It used to be that servers working in French-themed restaurants outside France were the only ones who were proficient in basic phrases found in the French language. These were used to great effect when interacting with customers and taking orders. Now, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, CODOFIL, is spearheading an effort to increase awareness of the French language amongst Louisiana residents while simultaneously attracting more French tourists to the area. This tactic is part of the tourism industry’s new approach towards linguistic variety, which encompasses the accents, dialects and foreign languages found in a given area. Specifically, they wish to highlight them as being unique and integral to the identity of a particular tourist destination.
Tracing Louisiana’s History with the French Language
French was brought to Louisiana in the late 17th century by a group of European settlers and it took hold in the southwestern part of the state. Various groups of settlers, including the Acadians, or Cajuns, embraced the French language and transformed it into Cajun French, a dialect unique to the region and its people. A mandate in the 1921 state constitution required schools to teach lessons in English, resulting in some Cajun students being punished for using French phrases and slang in class. Beginning in the 1960’s, Louisiana began a French immersion program that is currently the largest in the US, serving more than 4,000 students. Unfortunately, two thirds of the teachers participating in the immersion program are foreigners who have spent little time in Louisiana, and therefore they cannot accurately teach Cajun French, which differs from the traditional French language significantly in its pronunciation of specific verbs and other parts of the language.
According to a 2000 census, only 7% of Louisiana residents spoke the French language. As of 2013 there were only 100,000 French speakers in Louisiana, a sharp decline from the 250,000 French speakers present in 1990.
CODOFIL’s French Fluency Sticker System
CODOFIL aims to make the establishments in New Orleans and Acadia Parish, Louisiana French-friendly by the end of April 2015. This “FrancoResponsable” project is directed towards hospitality and service industries like hotels, boutiques, and restaurants. CODOFIL will use color-coded stickers that will be posted outside the establishments. The colors of the stickers will specify the degree of fluency in the French language by the staff of each respective shop, hotel, or restaurant, while also determining the relative “Frenchness” of the establishment in question, according to CODOFIL’s standards.
The sticker system is divided into three main colors: green, silver and gold. The green sticker means the staff of the establishment accommodates speakers of the French language through having a bilingual menu or similar materials. A silver sticker indicates that there is a member of the staff who understands and speaks the French language, but that person may not always be available, thus calling ahead of time is recommended. Finally, a gold sticker indicates the entire staff is fluent in French and can easily converse with native French speakers.
The goal of CODOFIL is to increase the already sizable number of French tourists in the Bayou State. It’s also a way to validate and publicly recognize the French language in Louisiana. This approach in turn will help eliminate the stigma that those who speak Creole speak “bad French”. Eventually, the program hopes to spread so far and wide that even non-tourist locations in Louisiana will adapt the French sticker program.
This program by CODOFIL hopes to not only elevate the economy of the state, but also rejuvenate the interest of Louisianans in the French language. Success in this latter area would mean more students in high school and college would be motivated to learn French and make it their second language. College students who are fluent in one or more secondary languages, including Spanish and French, have more versatility when it comes to the job market. AccentPros can help foreign business professionals achieve a similar advantage by guiding them during the accent reduction process.
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