All French is Good French.

Chelsea Brasted has a good NatGeo piece (archived) on Cajun (and other) French:

When Janice Prejean was growing up, if she wanted to speak with her grandparents, she had to do it in French. To crack the code of the private conversations and jokes that flew over the heads of children at family gatherings, she also needed to know the language. “My lifestyle as a child and a young adult was immersed in moving between the Cajun world and les Americains,” she says.

Prejean, who was raised in Ossun, a tiny, unincorporated community in southwest Louisiana, is 64 now. Her story is an echo of the thousands of people in the region with Francophone ancestry. What makes her version a little different, however, is that she learned the language. Many people her age never did. French was a source of shame—Cajuns were often labeled stupid and backward—and parents wanted to shield their children from prejudice.

That started to change during the latter half of the 20th century with the launch of efforts to improve the understanding of Cajun heritage—not to mention attract tourism. Programs popped up to turn the tide on the diminishing use of the French language, including establishing immersion programs in schools and flying in teachers from other Francophone nations.

Yet a generational divide remains. The dialect of aging grandparents and great-grandparents often doesn’t translate to the “standard” French that elementary- and high-school-age children are learning. To bridge that gap, locals established a new French language and literacy school for adults in the tiny town of Arnaudville, which sits at the intersection of two bayous and two Louisiana parishes and has become the unlikely hub for the French revival.

The story of that transformation starts with Mavis Frugé. […] About 15 years ago, Frugé hosted the town’s first French Table, with the help of visual artist George Marks, founder of the Nunu Art and Culture Collective in Arnaudville. The idea, borrowed from the nearby city of Lafayette, is to gather people together to share a meal while conversing solely in French. It doesn’t matter whose French; it just has to be French. Their first event was a blowout—someone counted 125 attendees—and they’ve been going ever since.

Since the early 1990s, Frugé has opened her home to strangers and university students so they can hear the French spoken in the area, whether it’s Cajun or Creole—loosely defined terms often used for those born in Louisiana but of French, Spanish, or African descent. Through those visits Frugé has come to understand the uniqueness of Louisiana’s French […] When her family returned home to Louisiana for good, Frugé no longer tolerated dismissals of Cajun and Creole French. To her, it’s crucial to offer validation that the French she and her neighbors speak is as worthwhile as any other version. As Frugé says, “All French is good French.” Just decades ago, that was a radical idea.

It’s difficult to find someone here who doesn’t know where their French comes from. There are those, like Prejean, who identify as Cajun and can trace their ancestry to people expelled by the English from Canada’s Acadia region in the 18th century, an era known as Le Grand Dérangement (“the Great Upheaval”). And there are others, like musician Louis Michot, who can trace a line to France through Haiti, or Janie Luster, whose Houma Choctaw ancestors spoke French. […]

Still, there are pieces of this culture that have gone missing. While working on a project to preserve the work of a local storyteller, LaFleur discovered that the meaning of some of the words he used has been lost. “Despite calling people from his hometown, despite contacting radio announcers we knew … they were not able to help us identify the precise nature of those words,” she says. “We’re talking about a plant or a certain color: One word describes a color, but we can’t figure out the nature of that color.”

Lots more (including photos) at the link. Thanks, Bonnie!

Comments

  1. John Emerson says

    There were French speaking communities as far north as Illinois into the 20th c, and in an area called Old Mines MO until fairly recently. But they dwindled away.

  2. Huh. Not surprising, given the history, but I hadn’t known that.

  3. John Emerson says

    In Minnesota’s first census in 1860 5% of the population was”French”, most of whom I think were what Canadians call Métis (part Native American). There are still French surnames scattered through rural MN, but no francophone in my experience. A French surnamed friend from Little Falls tells me that “Frenchie” is a category there, so there must be a cluster of them

  4. About three per cent of Maine’s population have French (a variety most Americans would call Canadian French) as their first language. Most of these native French speakers are clustered in “The County”, in northernmost Maine. Maine’s French speakers were forbidden to use their language in public schools in the early 20th century, and suffered considerable discrimination.

