Spanish in Louisiana

While Spain ran the Louisiana colony for 40 years (vs. the 60-year French rule), the presence of the Spanish language in Louisiana has been much less visible than that of French. Still, Spanish has been spoken in Louisiana since the early days of the colony. A settlement at Los Adaes, a few miles from Natchitoches, was occupied from the 1720s until the 1770s, when France took the area over and the Spanish were forced westward. Some of the settlers from Los Adaes, however, resisted resettlement and moved only a short distance away to the Sabine river, where they founded a town they called Vallecito. The town is today called Zwolle-Ebarb, the Ebarb possibly deriving from Ybarbo, the name of the leader of the Spanish enclave.

During the Spanish period, the most important group of hispanophone settlers to arrive in Louisiana were Canary Island refugees known as the Islenos. Two major Isleno settlement areas, one in southernmost St. Bernard Parish, and the other in Assumption Parish at the split of the Lafourche from the Mississippi River. The former are most often simply called “Islenos” and the latter “Brules” (from the French brulé “burnt”). Distinct differences exist in the language as it is (or was) spoken in these two communities. The Islenos are perhaps best known for their tradition of singing decimas, songs that could be either serious or mocking, and used to recall important historical events or to tease local residents. Today these songs are often sung in English rather than Spanish.

In the 20th century, Spanish continued to enter the state of Louisiana. Settlers from Mexico joined those at Zwolle, and in New Orleans, immigrants from Honduras and other Central American countries formed an important immigrant population. Despite the numerous different waves of Spanish-speaking arrivals, historic varieties of Spanish are all in a state of decline in Louisiana, if not already extinct. Spanish was spoken by only a handful of people, all over the age of 50, in Zwolle in the 1980s. Likewise, only very few semi-speakers of Isleno Spanish remain in either St. Bermard Parish or Assumption Parishes.

Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans again saw a Spanish influx; the linguistic effect of this influx has yet to be fully studied.