Louisiana Creole or Kouri-Vini is a French-based creole language spoken by far fewer than 10,000 people, mostly in the state of Louisiana. It is spoken today by people who racially identify as white, black, mixed, and Native American, as well as Cajun, Louisiana Creole, and African American, and should not be confused with its sister language, Louisiana French, which is a dialect of the French language. Due to the rapidly shrinking number of speakers, Louisiana Creole is considered an endangered language.
|kréyòl, fransé, Louisiana Creole, Creole French|
|Native to||United States|
|Region||Louisiana, (particularly St. Martin Parish, Natchitoches Parish, St. Landry Parish, Jefferson Parish, Lafayette Parish, Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana and New Orleans); also in California (chiefly Southern California), Illinois, and in Texas (chiefly East Texas).|
|< 10,000 (2010)|
Creole-speaking parishes in Louisiana
Origins and historical developmentEdit
Louisiana Creole was colonized by French and Canadians in 1699. Colonists were large-scale planters, small-scale homesteaders, and cattle ranchers who had little success in enslaving the indigenous peoples who inhabited the area; the French needed laborers as they found the climate very harsh. They began to import African slaves, as they had for workers on their Caribbean island colonies. It is estimated that, beginning about 1719, a total of 5,500 persons were transported from the Senegambia region of West Africa. These people originally spoke a Mande language related to Malinke. They were in contact with slaves speaking other languages, such as Ewe, Yoruba and Kikongo. The importation of slaves by the French regime continued until 1743.
Kouri-Vini developed in 18th century Louisiana from interactions among speakers of the lexifier language of Standard French and several substrate or adstrate languages from Africa. Prior to its establishment as a Creole, the precursor was considered a pidgin language. The social situation that gave rise to the Louisiana Creole language was unique, in that the lexifier language was the language found at the contact site. More often the lexifier is the language that arrives at the contact site belonging to the substrate/adstrate languages. Neither the French, the French-Canadians, nor the African slaves were native to the area; this fact categorizes Louisiana Creole as a contact language that arose between exogenous ethnicities. Once the pidgin tongue was transmitted to the next generation as a lingua franca (who were considered the first native speakers of the new grammar), it could effectively be classified as a creole language.
No standard name for the language exists historically. In the language, community members in various areas of Louisiana and elsewhere have referred to it in many expressions, though Kréyol/Kréyòl has been the most widespread of them. Until the rise of Cajunism in the 1970s and 1980s, many Louisiana Francophones also identified their language as Créole, since they self-identified as Louisiana Creoles. In Louisiana's case, self-identity has determined how locals identify the language they speak. This leads to linguistic confusion. To remedy this, language activists beginning in the 2010s began promoting Kouri-Vini, to avoid any linguistic ambiguity with Louisiana French.
The boundaries of historical Louisiana was first shaped by the French, then in statehood after 1812 took on its modern form. By the time of the Louisiana Purchase by the U.S in 1803, the boundaries came to include most of the Central U.S, ranging from present-day Montana; parts of North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado; all of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas; part of Southeast Texas; all of Oklahoma; most of Missouri and Arkansas; as well as Louisiana.
In 1978, researchers located a document from a murder trial in the colonial period which acknowledges the existence of Louisiana Creole. The documentation does not include any examples of orthography or structure.
In an 1807 document, a grammatical description of the language is included in the experiences of an enslaved woman recorded by C.C. Robin. This was prior to arrival in Louisiana of French-speaking colonists and African slaves from Saint-Domingue; the whites and free people of color (also French speaking), were refugees from the Haitian Revolution, that had established the second republic in the western hemisphere. The statements collected from Robin showed linguistic features that are now known to be typical of Louisiana Creole.
The term “Criollo” appears in legal court documents during the Spanish colonial period (1762-1803); the Spanish reference to the language stated that the language was used among slaves and whites.
Slavery of Africans intensified after France ceded the colony to Spain in 1763, following France's defeat by Great Britain in the Seven Years' War in Europe. Some Spaniards immigrated to the colony, but it was dominated by French language and culture. Like South Carolina, Louisiana had a "minority" population of Africans that greatly outnumbered the European settlers, including those white Creoles born in the colony.
