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6 The Use of Louisiana Creole in Southern Literature SYBIL REIN Gae, gae soulangae, baile chemin-la. ATa dit li, oui, m'a dit li, cowan li connais parle ti cowan li connais parle. —-from a Creole lullaby Gae, gae soulangae, Sweep the road. I tell her, yes, I tell her, The turtle knows how to talk, The little turtle knows how to talk. These words from a Creole lullaby allude to the origin of that language and its roots in African culture. For purposes of this essay, the Creole language is best understood as a language that was developed in Louisiana by Africans, black slaves, and free people of color during the state's early colonial period. In Africans in Colonial Louisiana, Gwendolyn Midlo Hall explains, "It has been established, through linguistic as well as his117 n8 SYBIL KEIN torical evidence, that Louisiana Creole was created in Louisiana and was not derived from Haitian or other West Indian varieties of French-based Creoles. Ingrid Neumann-Holzschuh, a German creolist, has recently argued, from linguistic evidence, that Louisiana Creole developed independently of the Creoles of the French West Indies. Neumann-Holzschuh 's interpretation coincides with the historical facts. We have seen that the slaves brought to Louisiana during the formative period of the language came directly from Africa, not from the French West Indies." Indeed, there seems to be little doubt that this Creole language is indigenous to Louisiana. AsHall describes, "The . . . Louisiana Creole is overwhelmingly French in origin, but its grammatical structure is largely African." This description also points to the fact that Creoles and Creole speakers are a part of the Louisiana Francophone culture.1 Professor Vincent Bakpetu Thompson, in The Making of the African Diaspora in the Americas, 1441-1900, attributes the development of the Creole languages to the mulatto middlemen who were the progeny of one African parent and a European. These mulatto middlemen,who participated in the slavetrade astranslators, were numerous; Thompsonsays that in the seventeenth century or earlier they "spanned the entire Guinea Coast and became factors to be reckoned with." This evidence accords with Hall's conclusion that "Louisiana Creole evidently developed from a Portuguese-based pidgin that had been relexified with the French vocabulary in Senegal. This pidgin was spoken by a number of African slaves brought to Louisiana between 1719 and 1731. The first generation of creole slaves adopted the language as its mother tongue, expanding and nativizing its vocabulary, including Indian terms for local fruits and plants."2 The present essaywill examine the use of the Louisiana Creole language in literature about the South. It will examinelyrics of some of the Creole slave songs and then move to the earliest use of the language by writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Presented here are selected examples of the available materials containing samples of Creole. 1. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Developmentof Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992), 188, 190. 2. Vincent BakpetuThompson, The Making of theAfrican Diaspora in the Americas 1441-1^00 (New York: Longmans, 1987), 95; Hall, Africans in Colonial Louisiana , 192. USE OF LOUISIANA CREOLE IN SOUTHERNLITERATURE 119 The totality of written work includes many romantic popular novels set in Louisiana which show scant use of Creole and which are excluded for the sake of brevity. The earliest known sample of written Creole is by Louisiana's first historian, Le Page du Pratz. According to Hall, "du Pratz published several sentences in Louisiana Creole. Although he published his work . . . in book form in 1758, he lived in Louisiana between 1718 and 1734. These quotations, therefore, had to date from before 1734 and are some of the earliest documented examples of any creole language. One sentence quoted from Samba Bambara was C M. le Page li diable li sabai touf ('Mr. Le Page is a devil who knows everything')." Another early source of written Creole is Jean Jacques Rousseau's Dissertation sur la musique moderne (1742). Rousseau uses the words of a Creole folk song, "Lisette Quittes la Plaine," as an example for his system of notation. He called it "Chanson negre" but did not saywhere he found this song. Dena J. Epstein offers a comparison of Rousseau's one stanza to Tinker's nineteenthcentury Louisiana notation of the same song: "The one stanza of text given in the facsimile of his [Rousseau's] manuscript, while closer to classical French, was substantially the same as that...


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