Language

Exiled from their native homeland of Nova Scotia in 1755, the Acadians wandered aimlessly along the Atlantic seaboard for years before settling in the rich fertile soils of south Louisiana. The 6,000 Acadians who refused to swear allegiance to the British crown were punished for their disloyalty with destruction of their homes and expulsion from their homeland.

This horrendous voyage marked 30 years of hardship and humiliation for a proud group of people. At each location of disembarking along the Atlantic Coast, these refugees were welcomed by open hostility. Through the generosity of the Spanish Government, Charles III, they were transported to south Louisiana where they settled on friendly land. Here, they established small farms along the swamp and prairie region of the Mississippi River, Bayou Teche, Bayou Lafourche and other locations in the southern part of the state. For almost 200 years they remained in isolation because of inaccessibility to this region. Even under Spanish rule, a large majority of the colonists continued to speak French.

A distinct culture and a dialect known as "Cajun" French was born. Cajun French began in Nova Scotia between 1604 and 1756 and traveled to Louisiana where it matured and further developed. It is the only modern North American language and has undergone many linguistic changes over the years.

There have been many speculations as to why Cajun French has survived and attained dominance for over 200 years. Many conclude that the geographic isolation of the Acadian settlements, the close-knit family structure and the lower socioeconomic status of the group has contributed to its endurance.

Several factors contributed to the changes and almost extinction of the language. In the 1930's, Governor Huey P. Long began a process to bridge the swamplands and lowlands with a network of roads bringing an end to the Acadians' isolated existence. Another set back for the language occurred in the public school system when children were coerced by punishment to abandon their language and speak only English. Soon, this generation became ashamed of their language and were convinced of their cultural inferiority.

Through the efforts of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL), a reawakening of Cajun pride has emerged. CODOFIL has been responsible for protecting and promoting the French heritage of Louisiana through encouraging the teaching of French in elementary schools, student and teacher exchanges, the organization of national and international meetings, festivals and radio and television programs in French. Today through CODOFIL's involvement, Cajun French is spoken proudly.

More than 260,000 Louisianans speak a form of French either brought to New Orleans by French nobility or to the bayous and prairies by Acadian immigrants. Research also shows that in Louisiana, the older you are the more likely you are to speak French.

People who listed their home language as French, Cajun or French Creole make up two-thirds of the 391,994 Louisiana residents who told the Census Bureau in 1990 that they do not speak English in their homes. Louisiana residents make up the 13.6 percent of the 1.9 million people who speak one of those three French dialects around the country. Those three groups account for 6 percent of the 31.8 million people nationwide who speak a language other than English at home.

Other home languages of Louisiana residents include: Spanish, 72,173 (18.4 percent statewide, 54.4 percent nationwide); Vietnamese (many settled here and continue their trade as fishermen), 14,352; German, 8,588; Italian, 4,933; Chinese, 4,485; Korean, 2,607; Arabic, 2,419; Tagalog, 2,607; Hindi, 1,993; Thai, 1,752; Greek, 1,391; Japanese, 1,385; Persian, 780; Koasati Indians (Coushatta), 229; Gaelic, 126; Irish, 91; Scottish, 35; Bulgarian, Nepali and Fijian, 3 each; Sebuano (spoken on the Philippine island of Sebu), 4; Choctaw and Kusaiean, 6 each; Romany (ancient Gypsy language), 7; and Apache, 8.