Delta Dispatches: Preserving Louisiana’s Heritage
Welcome to Delta Dispatches with hosts, Simone Maloz & Jacques Hebert. On today’s show Brian Ostahowski, President of the Louisiana Archaelological Society joins the program to talk about how the coastal crisis affects archaeology in Louisiana and archaeology in Coastal Louisiana. In the second half the show, Simone and Jacques are joined by Dr. Nathalie Dajko, Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Tulane University to talk about preserving Louisiana’s unique language.
Below is a transcript of this week’s Delta Dispatches Podcast. Subscribe to our feed in iTunes and Google Play.
Simone: This is Simone Maloz with Restore or Retreat. Welcome back, two weeks in a row, Jacques. Good for you.
Jacques: Two weeks in a row. I’m here, still, in the summer. I know. It’s good to have a regular routine again.
Simone: I agree with that. I’m ready to get back into our regular school routine with my kids. Last week, we had a really good show on. You can listen to our past episodes. How many do we have?
Jacques: We’re up to 20. There’s a whole archive there. You can learn about all kind of topics if you’re just listening.
Simone: Can you binge podcasts? Is that a thing?
Jacques: Podcast and chill?
Jacques: Highly recommend it. Yeah. Definitely subscribe, get all of our latest episodes, and catch up on previous episodes.
Simone: Yep, and we’re gaining steam. We’re getting more and more subscribers every week.
Jacques: Yeah. Thanks for the support and for listening.
Simone: We just want to have another reminder, before we get into our really great show that we have planned today, we have an action alert out.
Jacques: That’s right. As we’ve mentioned in previous episodes, the US Army Corps of Engineers is accepting scoping comments for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. That is until September 5th. Now is the time to send any questions and feedback you have on that sediment diversion to the Army Corps of Engineers so that they can incorporate that into their environmental impact study as they understand how to move this incredibly important project forward.
Simone: Yeah. We’ve talked about the project so many times on this show. The intent is to reconnect the Mississippi River to the nearby wetlands, deliver sediment, nutrients, fresh water, all of that to build and maintain all of those thousands of acres in the Barataria Basin. The action alert makes it really, really easy to be able to submit your comments, too, so that’s really great.
Jacques: Yeah. Just go to MississippiRiverDelta.org/TakeAction.
Simone: Good. Maybe if you need a break from binge listening to us, you could pen a letter on our behalf.
Jacques: Exactly. That is a fun Friday night.
Simone: Great. What are we going to talk about today? We have a very cool show, where I think we’re going to learn more than most people.
Jacques: I’m so excited about today’s show. We’ve got two great experts in different fields, but they are both looking at the culture or cultures of Louisiana and preserving them. First up, we have Brian Ostahowski, who is president of the Louisiana Archaeological Society. Brian has done a lot to understand and research the different cultures that have lived along Louisiana’s coast in helping to document some of the important places that are being affected by the land-loss crisis.
Simone: Can we call Brian just Louisiana Jones instead of Indiana Jones?
Jacques: Well, we’ll have to ask him. Welcome to the show, Brian.
Brian: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You’re making me blush with that.
Jacques: Oh, gosh. Well, since Simone brought it up, I have to say, since you’re an archeologist, I think it’s one of the coolest jobs you can have. I was a huge Indiana Jones fan as a kid. What is your favorite Indiana Jones movie?
Brian: It’s got to be the first movie. The main actress in the movie was actually from my home state, Maryland, so I think everyone who is an archeologist in Maryland really liked that first movie.
Jacques: Raiders of the Lost Ark, yeah. Well, so I know that you mentioned you grew up in Maryland, but then you got your masters at the University of Wyoming, focusing on paleo-Indians and hunger-gatherer societies. What are some of these main societies that you focused on?
Brian: Yeah. In Wyoming, some of the sites, some of the great archeological sites they have there are related to the Clovis people, and they’re one of the first continent-wide cultures that were here in the Americas. Studying them, sort of studying the colonization of North America. Down here, in Louisiana, well, and I’ll talk about that here today, but I’m studying a few more recent archeology. I could say it that way.
