French in Louisiana: Creole, or patois?

A reader asked recently why Victor Foster, one of my local linguist colleagues, used the term “patois” instead of language when he said his father spoke some Louisiana Creole. A creole is, after all, a language in its own right, whereas a patois is generally considered just a variation of a “real” language. (For those curious about linguists’ distinction between creoles, patois, and pidgins, check out this post on polyglossic.)

After some research, I came across an important distinction between how people speak about French variants: non-native linguists who studied the variant use the terms carefully, and native speakers use the terms as they like. (See, for instance, the search results for “patois or language” that show Jamaican French speakers referring to their language as Jamaican Patois or Patwa, capital P, while linguists stick to the term Creole.)

There are also, in fact, variants of Louisiana Creole, some of which are still changing. This dictionary includes words from several different types of French spoken in Louisiana; the preface offers a great overview of the how and why behind the differences. It’s possible that Victor’s father spoke a patois of a creole, a variant in flux. Whatever the reason, I’m glad it raised this question. I always like learning more about my working languages!

[If you are interested in other types of French, I’ve written about québécois and le camfranglais, too.]

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One thought on “French in Louisiana: Creole, or patois?

  1. Pingback: Local Linguists: Spring 2013 summary | translation, untangled

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