Louisiana Creole
French: Pt. I
Historical and
Sociolinguistic Background
Gillia Barrows
Linguistics 455
Spring 2006
Type and Parents
• Language of Louisiana, USA
• Creole (conservative)
– Closely resembles other Caribbean
creoles (Haitian, etc)
• Mix of French (lexifier) & various
African languages (possible basilects)
• 20,000 – 80,000 speakers modernly
• Highly endangered
Louisiana today
Louisiana: a short History
• Became French colony
1699 (claimed by
• 1699-1717 colonized
by Mixture of non-elite
– from what is now
Canada, various parts
of France
– Small population of
their Native American
– (colonization
throughout 18th and
19th centuries)
Map of America,
including Louisiana
territory ca 1720
• African Slave trade
begins ca1717
– Monopoly on
Louisiana trade by
the French Company
of the Indies
• Acquired slaves mainly
from tip of Western
Africa (Senegambia)
• Slave and Indian
throughout early
18th century, due in
part to solidarity
of common
• Acadians (from
Nouvelle France)
emigrate to
Louisiana area
throughout middle
and late 18th
– Expelled from
Nouvelle France by
British takeover(?)
Nouvelle France
• ~1763 Louisiana
ceded to Spanish at
end of Seven Years’
– French culture and
communities remain
insular under
liberal Spanish
Map of Louisiana under
Spanish Rule
• 1800 Napolean forces
Spain to give Louisiana
back to France
• Ca 1800 ~10,000 Frenchspeaking refugees from
Saint Domingue (modern
Haiti) arrive in Louisiana
– Mixture of whites, slaves,
and free black people
(free men)
Saint Domingue ca 1800
• 1803 Louisiana Purchase
(US from French)
– Immigration of Englishspeaking Americans
• 1812 Louisiana becomes
18th state of USA
– American settlers
continue to immigrate
Louisiana Purchase
Historical Language
Influences on Louisiana
Creole French (LC)
• Mixture of nonstandard French language
varieties of early French settlers 1699-1763
– Riffraff from all parts of France, many from the
Western provinces, sent to colonize the unpopular
territory of Louisiana; speaking various forms of
non-standard French
• Western dialects
– Coureurs de bois (“wood runners”) from Canada,
speaking Canadianized French
• Influences of Native American languages of Canada?
– (Algonquin, Iraquoian)
• Settlers from Canada, speaking Canadianized French
• Small lexical influence from
Native American language(s) of
Louisiana area?
– Primarily Choctaw (itself an immigrant
population language from more Eastern
territories around modern Mississippi)
Drawing of Choctaw women,
Louisiana 18th c.
Photo of Choctaw child,
Louisiana late 19th c.
• Mixture of African language varieties,
mainly Mandekan dialects 1717-1731
– 1717 first slaves imported from Bight of
Benin, approx. 450; others from Angola,
• Spoke Kwa languages, Bantu
• Probably did not begin creolization due to small
population size
– 1717-1731 Largest early slave population
from Senegambia
• Spoke mutually intelligible Mandekan dialects
• Raised slave population to roughly twice that of
free men
• Mandekan dialects become basilect in
creolization process
• Cajun varieties of
– spoken by Acadian
refugees middle to late
18th century
• Lower class German
form of French
French-Canadian settlers
– Spoken by Germans
settlers throughout
18th century who
assimilated to French
language, but took on
own dialect of it
• Spanish
– 1763-1803 (exerts
small, mainly lexical
influence on Louisiana
Creole form)
Spanish settlers
• Sudden influx of slaves
from the Mina post/Gulf
of Guinea 1777-1788
– Doubled the number of
slaves in Louisiana
– Probably same Kwa,
Mandekan, Bantu
languages, perhaps
– Because of strong
extant creole-speaking
commmunity, had little
impact on creolization
Slave Compound, Gulf of
Africa with Gulf of
Guinea area outlined
Gulf of Guinea
• Varieties of French
(ironically more
standard than the
Louisiana varieties)
brought by Frenchspeaking refugees
from St. Domingue
(Haiti) ca. 1800
– ~10,000 mixed free
men and slaves,
Free blacks from
St. Domingue
• English (American)
1830s onwards
American settlers
arriving by boat
Historical Environment of
LC Birth
• Population equality between
basilect/acrolect speakers
• Habitation (vs. plantation) culture
– Relatively few slaves to each small plantation
• Increased communication between slaves and their
• Shared social status between slaves and nonslaves
– Communication/trade throughout lower classes
•  these factors led to large influence of
lexifier (French) on the forming creole
– may have led to complete lexifier assumption if no
intervening factors
• Two major influxes of
slaves with slow importation
numbers between
– 1717-1731(Senegambia,
Mandekan dialects)
– 1777-1788 (various places
and languages)
• Common basilect slave
– Mandekan dialects –
mutually intelligible
Bay of New Orleans
• Encourages a cohesive slave
community with common nonlexifier language
• these factors led to the
formation of a creole
rather than complete
assimilation to lexifier
Slaves outside church,
Louisiana 19th century(?)
• All combine to construct LC as a
creole that is conservative
– very closely related to its lexifier
language (acrolect)
•Some debate regarding what basilect
language(s) is/are for this reason
Louisiana Habitation
Sociolinguistic Variation
• Bilingual, trilingual+ language communities
– English, Standard French (SF)/ Colonial French,
Cajun (CF/LF), Louisiana Creole French (LFC/LC)
– Many people speak at least two dialects fluently,
usually more
• Language prestige continuum
– LC at lowest end of overt prestige scale, which
follows the categories as listed above
• Code-switching
– Due to prestige differences, speakers usually
switch in and out of LC and the other dialects to
establish solidarity/construct themselves within
• Variable forms of LC
–in some areas more related to
Cajun or Germanized French
as lexifier influences than
Colonial French as lexifier
• LC: highly endangered
–Only four areas remain where
LC is spoken widely
Map of LC-Speaking Areas
LC spoken in light blue parishes
Why These Areas?
1. St. Martin Parish:
– Presence of some of the larger plantations in 18th century Louisiana (led
to stronger creole, as slaves outnumbered whites)
– Many Cajuns
• LC may have evolved over time under influnece of large number of Cajun French
speakers in St. Martin/Breaux Bridge areas
– Area with largest number of LC speakers today
2. Point Coupee and East Baton Rouge Parishes:
Presence of many plantations, some very large by Louisiana standards
Blacks outnumbered whites
Many whites who shared low socioeconomic status with blacks
LC became main form of communication
• No Cajuns, so not a Cajun-like form, vs. St. Martin Parish above
3. St. Tammany Parish:
Isolated by Lake ponchartrain and Bayou Lacombe
Mixed blood people
Runaway slaves, Indians, free people of color
LC appears in its most stabilized form
4. St. James and St. John the Baptist Parishes (German Coast):
– German settlers hearing LC and Colonial French every day, absorbed it
– Shared low socioeconomic status with blacks
– (area of low socioeconomic status)
• Enthnologue.com. “Louisiana Creole French.”
• Marshall, Margaret. “Origin and development of Louisiana
Creole French” French and Creole in Louisiana. Ed. Albert
Valdman. New York: Plenum Press, 1997.
• Neumann, Ingrid. La Creole de Breaux Bridge, Louisiane:
Etude Morphosyntaxique – Texts – Vocabulaire. Hamburg:
Helmut Buske, 1983.
• Valdman, Albert, ed. French and Creole in Louisiana. New
York: Plenum Press, 1997.
• Valdman, Albert et al, ed. Dictionary of Louisiana Creole.
Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press,1998.