Simone: Yeah. Wyoming is so beautiful, and has such a really great history. To come to Louisiana is so really different, right?
Brian: Yeah, absolutely.
Simone: They have those pointy things, mountains? What are they? Yes?
Simone: Tell us what brought you here to Louisiana.
Brian: You know, I think it’s probably an ordinary answer. I came down here for a job. I ended up doing some work with FEMA as an archeologist, helping them do some compliance work. A lot of the work that FEMA does, all the work that FEMA does, has to make sure that it’s not impacting the environment. There’s laws that protect archeology just the same ways in which wetlands and things like that are saved and protected.
Jacques: Well, speaking of wetlands, we talk about our coastal land loss crisis, and how it affects communities, as well as industry, wildlife, habitat, all of those things, but it’s also affecting the historical record and the history of the cultures that have lived along the coast. Tell us a little bit about that, and the threats that coastal land loss presents to our history.
Brian: Sure. Being here in New Orleans, you don’t have to go far to understand the importance of history, and understand that people want to know their history, and understand and live in places repeatedly over generations. New Orleans couldn’t be a better example in this country for that. In a lot of towns, especially a lot of smaller communities and things like that, you don’t always have a record, and state archives, and things like that. Sometimes, looking at the archeology related to people, meaning the material culture that they made, whether it was household items or things that they made, it is the only record that people have.
Especially, this couldn’t be more true for prehistoric societies that don’t have a written record, and also, groups that may have not been represented in the written record, or represented rightly. This is a really good way to understand what was going on, and how people lived. One of the best ways that you can understand that here is the patterns of consumption. What were people eating? What were they doing? What was the economy back then? I think it really gives you a snorkel into the past, in a way, in the best way you can. Archeology, it’s all about getting data. It’s scientifically-drive, but we ask anthropological questions at the same time.
Simone: Yeah. That’s a really important point that you made just now, is that not always is the written record correct, and that people could have been left out of it, and certainly, certain communities, and certain types of those people in those communities.
Simone: For these places that are threatened by land loss, what do you do to help preserve as much of it as possible?
Brian: Well, right now, I think one of the big efforts is still, we’re still in the advocacy phase. There’s been a lot of tremendous research done on archeology. Archeologists have been working professionally, and by that, I mean not just in universities, but professionally, doing surveys for Army Corps, federal agencies, since the late ’60s, but certainly ramped up here, as coastal work goes on, from the ’90s beyond. There’s been a lot of inventory. That’s probably the best way to say it, a lot of inventory of what’s going on here in the coast.
Because of the record that’s already been established, like former archeologists going out there saying, “Hey, I saw a site on this marsh island,” and plotting it, and we record this, and we have it in GIS. Then looking at, just as you’re shocked by the record when you see NOAA will put out, “This is what the projected land loss looks like,” archeology sites. The great thing about archeology sites, well, most of the time, they don’t move. It’s sort of like this magnet for what was going on. If, as archeologists, when they do move, it’s our job to be professionally trained to understand, “Well, how did they move? How are they changed?”
If we understand they’re in the context in which they were deposited, like, “This is an old trash pit that someone had, or a privy, or whatever it may be, to understand that, and say, “Okay, well this is,” like I said, “This is a direct link to what people were depositing, and what people were doing.”
Jacques: Right. We were about to head into a break, and so we want to get into a little bit more of the work you’re doing. I know there’s some interesting examples of recent studies. What are some of these places, just to paint a picture for people that are threatened by coastal land loss?
Brian: Sure. Yeah. One of the things, I think we’re all very aware of the shrimping industry and the oyster industry here. Around the turn of the century, so right around 1900, there’s something like 150,000 people living in small, isolated communities, whether they’re cannery, they’re shrimp-drying platform cities, all along the coast. These are Chinese immigrants, Filipino immigrants, certainly, in the first half of the 20th century, you have Cajun communities as well. There was this whole economy that was there. A lot of these places do not exist today, or, if they do … Well, there’s the marsh islands which they were on, whether it was a platform island or it was a fishing camp like you’d see, it’s now totally under the water.
