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Jan 6, 2010 4:05 PM by Rob Kirkpatrick

The Dictionary of Louisiana French Takes Shape

OPELOUSAS, La. (AP) - It is an effort that took a decade of work
by nine editors and researchers out in the field. And it keeps
growing.
The Dictionary of Louisiana French: As Spoken in Cajun, Creole
and American Indian Communities is an 892-page lexicon, as its name
implies, of Louisiana French that takes into account regional
differences in the spoken language.
It has been a labor of love for its authors, because what
started out to be a comprehensive guide to Louisiana French has
turned into a continuing project.
"The interesting thing coming out very quickly, with 10 years
of research, is that there's still a lot out there," said Amanda
LaFleur, an assistant editor on the project. LaFleur is a French
teacher and native speaker of French originally from the Ville
Platte area. "The dictionary has stimulated conversations and
reminded people of other words."
Since the book was first released, people have been contacting
the various editors to report words and phrases they remember from
their own experience, she said.
In the eyes of another assistant editor on the project, Barry
Ancelet, who is a professor of history at UL and a well-known
expert on Cajun folklore, the dictionary represents an important
step in safeguarding the language of those who settled the area and
of those who continue to live there.
"It's not just preserving French," he said. "It's preserving
French for this context, the way we use it."
The gathering of words and phrases for the dictionary was done
by researchers who went into communities, interviewing several
native speakers. Entries were also taken from archival recordings
of French speakers, going back as far as the 1930s.
Among the better-known sources was Cajun musician Hadley
Castille.
"We developed relationships with people all over the area as
our consultants for this project," Ancelet said. "We owe them a
debt of gratitude. Some of the people answered the phone hundreds
of times."
Each entry is accompanied by an English definition, a
pronunciation guide - sometimes with alternate pronunciations - and
an example of the word's use in a sentence.
The sample sentences, Ancelet said, were taken directly from
local speakers' conversations or from archival recordings.
One of the side effects of the project was the affirmation of
Louisiana French in its many forms to be a true and legitimate
language, despite its deviations from modern standard French,
Ancelet said.
"A very important thing to understand about this dictionary is
that what many people frequently described or assumed were
deformations, mispronunciations or misuses or slurring, when we
start looking into them, very often it turned out to be a
preservation of an old form," he said. "One of the things this
process proved to us is that our French is very well-rooted and in
some cases, has precise distinctions and precise meanings
contemporary French has lost."
The new dictionary of local French is not the first. The best
known book of this kind was one publidhed by the Rev. Jules O.
Daigle in the 1980s.
"Father Daigle is extraordinary in that he was a one-man
machine determined to get everything down, but it was the speech of
one person," LaFleur said. The entries reflect mostly the speech
of the region he was most familiar with. "There was so much more
out there to be done."
The driving force behind the latest dictionary is Albert
Valdman, who is not a Louisiana native. Valdman, who hails from
France, is a professor emeritus of French, Italian and linguistics
and the director of the Creole Institute at Indiana University.
Another key player is associate editor Kevin Rottet, author of
Language Shift in the Coastal Marshes of Louisiana Creoles.
Assistant editors include Thomas Klingler, Tamara Lindner, Michael
D. Picone, Dominique Ryon, LaFleur, Ancelet and the late Richard
Guidry, a local expert on Cajun culture.
The project was an experience of discovery and delight for its
editors, Ancelet said.
"It's my dream come true for me, in a way," he added.
Because they wanted to keep the book, published by the
Univeristy Press of Mississippi, affordable for most people, its
creators made a special effort to keep the price down. They
obtained grants from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities,
the French Consulate and Festivals Acadiens et Creoles.
There's one more thing.
"We decided we were going to decline our royalties," LaFleur
said.
As a result, the book, which has been flying off the shelves, is
right around $40.
The instant popularity of the book, together with the intensive
research, has affirmed one more principle in LaFleur's mind.
"In the 1960s, they were predicting the demise of Cajun French.
But we're still here."
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Information from: The Daily World, http://www.dailyworld.com

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