In Louisiana the "little renaissance" of the Francophonie


 On Friday in New Orleans, Emmanuel Macron announced the creation of a fund to spread the French language in American schools. Despite the sharp decline in the number of speakers, French is far from disappearing from Louisiana.

"Franco-Louisiana culture is alive and well!" In almost impeccable French, Bennett Anderson, 25, fervently campaigns to make the Francophonie visible in Louisiana. Like other young Louisianans of his generation, he has this indefinable accent, a mixture of Louisiana intonations but also French, Quebec, Belgian and African, inherited from his teachers at school.

The Francophonie in Louisiana is - along with climate issues - at the heart of the second sequence of Emmanuel Macron's visit to the United States, on Friday. The head of state is to announce on this occasion the creation of a fund to support the dissemination of French in American schools. He will be the first French president since Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in 1976 to visit this southern state of the United States, which was a French colony, a Spanish colony, and then again a French colony between 1682 and 1803.

Drop in the number of speakers

New Orleans may make its European origins a tourist asset, but we hardly hear French today. However, it is heard more in the center and south of the state, towards the city of Lafayette and in the bayous, these marshy areas where the Acadians - who became the "Cajuns" and then "Cajuns" - settled in the mid-eighteenth century. One of the waves of Francophone emigrants experienced by Louisiana.

The use of French, the language of these poor workers, continued until 1921 when Louisiana made public education in English compulsory. Shameful, French was only practiced in the family until it almost disappeared. "My parents are part of the generation that doesn't speak French at all. But I discovered that my grandparents spoke it and that it was even my grandfather's mother tongue. He was delighted to tell me when I became interested in it," says Bennett Anderson.

This renewed interest of young Louisianans comes at the end of a drastic drop in the number of francophones in the state, estimated between 100,000 and 200,000 people, against 1 million in the 1970s. To stop it, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (Codofil), a Louisiana public agency, has been organizing "immersion programs" since the 1980s: students attend school exclusively in French - with the exception of English classes. Some 5,000 young people are participating today.

Create a community of Francophone businesses

Bennett Anderson, who launched an online gazette in French three years ago with other activists met on Facebook groups, says he is witnessing a "small renaissance" of French. But "there is a lack of economic opportunities," he laments. Once you've learned French at school, what do you do with it? Certainly, there are business opportunities with France, Quebec, Africa, etc. But we must develop the Franco-Louisiana economic area."

Codofil is aware of the issue: since Louisiana was integrated into the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) in 2018, the agency has also given itself the mission of economic development. By promoting Francophone tourism - France is one of the top five countries of origin of visitors to Louisiana - but also by "creating a community of Francophone businesses," says Matt Mick, communications officer at Codofil. "We launched an initiative to list Louisiana businesses offering French-language services, not necessarily in tourism. We are at the very beginning. »