Part of what I’m doing is I’m a terrestrial archeologist. I look at archeology on the shoreline. Some of these places are in the process of being destroyed or we’re tracking them. Maybe they’re mostly gone, maybe they’re all under water. Part of the problem is some of these artifacts, they get kicked up, and they get kicked up all over the bays and bayou floors, and get spread around. The, I don’t know how else to say it, but the interpretive potential of these sites totally get lost when they get destroyed, so that’s the thing we’re trying to get at.
Jacques: It’s super interesting. I’m excited to dig a little bit more into this when we get back from the break. You’re listening to WGSO 990 AM, and this is Delta Dispatches.
Simone: Welcome back to Delta Dispatches. I’m Simone Maloz. We’re here every Thursday on 990 WGSO and online through our new podcast. Don’t forget to check out Restore the Mississippi River Delta or Restore or Retreat on the Facebook page for more details. We are so lucky to have Brian Ostahowski with us.
Brian: Thank you.
Simone: We had a great first segment. He is an archeologist and the president of Louisiana’s Archaeological Society. Good thing we didn’t drink in the spirit show before this, right? This is a total sobriety test here. You are the president of Louisiana Archaeological Society?
Brian: I’m lucky enough to be, right now, yeah.
Simone: Yeah. Tell us all about that. That actually sounds really interesting.
Brian: Sure. Yeah. The Louisiana Archaeological Society was founded in 1974, with about 300 members at the time. We’re a state-wide chapter. We’re nonprofit. Like a lot of Archaeological societies, we have an annual meeting. We have local chapters. I want to mention to everybody, we’re LaArchaeologicalSociety.org. We have chapters in New Orleans, in Baton Rouge, in Leesville, which is outside Fort Polk. We have a chapter in Shreveport, and we have a chapter in Monroe, so no matter where you are in the state, you can probably find a chapter.
Simone: That’s a lot of archeologists, right? Who knew?
Brian: Yeah. I’ll tell you what, there’s always really cool stuff going on all over the state. Our northwest chapter, which is in Shreveport, they bop around, but if you go to our website, you’ll see the chapters, and they all list. They meet every month, and it’s a library or wherever it is in their town. The vice president, Jeff Girard, is up there, and they’re doing really cool archeology. Monroe couldn’t be any cooler, because that’s where Poverty Point is.
Jacques: I’ve heard of it. I’ve never been. I really want to visit.
Brian: Well, you’ve got to go. You got to go. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s maybe only, I don’t know, maybe, I’ll say, on the, if I’m being really generous, maybe 10 in America. Maybe there’s less than that.
Simone: Jacques, do you have a World Heritage bucket list? You could start at Poverty Point. I think Brian is inviting us there. That sounds excellent.
Jacques: I think that sounds like a great field trip.
Brian: Yes. Yes.
Jacques: I’d love to get up there.
Simone: We could do a live show.
Brian: The last thing I would like to mention is that November is archeology month. Look out. Louisiana Archeology Society has a Facebook page. We’re all going to be doing different digs. I don’t know if we’re going to be doing digs everywhere, but people are kicking off a few different projects, so just make sure you check it out.
Simone: Do you all do something at state libraries?
Brian: Well, we work with the state Culture Recreation and Tourism. We work hand-in-hand with them.
Simone: Yeah. We’re actually about to launch a Master Plan project, where we try to get the Coastal Master Plan into all the libraries in Louisiana. There’s 363, in case you ever needed to know that, in case you’re on Jeopardy.
Brian: Get out. Really?
Simone: They mentioned to us that, I’m almost sure, that the Archaeological Society, or there’s an Archeological Week, and that they distribute the information to all the libraries, which makes so much sense. We totally ripped that off and used it for the Coastal Master Plan.
