Louisiana has a fascinating history where more than 10 languages and regional variations of those languages are spoken.
Louisiana Creole is one of those languages. Take note: it is not French.
In order to understand Louisiana Creole genesis, a language indigenous to Louisiana, perhaps the only language indigenous to what is now Louisiana, it is essential to understand the interplay and intersecting of populations of different speech expressions (e.g. French, Wolof, etc) that, in an experience traumatic for all involved, involved the blossoming of a brand new language – Louisiana Creole.
No one really knows when the first Francophone arrived in Louisiana, but we do feel fairly certain that large groups of Francophones began taking permanent residence towards the latter half of the 17th century. From that moment on, La Louisiane, as it was called by the French crown, a new variety of French language began brewing. This variety of French is properly known as Louisiana French, spoken throughout current-day Louisiana and even in states like Missouri (formally part of the Louisiana colony).
If pushed to broadly class varieties of French spoken within Louisiana, I would call them simply Formal and Vernacular. If you wished for a more thorough look at Louisiana French, you must consider Louisiana topography and the sub-regional cultures or lifestyles that developed as a result of the topography. In this more probative study, I class variants of Louisiana French as Urban Louisiana French, Fluvial Louisiana French and Provincial Louisiana French.
I briefly spoke about Louisiana French above, because it was the coming of French in Louisiana, with the interactions of additional speech communities, that together, triggered the development of Louisiana Creole.
What is Louisiana Creole?
Louisiana Creole is first and foremost neither a dialect nor a patois. Linguists from around the world define a Creole as a well-defined and stable language originating from a non-trivial combination of two or more languages, typically with many distinctive features that are not inherited from either parent.
French colonial judiciary records indicate, through transcriptions of testimonies in court, that as early as the 1740s, Louisiana Creole was spoken. That is only roughly 20 years after the first permanent settlement and cargo of slaves from Senegambia arrived. Formally, linguistics suggested that Creole language was brought to Louisiana from Saint-Domingue (now, Haiti), though these court documents some 60 years before the Saint-Domingue revolution completely disprove these theories.
Lexical, syntactical and phonemic influences in Louisiana Creole language include a heavy dose of vocabulary from present-day France, distinctive provincial Louisiana intonation, and significant Caddo, Ishák (Atákapa) and Louisiana Choctaw lexicon, specifically for Louisiana topography and native Louisiana fauna and flora. There is an equal amount of loan words from Louisiana Spanish, Wolof, Mandinga, Igbo and Ewe the latter four most visible in Louisiana folklore.
As is the case for all languages, Louisiana Creole has dialects or varieties spoken throughout the state. The uprisings and revolution of Saint-Domingue (today, Haïti), led thousands of Saint-Domingue-descended Cubans and Saint-Dominguans towards Louisiana seeking refuge at the turn of the 19th century. In fact, the population of the Vieux Carré (where all the Latins lived) doubled, and its Free People of Color population tripled. The Saint-Domingue Creole varieties had long been the lingua franca of most Saint-Domingue Creoles. Haitian and Cuban presence in Louisiana, therefore, served to amplify and solidify the Creole-speaking population of Louisiana. Click here for more information on the Saint-Domingue-Louisiana connection.
What’s neat is that Louisiana Creole is spoken across “racial” lines in Louisiana and in Louisiana diasporic communities, and is–and has been–the mother tongue of people who identify ethno-racially as Cajuns, African-Americans, Black, Native American, Amerindian, First Nations People and so on.
Given that Louisiana Creole, until fairly recently, was considered the same as Louisiana French, or simply a dialect thereof, Louisiana Creole as you will discover on this website, never appears as an official language in published material or public hearings … because for most non-speakers passing laws, it’s just French! But it’s gaining thrust and recognition, now appearing on websites, material culture projects and more.
While a large amount of vocabulary in Louisiana Creole derives from French, speakers of Louisiana Creole usually can understand Louisiana French (not necessarily French dialects spoken elsewhere in the world). Conversely, Louisiana Creole is not always understood by (Louisiana and other) Francophones, no more so than Danes can understand English, and Italians can understand Brazilians.
It’s a fun, melodic, folkloric language packed with love and affection.
We look forward to sharing it with you!