Thursday, July 14, 2016

14 Juillet: Laissez les bon temps rouler!*

C'est aujourd'hui le quatorze juillet et je viens d'être en Louisiane où ils parlent français. That's not just the odd word, like grand or beaucoup flung into an otherwise English sentence, though that happens all the time; or titles for places like Salle de Danse and Presbytère; or even joke French like Geaux Cajuns! or Buy Leauxcal.
No, there are actual Americans who've lived there all their lives, who speak French naturally and as their first language; which is kind of chastening for those of us who take a bit of comfort from what we thought was the fact that being monoglot in an English-speaking country is the default position. Well, it probably is, actually - but when you come across these effortlessly bilingual people, as you certainly will in Louisiana, it's hard not to be envious.
Of course, here in particular it's celebrated as a point of difference, since the locals like to vaunt their separation from the rest of the US both historically - "We're 80 years older," I was told several times - and culturally. Both the Cajuns (descended from the French settlers evicted by the British from Acadia, now Nova Scotia) and the Creoles (locally-born of settler stock originating from Europe, Africa and the Caribbean, including native Americans and both slaves and free people of colour, all intermingled) spoke and still use French. Sadly, since its use was forbidden (and punished) in schools after the Constitution of 1921, it's declined as a first language and now it's only the elderly who speak it fluently. Like Wallace here, at Johnson's Boucanière, who greeted us all in French as we arrived on our Cajun Food Tour to try their very tasty Sausage and Tasso with Sauce Piquante.
But they're trying to revive it. I hope they succeed. Bonne chance!

* Yes, this is not correct French - but it's Louisiana French, and they use this sentence all the time, so ne t'en fais pas.

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