Language shift, endangerment and revitalizationEdit
In the case of Louisiana Creole, a diglossia resulted between Louisiana Creole and Louisiana French. Michael Picone, a lexicographer, proposed the term "Plantation Society French" to describe a version of French which he associated with plantation owners, plantation overseers, small landowners, military officers/soldiers and bilingual, free people of color, as being a contributor to Louisiana Creole's lexical base. Over the centuries, Louisiana Creole's negative associations with slavery stigmatized the language to the point where many speakers are reluctant to use it for fear of ridicule. In this way, the assignment of "high" variety (or H language) was allotted to standard Louisiana French and that of "low" variety (or L language) was given to Louisiana Creole and to Louisiana French (please refer to diglossia for more information on H and L languages).
The social status of Louisiana Creole further declined as a result of the Louisiana Purchase. Americans and their government made it illegal for Louisiana Creoles to speak their language. Public institutions like schools refused to teach children in their native tongue and children and adults were often punished by corporal punishment, fines, and social degradation. By the 21st century, other methods were enforced. The promise of upward socioeconomic mobility and public shaming did the rest of the work, prompting many speakers of Louisiana Creole to abandon their stigmatised language in favor of English. Additionally, the development of industry, technology and infrastructure in Louisiana reduced the isolation of Louisiana Creolophone communities and resulted in the arrival of more English-speakers, resulting in further exposure to English. Because of this, Louisiana Creole exhibits more recent influence from English, including loanwords, code-switching and syntactic calquing.
Today, Louisiana Creole is spoken by fewer than 10,000 people. Though national census data includes figures on language usage, these are often unreliable in Louisiana due to respondents' tendencies to identify their language in line with their ethnic identity. For example, speakers of Louisiana Creole who identify as Cajuns often label their language 'Cajun French', though on linguistic grounds their language would be considered Louisiana Creole.
Efforts to revitalize French in Louisiana have placed emphasis on Cajun French, to the exclusion of Creole. A small number of community organisations focus on promoting Louisiana Creole, for example CREOLE, Inc. and the 'Creole Table' founded by Velma Johnson. In addition, there is an active online community of language-learners and activists engaged in language revitalization, led by language activist Christophe Landry. A Memrise course in the language, utilizing the modern Kouri-Vini orthography, was created by a team of language activists led by Adrien Guillory-Chapman, and is a free course. These efforts have resulted in the creation of a semi-standardized orthography and a digitalized version of Valdman et al.'s Louisiana Creole Dictionary. A first language primer was released in 2017.
Speakers of Louisiana Creole are mainly concentrated in south and southwest Louisiana, where the population of Creolophones is distributed across the region. St. Martin Parish forms the heart of the Creole-speaking region. Other sizeable communities exist along Bayou Têche in St. Landry, Avoyelles, Iberia, and St. Mary Parishes. There are smaller communities on False River in Pointe-Coupée Parish, in Terrebone Parish, and along the lower Mississippi River in Ascension, St. Charles Parish, and St. James and St. John the Baptist parishes.
There once were Creolophones in Natchitoches Parish on Cane River and sizable communities of Louisiana Creole-speakers in adjacent Southeast Texas (Beaumont, Houston, Port Arthur, Galveston) and the Chicago area. Louisiana Creole speakers in California reside in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Bernardino counties and in Northern California (San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento County, Plumas County, Tehama County, Mono County, and Yuba County.). Historically, there were Creole-speaking communities in Mississippi and Alabama (on Mon Louis Island), however it is likely that no speakers remain in these areas.
The Creole experience in Louisiana is a close cousin to Creole cultures world-wide. The closest linguistic example is in the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, but similar Creole languages exist elsewhere in the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean, such as in Haiti, Guadeloupe and Martinique.
The phonology of Louisiana Creole has much in common with those of other French-based creole languages. In comparison to most of these languages, however, Louisiana Creole diverges less from the phonology of French in general and Louisiana French in particular.
The table above shows the consonant sounds of Louisiana Creole, not including semivowels /j/ and /w/. In common with Louisiana French, Louisiana Creole features postalveolar affricates /ʧ/ and /ʤ/, as in /ʧololo/ ‘weak coffee’ and /ʤɛl/ ‘mouth’.
The table above shows the oral and nasal vowels of Louisiana Creole as identified by linguists.
