Louisiana has a rich diversity of languages, including Creole French and Cajun French. As the territory was founded by French explorers and originally claimed by Robert Cavelier de la Salle, the area’s first settlers spoke French. In addition to the original French settlers, other distinct ethnic groups also took roots in Louisiana: descendants of slaves from Western Africa; African Creoles from the West Indies after the Haitian revolution of 1791; and descendants of Acadian exiles after the Great Expulsion from their homeland in the mid-18th century. Given these different forces and different kinds of settlers, Louisianans soon spoke three different French dialects, now known as Louisiana Creole, Cajun French, and Colonial French.

Of course, the United States bought Louisiana through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. In the aftermath of the Civil War, the usage of French in public activities was prohibited by the military as punishment for Louisiana’s allegiance to the Confederate States. This trend continued for many years, with children being punished for speaking the language in schools. The Louisiana Constitution even prohibited the use of any language but English in the public school system.

In the late 1960s, a push began for reincorporating the French language into the public school system and many schools started offering French classes. This continues today, with many citizens knowing how to speak French and English.

About the author:
Dominique Ryon holds a Ph.D. in Linguistic Anthropology from the University of Montreal and has taught many French classes. She also sat on the Executive Board of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana.

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