Brian: Well, our editor, who does a fine job with the bulletin, his name is Dennis Jones, and if there is a Louisiana Jones, it is he. He is great. He does a fine job at it.
Jacques: You were saying, I want to talk a little bit about the work you’ve been doing, but before that, you were saying that there are events coming up in the month of November. Can people actually participate in a dig or witness?
Brian: I think one of things we’re going to be doing is in Marksville, which is the site in Avoyelles Parish. Stay tuned for it.
Jacques: Awesome. Well, we’ll definitely stay tuned for that. Brian, let’s talk a little bit about what you are working on these days. I know we were talking before the show, and you mentioned some really interesting work around some quarantine sites. Is that correct?
Brian: Yeah. This is one of the projects that I’m lucky enough to know a boat captain here, and that’s a really rare thing, because a lot of these sites are not that easy to get to. They’re sites that you have to go out on a boat for hours to even access. Having access to a good friend of mine, he’s been a great help and helped the cause here for Southeast Louisiana archeology, because we’re able to go out and do some surveys.
One of the surveys I’m engaged in now is looking at quarantine stations that may have been put outside of the city. Yellow fever his New Orleans. One of the times it hit it the worst was in the early 1880s. There’s quarantine stations, triage, throughout the city, but there’s also quarantine stations that were set up outside of the city, where they would take folks. Mapping these, and knowing where they all are, and some of them were already post offices and small villages as well out there, but just getting a full map is really the next thing that I’m focused on right now. It’ll be a very long-term project, so getting out there once a month, if we’re lucky.
Jacques: That’s super interesting. You were mentioning some of these are out in the Rigolets and that section? Is that where the sites were?
Brian: Yeah. Yes. Yeah. The important thing to mention here is all these sites are threatened. If they’re not temporarily damaged, or partially damaged, rather, not temporarily … If they’re partially damaged already, a lot of these sites that used to be recorded on land are now in the water, or they’re just on the brink of being in the water. One of the towns that I’m looking at right now, and we’re still in the very preliminary part of the project, but this town was an oyster cannery. It was in the Pearl River area.
Some of the oyster cannery villages were sort of company camps. They had a lot of immigrants there, and particularly, Polish immigrants that were there. They had a lot of kids that were working there. This muckraker journalist, around 1905 or ’06, came through, and he took some pictures of these kids standing on piles of oysters. I’m sure you’ve seen this kind of stuff before. Well, some of that, some of those photos were instrumental in the case made for child labor laws. It had this national importance. It’s this little town that barely exists now, and it will go away unless it’s protected. This is just one example of just … This is just one example of what’s going on around the coast.
Simone: I think what you do is so, so cool. It’s like Unsolved Mysteries or something, that you unravel history, and it’s amazing. You don’t know where it’s going to take you, right?
Brian: That’s very true.
Simone: From what you studied of cultures in the historical record, what have you learned about people here in Louisiana?
Brian: Sure. I think one of the best examples is looking at how Native American groups would live in the Delta. They would build mounds. These mounds would be places where they would have burials as well, but it was also places where, on low-lying areas, like what we now call today Plaquemines Parish, where they made and created dry land where they were able to live. I think it’s a really good example of, I guess, now we would use the terms resiliency or … Maybe resiliency is probably the better word for it. These were folks that have certain connection to the land. I don’t think we’re divorced from that today. I think it’s very much we’ve learned, right now, that we are very much tied to the land.
Jacques: Right. Living with nature as opposed to against it is so important. Well, Brian, unfortunately, our time is up.
Brian: Oh, it’s been my pleasure.
Jacques: It goes so quickly. Thank you so much for the work you do, and for spending some time with us. One more time, tell our listeners where they can go to learn more about the Louisiana Archaeological Society.