Speakers of the language may use rounded vowels [y], [ø] and [œ] where they occur in French. This is subject to a high degree of variation with the same region, sociolinguistic group, and even within the same speaker. Examples of this process include:
- /diri/~/dyri/ 'rice', compare French du ris /dyri/
- /vje/~/vjø/ 'old', compare French vieux /vjø/
- /ʤɛl/~/ʤœl/ 'mouth', compare French gueule /gœl/
Regressive and progressive nasalization of vowelsEdit
In common with Louisiana French, Louisiana Creole vowels are nasalized where they precede a nasal consonant, e.g. [ʒɛ̃n] 'young' [pɔ̃m] 'apple'. Unlike most varieties of Louisiana French, Louisiana Creole also exhibits progressive nasalization: vowels following a nasal consonant are nasalized, e.g. [kɔ̃nɛ̃] 'know'.
Louisiana Creole exhibits subject-verb-object (SVO) word order. Definite articles in Louisiana Creole vary between the le, la and lê, placed before the noun as in Louisiana French, and post-positional definite determiners -la for the singular, and -yé for the plural. This variation is but one example of extensive influence of Louisiana French on Louisiana Creole, especially in the variety spoken along the Bayou Têche which has been characterized by some linguists as heavily decreolized, though no historical records support this claim. Theoretically, decreolization has resulted in the partial introduction of grammatical number and gender agreement for some speakers of the Bayou Tèche variety, as evidenced in possessive pronouns, though research is desperately needed to demonstrate this position.
|1st person||mo||mò/mwin||mô (singular); mâ (singular feminine), mê (plural)*|
|2nd person||to||twa||tô; tâ, tê*|
|3rd person||li||li||sô; sâ, sê*|
|1st plural||nou, no, nouzòt||nouzòt||nou, nô, nouzòt|
|2nd plural||vouzòt, ouzòt, zòt zo||vouzòt, zòt||vouzòt|
- In some Bayou Tèche communities, possessives are gendered (mô - masculine, mâ - feminine) and pluralized (mê). This is highly variable, following no clear patterns. In other communities, the possessive is ungenered and not pluralized.
Older forms of Louisiana Creole featured only one form of each verb without any inflection, e.g. [mɑ̃ʒe] 'to eat'. Today, the language typically features two verb classes: verbs with only a single form ([bwɑ] 'to drink') and verbs with a 'long' or 'short' form ([mɑ̃ʒe], [mɑ̃ʒ] 'to eat').
Tense, aspect, moodEdit
Like other creole languages, Louisiana Creole features preverbal markers of tense, aspect and mood as listed in the table below.
|té||Anterior||Past state of adjectives and stative verbs; pluperfect or habitual past of non-stative verbs.|
|apé, ap, é||Progressive||Ongoing actions.||Form é is only used in Pointe Coupée.|
|a, va, alé||Future||Future actions|
|sé||Conditional||Actions or states which might take place.|
|bin||Remote past||"an action or state that began before, and continued up to, a subsequent point in time"||Likely a borrowing from African-American English.|
The vocabulary of Louisiana Creole is of primarily of French origin, as French is the language's lexifier. Some local vocabulary, such as topography, animals, plants are of Amerindian origin. In the domains folklore and Voodoo, the language has a small number of vocabulary items from west and central African languages. Much of this non-French vocabulary is shared with other French-based creole languages of North America, and Louisiana Creole shares all but a handful of its vocabulary with Louisiana French.
This section uses the orthography developed by Christophe Landry and a group of language activists.
Included are the French numbers for comparison.
|How are things?||Konmen lêz afær?|
|How are you doing?||Komen ça va? / Komen ç'apé kouri?|
|I'm good, thanks.||Çé bon. Mo byin.|
|See you later.||Wa (twa) plitar.|
|I love you.||Mo linm twa.|
|Take care.||Swènn-twa / swiñ-twa.|
|Good Morning.||Bonjou / Bonmatin.|
|Good Night.||Bonswa. / Bonnwi.|
The Lord's PrayerEdit
Proposed by Christophe Landry in 2012. Catholic prayers are recited in French by speakers of Kouri-Vini. Today, efforts are being led by various language activists and learners to translate the prayers in Kouri-Vini.
Nouzòt Popá, ki dan syèl-la
Tokin nom, li sinkifyè,
N'ap spéré pou to
rwayonm arivé, é n'a fé ça
t'olé dan syèl; parèy si latær
Donné-nou jordi dipin tou-lé-jou,
é pardon nouzòt péshé paréy nou pardon
lê moun ki fé nouzòt sikombé tentasyon-la,
Mé délivré nou depi mal.
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