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  • Laura Vuillemin

When Speaking French Led to Corporal Punishment

Yes, you read well. Some people used to be physically punished for speaking French.


Where? In Louisiana, an American state where French used to be the native language of many individuals.


Speakers notably included the Acadians, who were massively expulsed, by the British authorities, from the former French colony of Acadia during the tragic period of the Great Upheaval (Grand Dérangement in French). Acadia corresponds to today’s Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.


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In 1915, the Louisiana constitution unfortunately banned the teaching of French in all public schools. Children who still spoke French were ridiculed or, worse, subject to sanctions. Sanctions ranged from writing I will not speak French 100 times on the blackboard to being smacked with a ruler on the fingertips or being left in a dark room, sometimes without lunch.


Sadly, this punishment system probably played a significant role in the decay Louisiana French experienced since then. Various initiatives and bodies, however, aim at preserving the language, among which the following:


▶️ French immersion classes

▶️ The Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (or CODIFIL)

▶️ The Nous Foundation


[Louisiana is actually not the only place where the French language was banned in North America. Ontario and New England indeed also had to comply with similar restrictions.]


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At a time when many languages are in danger (particularly France’s regional languages), I believe it is crucial to remind people of such violent and shocking precedent!

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