    “There was a huge immigration of French Canadians and Acadians that came down to Maine between 1840 and 1930 to work in the mills in towns like Lewiston, Orono, Van Buren, Biddeford, and French Island,” explains Jessamine Irwin, a French professor at NYU who teaches a course on French in Maine.

    But since then, the number of people who speak French at home in Maine has dwindled generation after generation. In 1970, about 141,500 Maine residents, or 14% of the population, reported French as their mother tongue, according to U.S. Census figures compiled by the University of Maine. In the 2012-2016 Census, only 38,695 French speakers were reported in Maine, making up only 3% of the population.“. source: https://frenchly.us/the-decline-of-francophone-communities-in-maine/

    More here: https://www.newscentermaine.com/article/news/local/aroostook-county/the-language-connects-us-to-our-identity-franco-americans-strive-to-keep-the-french-alive-in-maine-acadian/97-92df9579-9d8c-452c-8e52-175329e98245

  5. John Emerson says

    There have been scattered French immigrants to the US since independence, but French-surnamed people in the west have a reasonable claim to be called “indigenous”, as in Canada. No such moment exists though, to my knowledge.

  6. And of course here we must acknowledge Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac, son of Léo-Alcide Kéroack.

  7. David Eddyshaw says
  8. @Languagehat

    If you’d like to learn more about Missouri French, can I suggest this informative link:

    http://languagehat.com/pawpaw-french/

  9. David L. Gold says

    Here is a relatively young person recently speaking Kouri-Vini:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMBVCEq8TLU

    And these are shorts made for very young speakers of Kouri-Vini:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cA8WBM28ts4

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZVR6ALQkmw

  10. When I first came to the US in the 60’s, as a student with a Fulbright travel grant, I ended up in Burlington, Vermont. One day I was in a little café, sitting on a high seat at the bar, next to two elderly ladies. I couldn’t help overhearing their conversation, which I could not understand at all, so I listended carefully. Given their appearance, they must be of European origin. I tried to identify the language (I didn’t know many), but could not for some time. Finally, I heard a word, or a phrase, I forget what but it was French! I continued to listen for French, which it was indeed, though hard for me to understand. Of course “Vermont” is a typically French name.

    The Louisiana Acadians (or the majority of them) were expelled from Nova Scotia not by “the British” as a nation, but by the then British governor installed after the British won the war. It was actually an excess of zeal on his part, and he was reprimanded by the British government when news of the expulsion became public – too late to undo the damage. The Acadians, who had been in the area for 150 odd years and felt no allegiance to either government, had declared that they would remain politically neutral, but the new governor ignored them. The Acadians who were able to reach Louisiana were lucky, as were those who joined the Natives, but many others ended up in prison ships in England, or in barely better conditions in France, as the country was not prepared to welcome them back.

    Louisiana in those days was also a place where some French convicts were sent – like Australia for British ones. The well-known 18C novel “Manon Lescaut” tells the story of a woman who ends up as part of a group of female convicts deported to Louisiana, whose lover cannot bear to be separated from her and joins the group. Teaching this story in school insisted on the psycholoty of Manon and her lover as they are drawn into criminality, but the part that takes place in Louisiana probably gives a good picture of the life of those rejects of French society at the time.

  11. There are some interviews with Kerouac, in French, e.g. here and here. What exactly is his dialect?

  12. Obviously Canadian, but I can’t be more specific as I have lived mostly in anglophone regions of Canada. Not knowing much about Kerouac’s life, I read his Wikipedia page, which says that his childhood was spent in a French Canadian neighbourhood in an American town, speaking only French until he went to school. His parents were part of a wave of people who had moved to the US in search of jobs in industry and formed communities where they worked.

    Etienne would be a better person to ask!

  13. John Emerson says

    Chateaubriand’s “Atala et Rene”is set in Florida and is totally ridiculous.