Brian: Sure. Please go to LaArchaeologicalSociety.org, and also check us out on our Facebook page, which you can find just through searching through Facebook. We put events quite frequently on the Louisiana Culture, Recreation, and Tourism website and their Facebook page as well, so we all work hand-in-hand.
Simone: We would love to have you back again, maybe as your yellow fever research continues.
Brian: Would love to.
Simone: In case you’re missing Brian, he was in an NPR story, CBS news story, Christian Science Monitor, so in case you’ve listened to the podcast and need to hear more about his work. Well, thank you so much for being on with us. We’ll be back after the break. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches on 990 WGSO.
Jacques: Welcome back to Delta Dispatches. This is Jacques Herbert with Audubon Louisiana. We’re very excited to have a special guest with us, Dr. Nathalie Dajko, assistant professor in Two Lane’s anthropology department. Welcome to Delta Dispatches, Natalie.
Nathalie: Hi. Thanks for having me.
Jacques: You focus on linguistics. We were just talking to Brian about preserving the archeology and the historical record of Louisiana. You’re working to preserve it in a different form, the spoken language, or the languages that have been spoken throughout Louisiana, coastal Louisiana. Louisiana must be an interesting place to study language.
Nathalie: Very, yeah.
Simone: Tell us, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you even ended up here in Louisiana, because you’re definitely not from here. I can tell by your language.
Nathalie: Yeah. Though I’ve lost some of the strongest markers of my origins, and specifically the pronunciation of “about.” Though, maybe I should bring it back, because people in New Orleans are pronouncing it that way these days, so I’ll really sound local. I’m from Vancouver, BC. I actually came down here for graduate school. I was looking for a place, a that would be somewhere that I wouldn’t hate living for seven years. I wish I had a better story than this, but I wanted to live somewhere that was interesting, and somewhere that would pay me to go to school.
It all converged on Tulane, and then I realized, I said, “Wait, but there’s also French in Louisiana.” I had some vague ideas of what was going on. At the time, I knew that there was Creole. I knew that there was other French. I knew that it was also dying, and that there were efforts to revive it. That was the sum total. I had been to France for a year in the 11th grade, and so I spoke French, and I was interested … Literally, my plan was, “I want to go hear what that sounds like.” That was why I came down here, because it just seemed like this great place to be, and I was right, in the end.
Simone: They didn’t tell you about the weather, though, right?
Nathalie: Oh, no. I love the weather. Are you kidding me? Everybody says to me, “But it’s cold in Canada.” Well, Vancouver, it rains all the time.
Simone: It’s so beautiful, though.
Nathalie: It is really pretty. That is the tradeoff. It rains all the time, but it is very pretty. Yeah. No. I came down here, I’m like, “Well, yeah. It’s cold in Canada. Why do you think I left?” No, I love the weather.
Simone: We talk about Louisiana’s coast, and the culture, and the people, and so we probably just, let’s call a spade a shovel, right, we have a very interesting language zone. Is that fair to say?
Nathalie: I would, yes, definitely.
Simone: Tell us a little bit about that.
Nathalie: Okay. Let’s see. Where to start? Historically, currently, all of those? Yes?
Nathalie: I came down here to study the French. I probably know the most about that, and to some degree, English. Obviously, historically, there were indigenous languages here. Prehistorically, before anybody was writing things down that were going on here, there were indigenous languages. There were lots of them spoken here. Through the historic period, you get new indigenous languages coming in, too. There are people moving around who are speaking indigenous languages. Then there are people coming in who were speaking European languages, who were speaking African languages.
A lot of the diversity in Louisiana actually gets erased by the focus on French, which is important. I’m not saying it’s not. I came to study it if I think it’s important. You definitely tend to, in this story, forget about especially the indigenous and African languages, but also there were probably something like 50 African languages that came in and were spoken fairly late into probably the Spanish period, if not into the American period, too. For various reasons, and Gwendolyn Midlo Hall writes about that, I don’t, but they were here. Then we have these waves of immigration, Germans, Irish, Italians. In the 20th century, we get people from Latin America, especially Honduras, and Vietnam we get.
