Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Language in Louisiana: Louisiana Cajun French and Creole Languages

This year’s American Translators Association conference was held in festive New Orleans, a city known for its lively spirit and delicious food. In addition to the exposure to these things, our team learned some insights on the history of the language in Louisiana, including the meaning of the above phrase “Laissez les bons temps rouler.”

In the mid to late 17th century, French exploration brought a new culture, cuisine, and language to the southern parts of Louisiana. Up until the 19th century, French immigrants settled into the region and developed the new French variant called Louisiana Cajun French. This language, while French-based, was influenced by other languages in the region, such as Native-American, American English, and Louisiana Creole languages. While the language can be understood by other French speakers, the other regional influence contributed to Americanized phrases like this post’s title.

“Laissez les bons temps rouler” is a Louisiana French phrase that is translated from the English “let the good times roll.” This phrase can be seen printed on souvenirs while strolling around the city center of New Orleans. The phrase is specific to Louisiana, and contains an American context that would leave European French speakers a bit confused.

How is Louisiana Creole different from Cajun French? 
A creole language is a contact language resulting when two completely different languages interact to form a new language. Louisiana Creole originated with the mixture of African languages and French in colonial 17th to 19th century Louisiana and is a completely different language from Louisiana Cajun French. This creole language developed naturally as a shared language among those involved in the colonial slave trade. It emerged organically as a means for communication between two completely different groups of speakers.

After the American Civil War which ended in 1865, English became the dominant language in Louisiana. This meant that Louisiana Cajun French and regional Creole languages became more and more endangered. Further, the political dominance of Cajun French made it more widely spoken than Louisiana Creole to this day. With the rise of the Internet, however, movements have emerged to revitalize endangered languages like these. Nowadays, organizations like Wikitongues work towards the revitalization of language, and some local universities offer courses to study and preserve languages like Cajun French. Websites like Wikitongues provide endangered language speakers with an attainable online community to practice and connect with others, such as Louisiana Cajun French speakers. Watch a video here of a modern Louisiana Cajun French speaker sharing the language with the online community. Another example of this modern revitalization of language can be seen at the university level. Students can study Louisiana Cajun French in New Orleans, such as at the local, Louisiana State University.

Is Haitian Creole related to Louisiana Creole?

It’s important to point out that “creole” in the linguistic sense is different from the cultural definition of “creole,” which may have differing sociopolitical, racial and/or ethnic connotations depending on the country. The cultural definition refers to different ethnic groups, usually of a mixture of European and African or Native-American, but these may vary with each country.

In linguistic terms, “creole” is different in that it does not necessarily relate to race or ethnicity. While both Haitian and Louisiana creole languages share the word “creole,” creole languages exist in all parts of the world and do not necessarily mean that all creole languages are mutually intelligible or easily understood by all creole speakers. In terms of Haitian Creole and Louisiana Creole, some similarities do exist. For instance, both Haitian and Louisiana Creole are French-based languages. However, the African languages that have influenced Haitian Creole and Louisiana Creole are not the same. Another big difference is that Haitian creole is the main language in Haiti, is widely spoken by more than 10 million people, while Louisiana Creole is spoken by less than 10,000 people today.

Written By: Gabriela Garcia