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Is Creole a Language?

French and English are two of the most popular languages in Louisiana, but what about Creole? This unique tongue has its place in a state with a tremendous amount of history and culture shaping it.

However, while it can be heard around the state from time to time, is Creole an official language?

Today, we’re looking at the origin of this pidgin and whether or not you should learn it before your next trip to Louisiana.

Let’s dive in!

Is Creole a Legit Language?

Across the world, there are more than 100 different types of Creole. These pidgins blend vocabulary and syntax for more than just communicating basic ideas. They have complex grammatical structures, and people grow up learning them as their first language. 

Louisiana Creole emerged as the French settlers colonized the area and worked with enslaved Africans. Since they didn’t speak the same tongue, they used a mix of various European and African vocabularies to communicate. However, it grew from a pidgin to having a unique structure as it developed over several generations.

But while the Louisiana Purchase expanded the boundaries of the United States, it didn’t help Creole develop as a language. The government actually made it illegal to utter.

Local laws went so far as prohibiting schools from teaching Louisiana Creole. Children and adults could face fines and public shaming if caught using their native tongue.

Today, less than 10,000 people speak Louisiana Creole. However, it’s a legit language that’s struggling to survive. But local groups work to restore the pidgin and help increase fluency.

Map of Louisiana
While some still speak Creole, it has become less common in Louisiana.

Who Are the Louisiana Creole People “L’Acadiane”

There’s a good chance you’ve never heard the term “L’Acadiane” used to describe a group of people. However, there’s a solid chance that you’re familiar with the more popular word “Cajun.” This group was originally from land in French Canada in the 1750s after refusing to pledge loyalty to the British crown and the Anglican Church.

The group was sent packing with little regard for their safety. The rough seas took many of their lives, and those who survived landed in various locations split from one another. But in 1784, the King of Spain allowed the Cajun people to settle in Southern Louisiana.

Many of these groups established themselves along the east coast of the United States. However, a large portion of them headed west toward New Orleans. Upon their arrival, they met a rather hostile group of French. Feeling less than welcome, they continued westward towards the bayous of Louisiana.

The Cajun people found the south-central and southwestern portions of the state inviting. While the bayous may not have been what the French were looking for, it allowed this subset of Louisiana Creoles to live freely and establish customs, beliefs, and their own language.

Pro Tip: While in Louisiana make sure to grab a bite to eat at one of these 5 Can’t Miss Restaurants in New Orleans.

What Are Some Creole Traditions?

You don’t have to spend much time in Louisiana before seeing some central Creole traditions. You can use your senses to experience many local traditions. Whether hearing music with your ears or smelling the aromas of the delicious food you’re about to taste, you’ll be delighted while you explore.

Just like the language, Louisiana Creole cuisine combines French, Spain, and African influences into one delectable treat. However, as the culture continually changes, it meshes with Irish, Native American, Italian, Caribbean, and German foods.

Some common seasonings you’ll find are onions, bell peppers, and celery. Some of the most popular dishes are gumbo and jambalaya.

They also have a unique tradition when it comes to music. The various influences combine into a genre called Zydeco, which began appearing in Southwest Louisiana during the 1920s. Singers use lyrics in Creole French, and bands use make-do instruments like aluminum washboards. This unique, lively music represents what happens as people bring different traditions together.

Like many other cultures, religion plays a part in Creole traditions. While Catholic and Protestant rituals are routine, they also have undertones of African-based religions. You’ll find prayers, baptisms, amulets, holy water, and crucifixes mixed in with deities, charms, and hierarchies. These devices provide spiritual guidance, ward off evil, and protect loved ones.

Street of New Orleans
Head to Louisiana to learn more about the food, language, and traditions of Creole culture.

Does Anyone Still Speak the Creole Language in Louisiana?

You can visit Louisiana many times and never hear the Creole language spoken by anyone. That’s because there are less than 10,000 people left that speak it. Experts consider the dialect endangered, especially since most fluent speakers are elderly, and it’s rarely passed down to children. If something doesn’t change, it’s only a matter of time before it’s entirely extinct.

However, there are community organizations to revitalize the pidgin. Northwestern State University has the Creole Heritage Centre, which aims to educate the general public about the culture. They also run a language documentation project and hope to grow the number of people speaking it.

Pro Tip: Enjoy the Big Easy by using our guide on How to Spend a Day in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Teach Me to Say Something in the Louisiana Creole Language

While you may not be able to master the Louisiana Creole language before your next trip, you can learn a few phrases or keywords. You can toss them out in a conversation and impress others with what you know.

If you’re driving down to Louisiana and someone cuts you off in traffic, you can put a “Gris Gris” on the driver. Locals pronounce the term “gree-gree,” and it means to put a curse on someone. For example, someone may use it to force the driver to hit all the red lights the rest of their way.

However, if you’re heading to Louisiana on vacation, you want a good time. So when you walk into a bar or party, you can say, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” This translates to, “Let the good times roll!” 

Working to Keep the Culture Alive

New Orleans and the surrounding areas have a unique history as a melting pot. But unless something changes, the Louisiana Creole language will continue to dwindle.

However, even if it’s no longer spoken in regular conversations, there’s no doubt that New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana will lose out on some of the culture. So do your part and learn as many phrases as possible to help keep this lingo alive and well!

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