We have all these people coming in. There are lots of minor languages, too. Greek, for example. There was a Greek community. There is … New Orleans in particular was this very polyglot place, but French was dominant. What we got over time, with French anyway, is three varieties of French developing here. I get a lot of questions, mostly from people out of state, who will use the term Cajun and Creole interchangeably, for example. “Tell us about Cajun-Creole French.” That’s always my favorite. I’m like, “Well, okay. Actually, such a thing probably could exist, if I phrase it right.
We have three varieties of French that end up, that linguists generally recognize in Louisiana. One has a very standard [inaudible 00:28:12] variety. That came in actually fairly late. In the 19th century, you tended to have immigrants who were reasonably well-off, who came to Louisiana, Bonapartes, for example, who brought with them this very modern standard [inaudible 00:28:27] variety. If you think, if you’ve ever read Jane Austin, the English that’s spoken there, it’s about the same time distance. There are some very minor differences that most people don’t even notice. It’s that level of difference from modern Standard French. That comes in in the 19th century, and that’s when you end with newspapers, and a whole literary scene, and so on in Louisiana.
Prior to that, you had immigrations of lots and lots of people speaking non Standard Frenches. French is not just this uniform thing. In France, historically, you had a lot of dialects that were very similar to each other in many ways. Most of the people who came early on tended not to be your wealthy Frenchmen. They tended to be soldiers who’d ended up with this unfortunate detail, who decided to stay because they could own land, for example, here. You end up with lower-class people coming in, bringing with them dialects that were similar to modern Standard French, very similar, but had significant differences as well. A lot of them actually came from Paris, the early immigrants.
In any case, so you have in Louisiana all these early immigrants speaking these dialects of French, and then you have, along with them, people speaking African languages. Those people, the people speaking African languages, are going to basically be forced to learn French. They are going to create what we call Louisiana Creole, which lexically, if you give me a list of words, I couldn’t tell you in all likelihood what it was, with one or two exceptions. It’s French, but is it Creole? It could be either.
Structurally, it can be very different. Just to give you one example, the classic example that we use when we ask people, when people tell us, “I speak Creole,” or, “I speak Cajun,” we say, “Well, how do you say, ‘I have five dollars?'” Because it’s a little complicated beyond that. People tend to label their language after themselves. If I say, “I’m Creole,” I tend to say, “My language is Creole.” If I say, “I am Cajun,” I say, “My language is Cajun French.” You can use French actually for any variety, but when people want to specify, they tend to label the language after themselves, after their ethnic identity.
When people say that, we sometimes as linguists want to know specifically what kind of variety they speak, so we say, “Okay, well, how do you say, ‘I have five dollars?'” If someone says, “J’ai” is “I have,” as it would be in Standard French. “Cinq” is “five,” as it would be in Standard French. “Piasse” is an old monetary term that they used for dollars. When somebody says something like that, “ai” is the conjugated form of the verb “avoir.” We say, “Okay, let’s …” That’s what we could call … In linguistics, we tend to call it Louisiana Regional French, which is the third variety, derived from all these nonstandard varieties.
If they say it’s actually derived from the French “gagner,” which in standard is “to win,” but in some dialects is “to have.” “Mo” is from “moi,” the tonic pronoun, which you use to stress. In French, you can’t stress “je,” so you use “moi.” “Me, I”, basically. It’s derived from French, but it’s been altered to some degree. Not enough that it really prohibits understanding. In Louisiana, the Creole that’s spoken here is actually very close to the French that’s spoken here, and people tend to understand it fairly easily. I came in, unless somebody is speaking very, very quickly, I tend to understand most of what’s being said. It’s similar enough, but yes.
Jacques: It’s so fascinating, and not a short or quick encounter by any means. I am part, my grandfather is Cajun-French, my grandmother was Creole-French, but neither of them ended up speaking French later in their lives.
