Language Reclamation. Another interviewee, Oliver, expresses the feeling of loss and disconnect when the language is not passed on, a feeling that is both psychological and subjective (Oliver p. 4). This feeling is often taken as an impetus for those involved in language reclamation, so they try to find ways to reconcile this internal feeling. Activists engage in symbolic acts of healing, one example being the Louisiana Creole revitalization movement which began merely a decade ago (Ferreira and HoLbrook 102). It began with just a small group of people on Facebook, yet it has now achieved a broad level of currency, with its orthography appearing in various places (Picone 91).
The feeling of loss and disconnect experienced by many is ingrained within the language reclamation process itself (Alexandre 201). Scholars and activists alike point to this feeling as an impetus for language revitalization, one example being the rise of the Louisiana Creole movement, which has taken off in just a decade (Ferreira and HoLbrook 102). This movement has been able to preserve and pass down the language while also providing a symbolic act of healing that those involved are searching for (Portillo and Wagner 651). Furthermore, standard orthography and online platforms have spread the language even further, making it even more accessible (Picone 91).
Louisiana Creole, in a sense, reflects the surroundings of the region, being a blend of African, French, Spanish, Native American, English, and other languages (Gold 133). This unique blend of cultures reveals itself in the language, which “has been a source of pride for many of its speakers since its earliest inception” (Picone 93). Through Louisiana Creole, the region demonstrates its cultural and historical diversity, further reinforcing the need to protect it from extinction (Oliver p. 4). Revitalization processes are ultimately motivated to preserve and protect a way of life (Portillo and Wagner 662).
Louisiana Creole language revitalization has become a deeply personal endeavor for those involved. It is more than just the spoken and written language – it is a symbol of the culture, history, and legacy that is unique to the region, something that those involved in revival feel a personal responsibility to protect from extinction. With the help of online platforms and the use of standard orthography, the Louisiana Creole revitalization movement has been able to gain a broad level of usage and currency, all while providing symbolic acts of healing (Alexandre 201; Ferreira and HoLbrook 102; Portillo and Wagner 651; Picone 91). Ultimately, the feeling of loss and disconnect drives many to engage in language reclamation. In the case of the Louisiana Creole movement, it successfully preserved the region’s language and culture (Gold 133).
Nous and Their Attempts To Revitalize Creole in Louisiana
Nous Foundation is committed to revitalizing Creole in Louisiana. Nous Foundation works to educate and empower marginalized communities, especially those who speak the endangered languages of French and Creole in the Gulf Coast (Moving Worlds para. 1). To do this, Nous Foundation uses a variety of interactive multimedia tools and resources, such as art, music, and videos narrated in both French and Creole. Through interactive and dynamic multimedia resources, Nous Foundation revitalizes Creole culture and language to preserve its existence (Moving Worlds para. 1).
To further ensure the success of their revitalization efforts, Nous Foundation takes a multi-pronged approach to language preservation. Nous Foundation depends on collaboration with local stakeholders and families to develop strategies to sustain their language revitalization efforts in their current and future generations (We are Family Foundation para. 2). As part of their strategy, Nous Foundation encourages elderly community members to pass down their language to the younger generation in order to revitalize Creole effectively. To further support the renewal of Creole, Nous Foundation designed numerous tools, such as special classes, exercises, and assessments to measure the effectiveness of their language revitalization projects (We are Family Foundation para. 2).
Furthermore, through technology and multimedia, Nous Foundation works to make revitalizing Creole easier and more achievable. Nous Foundation uses its “Aloha Language Platform” to make it easier for young people to learn Creole. Through the platform, students can learn fundamental Creole vocabulary and grammar as well as listen to native speakers talking about Creole culture (Moving Worlds para. 1). Additionally, with the built-in translation tools, students can explore Creole phrases and words in other languages, such as French and Spanish ( Moving Worlds para. 11).
Finally, Nous Foundation actively integrates the Creole language into its curriculum to nurture Creole culture and participates in local cultural events. Nous Foundation implemented Creole-speaking tutors that allow Creole-speaking children to engage with native Creole speakers (We are Family Foundation para. 2). Nous Foundation also partners with the Society for the Preservation of Hispano-American Culture to introduce native Creole-speaking tutors from Louisiana (We are Family Foundation para. 2). Moreover, team members from Nous Foundation attends and actively participates in local Creole culture-related events, like the annual Decatur Regional Heritage Festival or Blessing of the Fleet, to support community-based initiatives that promote Creole culture (We are Family Foundation para. 2). Therefore, the Nous Foundation has taken many steps to revitalize Creole in Louisiana. Through multimedia, language tutors, and participation in local cultural events, Nous Foundation is actively working to preserve and promote Creole culture and language in Louisiana.
The Louisiana Creole language has been threatened by near extinction due to various complex language policies and socioeconomic challenges. This has been attributed to the French colonists’ efforts in the 19th century to eradicate their indigenous languages and the subsequent dominance of English in many areas of the United States. With language policies often prioritizing dominant learning languages, the value of minority languages has been diminished.
To revitalize Louisiana Creole, the Nous Foundation has implemented a multi-pronged approach that involves collaboration with local stakeholders and families. They have designed various tools such as classes, exercises and assessments to track the progress of their language revitalization projects. Additionally, the Nous Foundation has employed technology, multimedia and their ‘Aloha Language Platform’ to make learning Creole easier for the younger generation. To nurture the Creole culture, the Foundation has also introduced Creole-speaking tutors and participated in local Creole culture-related events. Therefore, the research paper covered the near extinction of Louisiana Creole due to language policies and socioeconomic challenges. To encourage the revitalization of Creole, the Nous Foundation has employed several techniques to ease the task. These include the use of technology and multimedia to make the teaching of the language more accessible, the introduction of Creole-speaking tutors and active participation in local Creole culture-related events.
This research could have been further improved or developed if more time and resources had been available. For instance, this research could be broadened to examine the impact of language policies on other creole languages throughout the US. In doing so, it could provide a better understanding of the implications of English as a dominant language in America and its impact on both language revitalization and maintenance. Additionally, interviews with individuals from the Louisiana Creole community could be conducted to gain an in-depth understanding of their experiences of language loss and maintenance efforts. Through exploring the lived experiences of language decline, this research could gain a better understanding of how Louisiana Creole is a language and its associated practices.
Moreover, this research could be extended by broadening the geographical scope by including more recent linguistic developments in neighboring Louisiana Creole-speaking communities, such as Mississippi and Alabama. In doing this, this study could be used to assess the successes, challenges, and any further opportunities for Louisiana Creole language revitalization throughout the US. Overall, this research paper provides insight into the decline and revitalization of Louisiana Creole. Exploring the decline of Louisiana Creole due to language policies and the multifaceted approach to its revitalization taken by the Nous Foundation provides invaluable insight into language loss and maintenance in the US. There is ample opportunity to extend and broaden this research to understand better the decline of the minority language in the US and the effects of attempted revitalized efforts.
Oliver. January 7, 2023.
Christophe Interview. January 7, 2023.
Jonathan 1. January 7, 2023.
Jonathan 2. January 7, 2023.
Taalib Interview. January 7, 2023.
Nous Interview 2. January 7, 2023.
Oliver. January 7, 2023.
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