  14. Yes, “Atala”, a story about “noble savages”, is totally imaginary. I read it when I was too young to understand what was going on. “Manon Lescaut” has many autobiographical details, the author, officially a priest (l’abbé Prévost), having lived a very unpriestly life, during which he knew a real Manon Lescau (sic).

    What I didn’t know was that there are two versions of “Manon Lescaut”, the first one having been condemned for immorality and rewritten many years later. The Wikipedia article (in French) must refer to the first one, rather than to the shorter, watered down version which I read and studied many years ago.

  15. I quoted Atala in 2017 but the discussion was entirely about crocodiles;

  16. In the late 1920s, Cléoma Breaux and Joe Falcon recorded a few traditional Cajun songs. Some of them sold very well, to the record company’s surprise. One song has a line that – in standardized French – would be “Ils ont volé mon traîneau, cher.” “They stole my sledge, dear” – but what use is a sledge in Louisiana? It must be an Acadian song, then, brought down to Louisiana from Nova Scotia or Quebec.

  17. There is even a chance that the song might have originated in the old country.

    They do have snow in winter in France.

  18. Cléoma Breaux was as old to the day as my paternal grandmother, My grandmother was as old-fashioned and rural as anyone, and still I think of her as a contemporary person, while Cléoma Breaux’s biography reads like something out of another era.

  19. Y: Kerouac’s dialect/accent is definitely Canadian French, and to my ears has some features of a speaker from his generation that are less common today, for example the rolled ‘r’ which I hear quite clearly at 1:32 in the first video. I should note that as far as I know this feature has disappeared from Quebec French dialects more thoroughly than from the dialects of francophone communities outside Quebec. The vowel in “faire” at 3:35 and “père” at 3:38, which sounds to me kind of like [e], also makes me think of an older speaker. His vocabulary is obviously influenced by English, he does code-switch to some extent between French and English. His pronunciation of some words is non-standard, for example “journaliste” at 3:03 which might be influenced by English, and “sud” at 0:37 where he doesn’t pronounce the final ‘d’ which I don’t think I’ve heard before. In the second video, his pronunciation of “cretons” and “tourtière” at 1:55 would definitely be non-standard today, but not all that unusual for somebody from his generation, and same for “mangeait” just a few seconds earlier.

    That’s about what jumps to me as an interested layman.

  20. Thanks, this is great… does the trilled r still persist in back country accents?

  21. My introduction to Breaux and Falcon was Le Vieux Soullard et sa Femme (here, lyrics here), I think from the Harry Smith recordings. It’s perfect in so many ways.

  22. David L. Gold says

    “One song has a line that – in standardized French – would be ‘Ils ont volé mon traîneau, cher.’ ‘They stole my sledge, dear’ – but what use is a sledge in Louisiana? It must be an Acadian song, then, brought down to Louisiana from Nova Scotia or Quebec.”

    “There is even a chance that the song might have originated in the old country. They do have snow in winter in France.”

    ***

    Whereas traîneau indeed means ‘sled, sledge, sleigh’ in European and Canadian French, Cajun traîneau means ‘drag sled [pulled by horses or oxen across solid ground or mud]’ (details in Dictionary of Louisiana French as Spoken in Cajun, Creole, and American Indian Communities).

    This, then, is a classic example of adapting old words to new circumstances (analogous, say, to British English robin ‘Erithacus rubecula’ > American English robin ‘Turdus migratorius’).

    The word traîneau, therefore, cannot tell us where the song was written.

    Here is a recording made in the 1920s:

    https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-e&q=Cleoma+Breaux+and+Joe+Falcon+%E2%80%93+Ils+ont+vol%C3%A9+mon+tra%C3%AEneau

  23. SF Reader They do have snow in winter in France.

    France is not a very large country but the regions are quite varied in geography and climate. Horse drawn sledges (held back by force of human arms and backs when going downhill) were used mostly in mountains, summer or winter.

