Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Keynote Speech by Sylvie Dubois (Louisiana State University)

Date: Friday, November 6, 2009
Time: 7:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Location: Arts and Administration Building (AA-1043)
Reception and cash bar to follow.

Distinctive Paths of Linguistic Resistance:
The Case of Cajun Vernacular English and Creole African-American Vernacular English

Language and social variation in Louisiana has a long and complex history. Any account of the present day varieties of English must begin with an historical overview of the ways in which language, ethnicity, race, and socioeconomic structure have been interwoven to form the intricate tapestry that is Louisiana. The focus of our talk is on the vernacular English currently spoken by Creole African-Americans of French ancestry (CAAVE) and Cajuns (CVE) living in South Louisiana. Language change and linguistic persistence characterize both black and white French-speaking populations. The most important change is the decline in the number of bilinguals. One aspect of persistence is the development of CAAVE and CVE dialects that distinguish THESE speakers from their fellow Southerners. Another one is the maintenance of these divergent dialects while others are disappearing elsewhere in Southern American English (Bailey 2001). When we compare the oldest speakers of both varieties, phonological and morphological variables show no difference. The only reason to speak of two vernaculars is social. For the next generations, persistence of the dialect takes quite a different form. In CAAVE, a high rate of glide absence is maintained across all generations. In CVE, the middle-aged generation uses this feature dramatically less, but the younger generation increases its use so that their frequency approaches the proportion found in the speech of the older generation. We argue against the fact that the similarities between CAAVE and CVE as spoken by older speakers are the result of interference from French. We suggest that they speak comparable dialects because they learned English from people who spoke English in and around their communities, not only as adults but as children as well, and that these English speakers had all these features in their speech. We will also show that linguistic persistence in CAAVE has more to do with the patterns of social intercourse, whereas persistence in CVE is better explained by the social changes that took place throughout the 20th century.

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