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Racial segregation and language variation in Louisiana Creole: Social meaning in language loss

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Peer-reviewed

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Article

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Abstract

This paper investigates how and whether speakers of endangered languages employ variation as a stylistic resource to make social meaning and index their identities. The study is set in historically Creole-speaking communities in rural Louisiana, which have now shifted almost completely to English. The Americanization of Louisiana induced language shift, but also a shift to the Anglo-American racial binary which supplanted local constructs of ethnicity and race. The study crafts a historical-sociolinguistic account of this process of Americanization, examining how linguistic differentiation was enacted through the enregisterment of iconic ‘Creole’/‘French’ variants as indexical links to the ‘Black’/‘White’ racial binary. Today, to a very limited extent, some speakers of Louisiana Creole still consider some variants socially meaningful and employ them to stylistic ends. This depends especially on racial identity and the variant in question. Subject pronouns retain some indexical value, occasionally employed stylistically by speakers racialized as White. However, front vowel rounding has fossilized: highly meaningful in the early-20th century, its social meaning has been lost resulting in synchronic personal-pattern variation. The paper ends by trying to reconcile classic studies of Language Death with contemporary variationist critique, answering recent calls for more nuanced approaches to sociolinguistic variation in threatened languages.

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Journal Title

Sociolinguistica

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Journal ISSN

0933-1883

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Publisher

De Gruyter

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Sponsorship
AHRC (1687496)
AHRC (1687496)