Josh McNeill

Language, Music, Louisiana.

Pluarlistic globalism and endangered languages.

I finally finished watching this over breakfast this morning. Something interesting from a linguistic perspective is that they don’t seem to use any English words in their Cherokee despite heavy contact, perhaps because they go to lengths to create new words for new things (see 35:00). This is not the strategy taken elsewhere, such as in Louisiana and the Maritimes (although Quebec tries to do this at least officially).

First Language, The Race to Save Cherokee by Neal Hutcheson on Vimeo.

Also, I think the quote at the end is particular fitting given the current social and political climate throughout the West. He positions the idea of a strong local culture within a broader context that doesn’t necessarily need to reject larger over-arching cultures or even global interconnectedness:

“If we consider what it actually means to be a pluralistic society, then that means we’re gonna have to make space for people who speak different languages, who think different ways, who have different cultures, inside of a national culture or a global culture, and so all the movement has been in the opposite direction towards globalization, towards homogenization, you know? What does it mean to change the process and open up space for a plurality of different small cultures working together? How can we truly accept and respect those people and allow them some measure of autonomy with their educational system and the language that they speak?” –Hartwelll Francis de West Carolina University, ma traduction

An interesting cup of coffee.

I’m transcribing some broadcasts from Louisiana in French for a class on language change. For the recents broadcasts, I chose the show La Tasse de café on KVPI, and for the old broadcasts, the series En français, which was broadcast by Louisiana Public Broadcasting, a public TV station, in the 80s and 90s. I’m analyzing the variation between third person plural subject pronouns, meaning ils, ils -ont, ça, eux and eux-autres, but something that I immediately noticed in relation to the speech of Ms. Ledet, who was born in 1919, is that she employs many constructions that make her speech sound like that of the French in formal contexts. You don’t hear these constructions in the speech of Mr. Soileau and Mr. Manuel on KVPI (the former being born in 1941, the latter, I don’t know):

Ms. Ledet on En français

It’s not clear if this stems from a difference in region, in age, in interlocutor (the interviewer on En français seems rather France French), in interaction with francophones from elsewhere, or something else, but it’s interesting nonetheless. The corpus I’m constructing is small, because it’s just for a term paper, but I intend to extend it and possible perform other analyses.

Buckwheat Zydeco

They’re dancing a bit better in heaven this morning. RIP.

Know where yat.

Ya know, I’ve listened to all of Harry Connick, Jr.’s albums, but I’ve never heard him speak. He recently appeared on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert and so I heard him:

At the beginning, I noticed that he was speaking Yat, meaning the variety of English spoken in New Orleans. At that moment, he was addressing Jon Batiste, who also comes from New Orleans, but as the interview went on, it seemed to me like he changed his register to something more general, seeing as I could no longer hear any Yat features very well. For someone who is still so closely linked to the area that he came from but who has worked elsewhere for so long, with great success, I’m not surprised that he seems to maintain the two varieties, and this here is a great example of how quickly they can switch in a situation where the two help express the totality of one’s character. In my opinion, that’s what on loses when one loses their native language due to the idea that it’s not worth much: one’s totality.

After there being nothing that you can do before.

As always, Donald Trump finds himself in a controvery. This time, he suggested that 2nd amendment supporters will be able to stop the nomination of Supreme Court justices that aren’t supporters themselves:

Here, we have a temporal language problem. Trump speaks, usually, in an epenthetic way, that is to say he inserts small clauses in phrases that have nothing to do with the current phrase. He does this to mitigate the effect of phrases that might be offensive or to remind us that he’s the greatest man in the world (that’s clearly false, so he has to remind us), but on this occasion, he created a temporal incongruence. Here’s the full phrase:

“If she gets to pick her juges, nothing you can do, folks, although the 2nd amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

When Trump states the clause nothing you can do, he uses the present tense in an ambiguous way. It can describe either the present tense or the future tense. What determines the tense is the tense of the phrase in which the clause is found: If she gets to pick her juges. This clause can only mean the future, because she is completely incapable of picking a justice unless she wins the presidency in the future. This marks the rest of the utterance as in the future, after the election, including the clause nothing you can do. As such, there’s only one interpretation: Trump suggests that someone assassinate, with a gun, either the president or the judges, but Trump says that the clause is linked to that which would have happened before the election:

I have no doubte that that’s what Trump meant, but the way in which he said it renders a different meaning. The problem isn’t deciding if he was really promoting the assassination of Clinton or the justices, as the media is debating, it’s deciding if he endangered these people, to which I respond: yes, he doesn’t reflect on what he says, ever, and that is very very dangerous as a president.

Translating English to English.

There’s a post at Language Log on The Jeremy Kyle Show, where the guests speak varieties of English that even the host can’t understand, and me neither, as a native speaker of English:

The post at Language Log.

What I find interesting, is that I start to think about what I’m hearing as if it’s not English, as if it’s first necessary to find the boundaries of the words even before starting to parse them as something meaningful. This happens as soon as I fail to understand two or three adjacents words.

