Accompanied by Mavis Frugé, Laura Mélançon, and others, they visited with Hélène Boudreaux and others in Catahoula, as well as Rex and Belinda Bérard in Grand Anse and Pimm in Arnaudville.
In between, they all had a communal seafood lunch at Pat’s in Henderson, along with their instructor, Tom Klingler, who’s been bringing his students to St. Martin Parish for years, and Nathalie Dajko, who has previously taught the course. They are both experts and speakers of Louisiana Creole and French.
According to Samia (last name not given), a graduate student from Toronto, for their interviews they use questions to stimulate a conversation. Afterwards, they have a series of questions that they ask each interviewee to translate to get their use of different vocabulary in different situations. Samia said one woman responded in Cajun during the conversation, but switched to Creole for the translation part.
“The stories are the most interesting.”
The day is full of contradiction as well as stories. Rex Bérard was part of the five-day war in the Persian Gulf. Dajko is interviewing him in her fluent Creole and French. According to his wife, Belinda, Bérard is pretty nervous about being filmed, so while she’s not around, most of his responses are in English. He switches back into French when she’s around. He also talks about the flood of 1927 and how it changed everything. He grew up across the street from where he now lives. He tells the group how his father was a récolteur (a farmer) in the 1950s. In addition to raising le cotton et les patates, he had a cannery. “Tout le monde d’autour d’icitte parlaient français.” (Everyone around here spoke French.)
He was punished at school for speaking French. “Les maitresses parlaient français mais ça voulait pas qu’on parle français.” (The teachers spoke French, but they didn’t want us to speak French.) And as noted by Laura Mélançon, who’s being interviewed in the other room, “ça punit plus” (they’re no longer punishing us).
Samia is right. The stories are the most interesting and not just the stories of the Louisiana French and Creole speakers being interviewed. Tobias (last name not given) is from Berlin, Germany. He visited New Orleans and decided he wanted to come back to study. He previously lived in Montreal for a year and is familiar with the concept of language endangerment. He took this particular course so he could actually go and speak with people.
He says Louisiana French is more similar to that of Quebec than of France.
Inside the house, another group is interviewing Laura Mélançon, who’s originally from Cecilia, and like lots of people in St. Martin Parish, speaks Creole and French. She looks a bit puzzled about some of the questions being asked, particularly around whether other French speakers are able to understand her when she speaks French. Her matter-of-fact reply: “Pas de tracas pour être compris au Canada, en France et en Belgique.” (No problem being understood in Canada, France and Belgium.)
And that about sums it up.