Jacques: We want to talk a little bit about what’s happening to the language now, right when we get back from the break. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches on WGSO.
Jacques: We’re back. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches. This is Jacques Herbert with Audubon Louisiana. We are excited to have Dr. Nathalie Dajko, assistant professor in Tulane’s anthropology department. We’re talking about languages on Louisiana’s coast. Before the break, Nathalie, you were discussing how Louisiana has come to have so many varied languages in its history. Let’s talk about what’s happened to those languages since then, particularly French. My grandparents both spoke French.
Simone: You always want to focus on French. She just said that there’s other languages, too. Jacques, pay attention.
Jacques: Well, my name is Jacques Hebert. They spoke French as their first language, but then quickly, subsequent generations didn’t. Is that a common story for people in Louisiana?
Nathalie: Very, yeah. You find a really big sort of tip moment right about World War Two. There are multiple reasons for it, and the different varieties are actually in different stages of decline. You’re not going to find very many if any speakers of the Standard French that came in. We call it Plantation Society French. Creole is in further decline than what most people call Cajun French, which, I just wanted to interject, I almost finished it, but that one’s actually … It’s a mix of lots of those nonstandard dialects, including the Acadian French that came down, too, which is where we get the term Cajun. In any case, that one is probably the healthiest, and it’s kind of looking dire right now.
That said, there’s a lot of hope, too. Most of your speakers are going to be 60 and over, though I’ve found pockets where people do still speak French, or Creole, for that matter. In Breaux Bridge, I found people in their 40s and 50s. I’ve found people about 40/50 as well down in Terrebonne-Lafourche, the occasional younger speaker, but when you actually get groups of people, they tend to be in their 40s and 50s, have been the youngest. I know a few monolingual speakers down in Terrebonne Parish, so they’re still out there. The fact that they still exist means that there still is hope for the language.
What people really need to do, and what’s very difficult to do, is just start speaking it with the children, all the time. Immersion schools are great. There are a lot of immersion schools around the state, especially in New Orleans. We have a number of immersion programs, but the schools can’t do it by themselves. What you need is the community speaking it again, but that community still exists, and so there is hope. There’s a lot of interest. You have young people who are interested. You have CODOFIL, who’s doing work as well, bringing in teachers, sending people in Louisiana to be trained, and so on.
You do have native speakers of Louisiana French who are still alive, who can speak to their grandchildren in French. You have young people who are organizing, and sometimes not organizing, people working on their own, people working with groups, like the [inaudible 00:35:09] out by Lafayette, who very much … There’s a lot of willingness. There are a lot of French tables around the state that you can join, and hang out with people to speak French once a week, and so on. There are definitely opportunities for people to get out and speak French. There’s a lot of willingness, a lot of work being done to save it. What I do is really minor. All I do record people and then put their recordings in the library so people can hear them.
Simone: It’s so interesting to hear you talk about that. We were recently around Church Point, and they said the Rosary, but the last decade of the Rosary, they said it in French, which is really cool.
Nathalie: Oh, really? Oh, okay.
Simone: When I grew up, we had one teacher in sixth grade, and she made us learn the Angelus and the Rosary all in French. It’s so funny, because when they started to say the Rosary, it just kicked back in. You do have to have somebody willing to teach, but also, probably as a sixth grader, I probably absorbed it may be better than most. That’s really, really interesting. That’s about the extent of my French experience. I took Spanish in high school. Jacques, you have your own Spanish experience.
Jacques: Yeah. I speak Spanish. I don’t speak French, sadly, but I do want to learn. I think many people in my position or similar have that interest. I also was really exposed to what we call the Yat accent, growing up so close to Saint Bernard. I have friends who are not from Louisiana that are like, “Why do people you know speak like they’re from Brooklyn?” Can you answer that question, why are there so many Brooklyn-sounding people in Louisiana?