  24. @David L. Gold: Thanks – this semantic shift is probably the best explanation although I still feel there’s something Northern about having both your chapeau and your traîneau stolen.

  25. No new post on 11 September. New system or 9/11?

  26. Ils ont volé mon traîneau, cher.

    Every time i read this line here, I can’t help thinking of “What have they done to my song, ma” sung by Melanie. The tune as sung by Breaux is completely different. The two songs are thus far not related.

    Ils ont volé mon mémoire, ma

  27. David Marjanović says

    the rolled ‘r’ which I hear quite clearly at 1:32 in the first video. I should note that as far as I know this feature has disappeared from Quebec French dialects more thoroughly than from the dialects of francophone communities outside Quebec.

    Well, disappeared from the younger two generations, not the older ones.

    New system or 9/11?

    New system. The site wasn’t reachable except for an error message.

  28. My favorite bit in Atala is where the title character looks out at sunrise and sees the Appalachian Mountains in one direction and the Mississippi River in the other.

  29. That’s nothing; in Miroslav Krleža’s Journey to Russia (Izlet u Rusiju, 1925) he says “From the Kremlin’s bell towers you can see to Vladivostok in one direction and to the Amazon River in the other.”

  30. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Obviously Canadian,

    Yes, but when I started listening he was sprinkling his answers with so much English that I had difficulty deciding what his French was like.

  31. David L. Gold says

    @Alex. Why do you think there is “something Northern about having both your chapeau and your traîneau stolen”?

    Poets and lyricists often choose words for reasons of alliteration, meter, rime, and so on, which is the case here.

    The last or the next to the last word of every line of the song ends in stressed /o/:

    traîneau – chaud – chapeau – capot – Taîauts.

    Y’ont volé mon traîneau cher,
    Y’ont volé mon traîneau cher
    Quand ça a vu j’étais chaud cher,
    Ils m’ ont ram’né mon traîneau.
    Ils ont volé mon chapeau, cher,
    Ils m’ont a volé mon capot, cher,
    Quand ça a vu -j’étais chaud, cher,
    Ils m’ont ram’né mon traîneau.
    C’est le Hip Et Taîauts, cher,
    Qu’ a volé -mon traîneau cher
    Quand ça a vu -j’étais chaud, cher,
    Ils m’ont ram’né mon traîneau.

  32. JFK could see across the Atlantic. I suspect the only reason Galway was included in his 1963 tour of Ireland was to make that joke.

  33. David Marjanović says

    In b4 “I can see Russia from my house!” – Tina Fey.

  34. Politicians these days know, or should know, never to use figurative speech.

  35. French-surnamed people in the west have a reasonable claim to be called “indigenous”

    it’s complicated and i’m only lightly familiar with even the basics, but from what i do know, the Métis* communities that are usually thought of as just “canadian” are very much present on both sides of the 49th parallel. and there are other (though not necessarily not Métis) currently and historically francophone or francocreolophone indigenous communities on the south side of the medicine line. part of the difference in visibility is that the canadian constitution** recognizes the Métis as a category of indigenous people with aboriginal and treaty rights, while the u.s. /breaks down laughing and crying/

    and both michif and Métis french are parts of this whole picture of north american frenches and french creoles that seem super interesting but i know nothing about!

    there’s something interesting, from a u.s. perspective, about the effects on how indigenous communities on u.s. territory are viewed when they have multilingualisms that don’t include english***. i don’t have any real analysis myself, but i’d love to hear if folks have encountered thoughtful writing on those situations.


    * again, the terminology is complicated & there’s no One Right Answer, but i’m following the convention of capital-M “Métis” for the specific mostly-central/western community/culture/population, as opposed to lower-case-m “métis” that’s used much more loosely in north american french(es) for mixed-lineage (generally settler/indigenous) people and communities.

