Current Affairs

État de Louisiane – French America

English, English, English!

The language of modernity. The language of technology, the media and business (always business).

The language of the “West”.

Yet, even in the heart of the “West” the English language is not the only spoken tongue or the sole definer of identity. From the southern US state of Louisiana (or La Louisiane) comes an interesting PBS report on that other North America, the French-speaking one, and why distinct languages and cultures bring their own rich rewards. Joseph Dunn, Director of the state-sponsored agency le Conseil pour le développement du français en Louisiane or Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL), describes how in 1916,

“…French became sort of illegal to speak in the classrooms and also in the public buildings in the state. And in 1921, there was a new state constitution that reinforced those anti-French laws.”

These measures against French-speakers in Louisiana even saw students suspended from school for speaking to each other in their own language, driving the numbers of French-speaking citizens down to levels which would have inevitably meant French disappearing from L’Acadiane (the Francophone heartland of the southern United States) forever. But in the late 1960s the politicians and civic leaders of Louisiana belatedly recognised the cultural and economic importance of their unique French-American heritage and established CODOFIL. The organisation describes itself and its role thus:

“The Council for the Development of French in Louisiana was created in 1968 by the Louisiana state legislature

…empowered to “do any and all things necessary to accomplish the development, utilization, and preservation of the French language as found in Louisiana for the cultural, economic and touristic benefit of the state.”

…the defense and growth of the French language in Louisiana are important to us. …join us in this fight, helping us defend Louisiana’s francophone heritage and future.”

Since its foundation the Council has spearheaded a series of reforms in Louisiana, including the introduction of French language lessons into the state’s general education system and a growing number of French-medium schools. In fact legislation passed in 2011 will see a rapid expansion of French-speaking schools and classes into a number of new districts.

So, even in the modern heartland of the English-speaking world there is room – and the need – for more than one language or culture.

Is anyone in our own political elites listening? Probably not. Some are too busy finishing a linguicide started eight centuries ago while others are looking the other way.

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