Nathalie: Yes and no. I can tell you you sound the same because you make the same sounds. The “suh” becomes “tuh” or “duh,” depending. The “the” becomes “duh.” “R” is dropped. “Car” becomes “cah,” which happens in a number of places in the states. “Curl, coil,” though that one’s not very common.
Nathalie: Right, exactly. That one’s less common these days, but that one’s different. Okay. As for why people in New Orleans and its surrounding areas sound like New Yorkers, although, I’ve been told not to use the term Yat lately … People don’t seem to like it a lot.
Nathalie: It’s okay. I just want to make sure people know.
Jacques: I embrace it as a term of pride.
Nathalie: Some people do. Some people like it, some people don’t.
Nathalie: As for why you all sound like that, we don’t actually know. It’s one of two things. It’s either because there are similar immigrant stocks. There were a lot of Germans, a lot of Italians, the same people moving into New York that you get down here, or it’s because there was a lot of contact between the two cities. There are linguists out there who have studied this and have said, “Look at the similarity and the structure. It looks just like New York.” The most parsimonious answer is, “Because contact.” The other side has said, “Well, but wait. There’s lack of historical evidence or counter-evidence in his story,” and so on. There’s this debate. It’s friendly. Everybody is still friends. We don’t really know.
I’ve been out to Independence to study their English, across the lake, which is very interesting. I was kind of curious to know if Italian could be tied to some of these features. What we found was that Independence is Independence in the end. It was an interesting place, great in its own right, but it didn’t really help to answer that question either. Yeah.
Jacques: Well, it’s super interesting to just think about language as a vehicle for understanding place, and particularly Louisiana’s coast. Nathalie, we’re almost done, but really quickly, I know you have a book that’s coming out soon.
Jacques: Yeah. What resources would you give to people who are looking to learn more about Louisiana’s unique languages and its history?
Nathalie: Well, a lot of the stuff is really technical. If you wanted to learn about Isleño Spanish, you could spend a lot of time reading very technical stuff. The most accessible stuff is actually movies by the Center for New American Media, like Yeah You Rite! New Orleans, which is great, because it’s got a great introduction to the nature of dialects, and why dialects are not bad, and so on. It also provides you with examples of New Orleans English. They’ve got the Ends of the Earth on Isleño Spanish. There’s a really easy book on Louisiana French by Carl Brasseaux called French, Cajun, Creole, Houma. It’s short. It’s easy. It’s accessible for people who are not linguists.
The Dictionary Louisiana French that came out is good for that. Then Shana Walton and I, professor at Nicholls, are co-editing an upcoming book. It’s an edited volume. We’ve got people who study indigenous languages. We’ve got people who study English, study French, study Spanish and so on who have written chapters for us in this book. We’ve put it all together. It’s going to be called Language in Louisiana: Culture and Community. Community and Culture, I probably got it backwards. It’s my own book. It should be coming out next year. That one has been written specifically to be accessible to lay people as well.
Jacques: Great. Well, we will definitely keep tabs on that and let folks know when it is available. Thank you so much for being on. We didn’t really do service to the complexity of this issue.
Nathalie: It was really hard to answer.
Jacques: A lot to answer in a short amount of time. As we have to say with our favorite guests, we’ll have to have you back on and talk more, but for now, Nathalie, thank you so much for being on.
Simone: Yeah You Rite!, I love that. I’m going to say that for the rest of the day now, too. Thank you, Nathalie, for being on. Jacques, as we close out this show, just one more reminder about the action alert?
Jacques: Sure. You can still go on our website, MississippiRiverDelta.org/TakeAction. You have until September 5th to give input on a key project in the restoration toolkit, Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. Next week, what do we have coming up? Another fun show?
Simone: I think it’s going to be really, really fun, so we want to keep it a secret, because we’ve got to make sure that everything works out, but I think next week might be our most fun show yet.
Jacques: Yeah. Definitely don’t miss it. Tune in. I want to thank our guests again so much for being on. This has been a really interesting show, and I think we both learned a lot. We hope you did too. Thanks again. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches on WGSO 990 AM.