BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Louisiana’s rich cultural heritage has been shaped by settlers of various backgrounds, but the state is especially known for its ties to the French language.

Louisiana’s ties to French

Historians say French explorers Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville and his brother Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville founded the colony of Louisiana in 1699. 

But decades later, Louisiana became a colony of Spain, and the Spanish government brought in enslaved peoples, indentured servants, and others from Québec, Switzerland, Belgium, the Caribbean, parts of West Africa as well as the French provinces of Alsace, Lorraine, Aquitaine, Normandy, Picardy, Savoie, and Brittany. 

Interestingly, all of these cultures spoke various versions of French. 

Eventually, between 1765 ad 1785, the Spanish government also allowed thousands of Acadians from France to settle in Louisiana.

Seeing as many of the Acadians were skilled planters and levee engineers, most settled in south Louisiana’s bayous and swampy marshlands. There, they became neighbors to Creole people who had already been there for a while. 

So, the state’s culture and various forms of communication eventually became shaped by its many settlers of Acadian, Creole, Native American, African/Afro-Caribbean, Spanish, British, Irish, German, and Italian backgrounds.

How many people in Louisiana speak French today? 

In modern times, the type of French that Louisiana became known for was shaped by many of the cultures listed above, and so it came to be called, ‘Louisiana French.’ 

A 1968 census reported that there were one million French speakers in Louisiana. 

Today, that figure is estimated to have significantly decreased to about 150,000 and 200,000, and Louisianians who speak French as a first language are typically over the age of 70.

In recent years, state leaders have made efforts to honor the state’s ties to the French language. 

In local schools, nearly 100,000 students study French, and Louisiana is reportedly home to 26 French immersion schools in eight parishes.

Click here for more on Louisiana’s history.