” We have a history in New Orleans and important things to say that place that relate to both our history and what we want to do next. “. On December 2, 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron ends his state visit to the United States with a visit to New Orleans.
Through this city, emblematic of historical Franco-American ties, he promotes the Francophonie. Why is this city a strategic place for the French language in the United States? And what is the importance of this language in the country?
A French story
Until 1803, when the city was sold by Napoleon Bonaparte to the United States, New Orleans was French. In 1682, French expeditionaries took possession of Louisiana, where New Orleans was located. It therefore becomes a French colony.
The territory of the French colony stretched from the northern United States to the Gulf of Mexico. However, the majority remained controlled by Native American peoples. The Mississippi River flowed through the middle of the territory.
In 1762, at the end of the Seven Years War during which France was defeated, part of Louisiana was ceded to the Spaniards by the Treaty of Fontainebleau. Then in 1763, the other part was ceded to England by the Treaty of Paris. Finally, after recovering the Spanish portion in 1800, Louisiana was definitively ceded to the United States with the Treaty of Washington.
What place for French in the United States?
Despite the fact that Louisiana has adopted French/English bilingualism at the state level, the use of French is decreasing as English takes hold throughout the country. Interviewed on French television BFM TVhistorian Gilles Harvard estimates that Louisiana now has 7% of French speakers.
Among the population, some try to promote the French language. There is in particular the television channel “Télé Louisiane”, entirely French-speaking. It offers educational content to increase the learning of the French language. On the KVPI radio station, two Louisianans co-host a radio show entirely in French three times per week.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit is to announce a new initiative, which he describes as “ambitious“. This is the “French For All” fund, which aims to “support the learning of French wherever it is at stake in the United States, from kindergarten to university, especially among disadvantaged audiences who can find in French an opportunity multiplier“explains the Elysée to the French community in Washington. The president adds that he wants to renovate”the image of French in the United States, which is sometimes perhaps seen as elitist“.