    ** okay, a somewhat contested section of it, but /shrug/.

    *** with french in the upper plains, midwest, maybe maine; spanish in the southwest, pacific, caribbean; russian in alaska [at least historically]; i don’t even know in hawai’i

  36. @David L. Gold: French has an enormous inventory of words ending in the ô sound. Your argument would work better if it were very limited.

    Two more questions I have about this song is whether “j’étais chaud” means “I was drunk” as in Quebec French, and whether there exists a credible genealogy or etymology for the mysterious miscreant couple, Hip et Taïau (spelling may vary).

  37. David L. Gold says
  38. russian in alaska [at least historically]

    Russian is not dead in Alaska yet and probably will not ever die completely, because of

    https://youtu.be/IHo1xhR6Z6o

  39. PlasticPaddy says

    @alex k
    TLFI has your sense of être chaud (not noted as specifically Canadian), but in the song it looks like another sense, i.e., “Qui est animé de sentiments vifs, favorables, parfois défavorables, qui traduit de tels sentiments, ardent, passionné.”

  40. Métis ou métis

    The Métis people live in Canada, but there are métis ones in other places, such as the Antilles (French West Indies). This is not a legal category there, just a descriptive one, and the word is not limited to a Black-White mix. In a conversation with my sister about Obama a few years ago, she said “Il dit qu’il est noir, mais il est métis”. I had to explain to her the “one drop” tradition. On her street in a mixed neighbourhood near Paris there is a beauty salon that advertises “coiffures noires et métisses” (black and métis hairstyles, which in America would be simply called Black).

    The word means “mixed” in only a few resricted contexts, mostly industrial. The average French person knows it as a type of cloth woven of linen and cotton, used especially for making bed sheets. Métis cloth is softer than just linen (which is rfairly rough in the early stages), but more resilient than plain cotton. Raw linen fibers are brown, getting lighter as they are exposed to sunlight, while cotton is always white, so the cloth can have a mixed appearance when new.

  41. January First-of-May says

    I had to explain to her the “one drop” tradition.

    I heard somewhere that the majority of African Americans actually had less “black” ancestry than Obama’s ~50%. Not sure whether that’s true, but on the face of it it’s not too impossible.

    Supposedly (the anecdote goes) a similar one-drop rule was intended for Native American ancestry, but the idea was shot down because too many high-class East Coast families were proud of their (alleged) Native American ancestors (usually Pocahontas). Presumably there weren’t as many high-class families with known/accepted African ancestry.

    (Though it turned out that Obama’s “white” mother was descended from one such family, so by the one-drop rule she might well have qualified as black, and in turn Obama did, probably, have an African ancestor who was enslaved in (what became) the Thirteen Colonies – in fact the very first such slave, John Punch.)

  42. Those interested in the decline of the rolled r (which persisted in Canada after it had declined in post-revolutionary France for political reasons) and other historical questions might want to look at Chantal Bouchard’s fascinating sociolinguistic study Méchante langue: la légitimité du français parlé au Québec (2011), which sets out a number of reasons why French in Canada diverged from that of France after intercontinental travel between the two countries had largely ceased. It reports on surveys of the state of the language in Quebec around 1840 and the anxieties about its “faults” that emerged around that time, when travel between Canada and France had become common enough again for people to become aware of the differences in pronunciation that had occurred in the intervening decades.
    https://www.pum.umontreal.ca/catalogue/mechante-langue
    (you can look inside and read a few pages for free)

  43. @David L. Gold: Thanks for the link. Some light at the end of the tunnel.

    @PlasticPaddy: I thought the meaning was “they stole it while I was drunk.”

  44. PlasticPaddy says

    Ils m’ont a volé mon capot, cher,
    Quand ça a vu -j’étais chaud, cher,

    I took the second line to represent in standard French:
    Quand j’ai vu cela, j’étais chaud
    Which could be drunk as you and Alex suggest but the singer is more likely to have been drunk at the time of the theft and angry at the time of the discovery. But maybe I am interpreting ça a vu wrong and it means in Stadard French cela m’est arrivé. Maybe Etienne can enlighten us 😊

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