Sylvie Dubois                                    Barbara Horvath

Louisiana State University                              University of Sydney


The Persistence of Dialect Features

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 paper is on the vernacular English currently spoken by Creole African Americans of French ancestry (CAAVE) and Cajuns (CVE) living in South Louisiana. The sub sample study taken out of two larger corpora consists of 24 African American male speakers and 16 Cajun male speakers. Language change and linguistic persistence characterize the black and white French-speaking populations. The most important change is the fall 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). The linguistic features of CAAVE and CVE reported on are (1) glide absence in the vowels (ai, au, oi, i, u, e, o), (2) S-absence in the third person singular. (3) ED-absence in bimorphemic words. 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 use 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 have called this process ‘recycling; we have reported this tendency for many other variables in CVE (Dubois and Horvath 1998, 1999, 2003). For morphological features, we notice the different rate of S- Absence and ED- Absence in CAAVE and CVE. However the maintenance of these features is stable among the generations of speakers who learned English first. Their rate also is similar to the younger speakers who learned French first. The striking difference between both dialects is the phonological conditioning. No conditioning can be observed in CAAVE whereas phonological constraints have a strong effect in CVE spoken by young speakers. Our results show that both older CAAVE and CVE speakers share the same linguistic environment, whether or not they learned French or English first. We argue against the fact that that the similarities between CAAVE and CVE as spoken by older speakers are a 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.