Something I’ve been thinking about for a few months is the lack of discussion on psycholinguistics in the sociolinguistics literature as well as the formal linguistics literature. Things like this seem to me like a good place to start.

I intend to start posting some small articles like this, seeing as it’s been a long time since I haven’t had the time to write some real posts.)

Some updates

I updated the flashcards that I created for Louisiana French (vocabulary as well as writing/reading). The links are to the side and below:


More details are found in the previous posts:

Details about vocabulary
Details about writing/reading

I’m looking for volonteers.

I’m doing a project about the difference between pronunciation when one sings versus when one speaks, so I need some volunteers from Louisiana who can send me two recordings: one in which you sing a song unaccompanied and another in which you speak the same lyrics. If you would like to help me but don’t know how to record your voice, I can record it using Skype, but that requires that you know how to use Skype.

The song is Les Barres de la prison, the version by Canray Fontenot below:

Here are the lyrics:

Goodbye chère vieille mom
Goodbye pauvre vieux pop
Goodbye à mes frères et mes chères petites sœurs
Moi j’ai été condamné pour la balance de ma vie
Dans les barres de la prison

Moi j’ai roulé
Je m’ai mis à malfaire
J’avais la tête dure
J’ai rentré dans le tracas
Asteur je suis condamné pour la balance de ma vie
Dans les barres de la prison

Ma pauvre vieille maman
Elle s’a mis dessus ses genoux
Ses deux mains sur la tête, en pleurant pour moi
Elle dit, «Mmm, mmm»
Cher petit garçon
Moi je vais jamais te revoir
Toi tu as été condamné pour la balance de ta vie
Dans les barres de la prison

J’ai dit chère vieille maman
Pleure pas pour moi
Faut tu pries pour ton enfant, pour essayer de sauver son âme
De les flammes de l’Enfer

If you send me these recordings (to my e-mail address: or look under Contact above), please indicate the details below, all of which will remain anonymous:

Current City:
First Language:

If your first language is not French,

When you learned French:
How you learned French:

Please spread the word.

And Now, the elections.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a post due to my studies, but I had the chance to write one for recently, on the elections in Louisiana:

Le fait français dans la Louisiane appartient au peuple

Which candidates speak it?

None of them.

None of the candidates for governor of Louisiana speak French, that is. Well, Scott Angelle admits that he speaks it a bit (or maybe he’s just ashamed?), but the rest are absolutely anglophone, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t also support French in the state. So, I tried to figure out their histories and positions concerning French.

Scott Angelle has put out an ad in which he speaks French:

He acknowledges that he isn’t fluent, but he tries nevertheless, and he strongly supported efforts to allow drivers to add the title “I’m a Cajun” on their licenses. The funds generated by this program are passed on to the Fondation Louisiane for the program Escadrille Louisiane, even if they don’t add up to much.

I sent Mr. Angelle, as well as others, an e-mail asking some question about his position, but I only received a response from John Bel Edwards, or rather, from his aide:

This is MP Wray with the JBE campaign. John Bel is the only candidate with a record of supporting riding for programs like CODIFIL and French immersion programs in public schools when their funding was threatened. John Bel went toe to toe with Governor Jindal to support his French speaking colleagues in the legislature. As you are well aware, we have a sordid past that includes the suppression of the French language. We must preserve and grow this unique cultural heritage and never take it for granted. JBE has taken the votes that show he doesn’t just give this issue lip service.

And again another response after more questions about what he will do specifically:

Reinvesting in CODOFIL and our public schools will allow for the investment needed to promote the teaching of French. JBE is responsible for negotiating a quarter of a billion in funding increases for k-12 over the objections of Bobby Jindal and working with Acadiana legislators to restore CODOFIL funding.

We also have to reinvest in our museums in the Secretary of State’s office to ensure that preservation of the history of French in Louisiana remains a top priority. JBE has set out how he will deal with structural budget problems in order to be able to make these investments and find the revenue.

As for David Vitter, there’s nothing to say. Likewise for Jay Dardenne, who is mentioned in in an article on NOLA Française where the links are broken. Lets hope that the links to French won’t be broken by the next governor.


There are other elections, too. Here’s what the candidates for Lieutenant Governor say about CODOFIL, and French in general. It seems to me that, while two of these candidates respond in French, they aren’t too fluent. In any case:

Thanks to Brad Nation, administrator of the Facebook Group Cajun French Vitrual Table Française, I have other information to share about Scott Angelle, candidate for governor. Mr. Nation contacted him to find out Mr. Angelle’s position in relation to French in Louisiana. Here is what he received as a response:

Scott is an avid supporter of our French culture and heritage here in Louisiana. He strongly believes in protecting and preserving the French language. Scott even speaks some Cajun French himself. He often uses the phrase pour moi c’est la Louisiane chaque fois tout le temps [for me it’s Louisiana each time all the time] as he encourages the people of Louisiana that he is solely focused on them and that our state has its greatest days ahead of us. Scott will always preserve our history and our diversity here in Louisiana. -Jessica Ragusa, Communications Director

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