* * *
In Louisiana, a similar branding project is now underway, led by the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, or CODOFIL.
The organization hopes to have its first Zagat-like “FrancoResponsable” (“French-friendly”) stickers in the windows of restaurants, shops, and hotels in New Orleans and Acadia within a month. The stickers will be color-coded to indicate the level of French service that’s available to customers. Green will mean the business offers some effort to reach French-speakers—maybe the menu is bilingual, for example. Silver will mean that service is spotty—perhaps the one francophone person on staff is not always working, so call ahead. A gold award will indicate that interacting entirely in French is always an option. CODOFIL staffers plan to personally verify the Frenchness of businesses before awarding any stickers at all.
The agency once focused solely on French-language education, so this commercial venture signifies a departure. The goal is to bump up the already sizable population of francophone tourists who visit Louisiana, and to validate the French language in a public way.
Promoters of the campaign and others like it say they recognize that inviting outsiders to experience Louisiana’s French dialects may sometimes put locals in awkward positions. In Louisiana, French has been stigmatized and repressed; “My French is bad,” is a common response from Creole or Cajun French-speakers to a foreigner’s bonjour.
However, according to a spokesperson from CODOFIL, French businesses are already excited about the FrancoResponsable program, which may one day be extended to doctor’s offices and other non-tourist locales. What’s more, it’s designed to support all forms of French in the state—regional, Haitian, European, or African. It’s also hoped that young Louisianans will see that French is connected to the job market, so they’ll have an incentive to master the language. In the 1960s, about a million people spoke French in the state. Today there are about 175,000 native speakers.
Whether tying the language to the whims of the tourist market is a good idea is not yet clear. “French isn’t alive and well like it used to be, so I feel that it is like everything—there are good and bad points,” said Emilie Urbain, a Belgian-born adjunct professor at the University of Moncton who has conducted linguistic research in Louisiana. Economically, though, it may deliver, said Joseph Dunn, a former CODOFIL director. Already, francophone visitors bring $250,000 in revenue per year to just one site, the Laura Plantation, Dunn’s current marketing client. English spoken with a Cajun accent, which has been associated with illiterate characters in pop culture, is also something people are starting to play with in tourist contexts, Urbain noted.
* * *
The French of Louisiana have something in common with the people of Canada’s Newfoundland and Labrador, traditionally one of the country’s poorest provinces. The literary sensation Karl Ove Knausgaard made note of the region's unique accent in a New York Times Magazine story this month. (“Pierce talked the whole time, while I nodded and made noncommittal noises as I struggled to make sense out of the few words I could understand. He had lived in the area all his life, grew up in a nearby village and moved to St. Anthony a few years ago, he worked in the fisheries and in boatbuilding, possibly also at a car-repair shop, and he had had a pacemaker put in, that much I gathered.”)