My wife called immediately after driving off to do some shopping to tell me to turn on the radio — NPR was doing a language story. It turned out to be this one, about a French dialect that’s quickly disappearing in southeastern Missouri:
Pawpaw French — named after a local fruit-bearing tree — is a linguistic bridge that melds a Canadian French accent with a Louisiana French vocabulary. The French originally settled Old Mines around 1723, back when the area was part of upper Louisiana. Floods of workers from Canada and Louisiana came to work the lead mines.
The dialect faded in other nearby towns like De Soto and Bonne Terre and Ste. Genevieve a long time ago. Pawpaw French persisted in Old Mines because it is much more remote.
Historian and musician Dennis Stroughmatt is pawpaw French’s ambassador to the outside world. He first visited Old Mines back in the 1990s for a class project while a student at Southeast Missouri State University. At the time, there were hundreds of pawpaw speakers there.
Just like that, he was hooked.
At the link, you can read the whole story or listen to it (it’s fun to hear the dialect spoken), and for those of you with JSTOR access, here‘s W.M. Miller’s 1930 French Review article on it.