We applaud the calls for rebuilding our tourism industry post-Katrina/Rita based upon our culture, but lament the lack of mention of our French heritage, what sets us apart from the rest of the country. Culture is a garden that must be cultivated. However, Louisiana has not always given the French language the nutrients it needs to thrive.
Since 1968, when the Louisiana Legislature created CODOFIL and defined its mission to "do all that is necessary for the promotion of French for cultural, educational and touristic purposes in Louisiana," many have diligently worked to preserve the French language in Louisiana.
Why is it important to save our French language?
The "survival of the fittest" principle does not apply to languages. Indigenous languages are often dismissed as primitive and in need of replacement. However, we know that the process which has led to the dominance of English is not the result of any intrinsic deficiency of French; rather, unequal rates of social change have caused disparities in resources between developed and developing societies resulting in English domination. As modern communication continues to be dominated by English at an increasing rate, this does not mean that people have to lose their mother tongues if they choose not to do so. Bilingualism has, historically, been the norm rather than the exception. In Louisiana, it has been a powerful source of cultural pluralism and diversity.
The Louisiana French language is a source of unique historical data of such things as folklore, land preservation, genealogy and traditions. Languages, like biological species, are highly adaptable to their environments. Much of the detailed knowledge of the past is, over the years, encoded in the language spoken by groups who have lived for centuries in close contact with their surroundings, and this provides useful insight in the management of our environment and understanding of our heritage.
Linguistic diversity is an irreplaceable resource for future generations. While one new technology may be substituted for another, this is not true of languages. To remove the unique French language from Louisiana is to remove it from the world forever. Because a large part of language is culture-specific, an important part of cultural identity is lost when a language disappears.
Louisiana continues to lead the nation in developing its cultural tourism industry. One of the primary reasons given by visitors to Louisiana is our unique French language and customs. Just like any other national resource, the language should be protected rather than "strip mined" as we too often do today.
Louisiana's bilingual educational program is recognized as one of the best in the nation. As we continue to find ways to improve education in Louisiana, we should look to expand, rather than reduce, the support of this program because if we lose the language, we will likewise lose the culture.
We express our thanks to all who help us support and promote French in Louisiana and look forward to working with Lt. Governor Landrieu's new initiative: "Louisiana Rebirth."