Date: Fri, 27 Jan 1995 08:40:11 CST


Subject: Re: TV and dialect

A couple of quick comments on CODOFIL (Council for the Development of

French in Louisiana, founded in 1968) by way of reaction to Jeffrey Allen's

posting. I'm not as familiar with what CODOFIL has done in the area of

mass media as I am in the area of education and promoting student exchanges

with Francophone countries. Results are mixed. I visited one family in

Louisiana who had hit it off so well with the family of their French exchange

student, that they would vacation together in France almost every year.

The father of this Louisiana family was, consequently, one of the very few

Cajuns I have ever spoken to who was capable of dialect shifting. He could

emulate the so-called `metropolitan' code, and did so with me, but to the

disgust of my lowly Cajun friend who accompanied me to this interview and

and, while in admiration, felt he was putting on airs. So in this one case,

at least, a CODOFIL program has had profound linguistic impact. But such

cases are very rare. Concerning education, I once spent an entire day

sitting in on French immersion classes at Cecilia Elementary School. The

teachers were from France, Belgium and Quebec with one Cajun teacher's aide.

All, however, had attended some kind of training to become aware of local

dialectal distinctions. There was never any attempt to correct anyone's

French in the classroom, and on occasion local vocabulary was injected

into the presentation. However, to understand what is going on,

even while greatly appreciating the educational benefit to the students,

one must be aware of the artifiality of this venture. Very few of the

students come from homes where French is spoken at all anymore. Probably

for none of them did this constitute a reinforcement of a maternal language.

The French the kids spoke in class revealed that their active competence was

far from fluent, though passive competence was very great. Deviations in usage

made by students were related more to linguistic interference from English

than from local dialectal intrusions. The code they are developing would

make a fascinating study, but it is not Cajun French, and there is precious

little hope that this kind of thing will ever revive French in Louisiana.

As for French in the media, there are quite a few radio stations that

broadcast partly or completely in Cajun French. The renaissance of Cajun

music has helped much in this regard. A few news summaries and an early

morning Catholic devotional in Cajun French can be found on TV. How the

announcers deal with vocabulary needs is a very interesting study, but

one that would seem to show far more intrasentential lexical code-switching

to English than use of native neologisms or borrowings from other dialects

of French. For more on this, see my just-published article "Lexicogenesis

and language vitality" in WORD, Dec. 1994.

Mike Picone

University of Alabama