Linguistic Developments in the Colonial Period

The sustained presence of the French language in the Gulf South dates to the year 1699, when the French Canadian brothers Bienville and Iberville founded Fort Maurepas near present-day Biloxi, Mississippi, followed by Fort Louis de la Mobile in 1702 and New Orleans in 1718. The earliest European settlers, who were primarily from France and French Canada, but also from the German-speaking region of Alsace as well as from Germany and Switzerland, came into contact with American Indians speaking a variety of languages, including the trade pidgin known as Mobilian Jargon. The first shipment of enslaved Africans to Louisiana arrived in 1719, adding to the linguistic diversity of the colony. Approximately 5,000 Africans were brought to Louisiana between 1719 and 1743, the year the last slave ship arrived during the French period. The Spanish, who controlled the Louisiana colony from 1769 to 1800, resumed the slave trade to Louisiana as they greatly expanded the colonies plantation economy. Despite a Spanish administration and the arrival of some 2000 Spanish speakers from the Canary Islands in the late 1770s, Louisiana remained resolutely French in
character. Indeed, the French-speaking population was significantly augmented between 1764 and 1785 by the arrival of as many as 3000 Acadian exiles following their expulsion from their homeland by the British in 1755.

It is likely that the different varieties of French spoken by the many francophone groups who came to Louisiana during the eighteenth century-including settlers, administrators, soldiers, indentured servants, and prisoners-underwent a process of koìneization by which the most significant linguistic differences were leveled out, resulting in a new and unique variety of French widely shared among the colonists, many slaves, and some American Indians, and that served as the basis for what we know today as Louisiana (or "Cajun") French. It was also in the course of the eighteenth century that contact between African slaves and francophone colonists gave rise to the Louisiana Creole language, which is first mentioned in the transcript of a slave trial from 1792, in which it is referred to by the Spanish word Criollo.