French Tables are plentiful in the area.
Like French Immersion in our schools and Cajun food at home or in a restaurant, you can find a time and place to enhance your French language pretty much anywhere in south Louisiana.
It’s also here that you’ll be able to pick up on some clever words and phrases in Cajun French, too, as opposed to the standard French language taught in school, oui?
So, yeah, French tables have been around for a while. And, sure, you’ve probably heard some Creole French spoken around town and especially in Creole restaurants and small towns, but what’s been missing at the table, so to speak, is Creole French.
In fact, identifying the language as Creole French may be a faux pas, because the people I talked to about the language tables drop “French” from the phrase. That said, there are a few Creole Table or La Table Creole up and running in the area.
From what I gather, a La Table Creole is held 2 p.m. on the last Saturday of the month at Parks Middle School. Also, the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Lafayette, 818 12th St., hosts a Creole beginner language class at 6 p.m. Wednesdays (6 p.m.) and advance class at 6 p.m. Thursdays.
According to Herman Fuselier, executive director of the St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission, Rebecca Henry's Creole Heritage Folklife Center in Opelousas, a six-week workshop “Conversations in Creole” will Sept. 19-Oct. 24. Cost is $15 per week or $75 for the series.
“Well, if we don’t preserve it, it will die,” said Fuselier. “We’ve seen that already, if you go back not all that far to the older people telling stories about being paddled for speaking French in schools. Maybe those people who experienced that, we have some still here, but so many have died and when they die, that language dies with them.”
The French Immersion in schools “is not Louisiana French. It’s not Creole and Cajun, so I think it’s important to keep those dialects alive,” Fuselier said. “It’s not being taught in schools.”
However, it is being taught at Immaculate Heart with Herbert Wiltz at the head of the table. Wiltz had a Creole language column in a locally published Creole magazine.
“Since March, I started teaching the Creole that I was raised with from the St. Martin Parish area,” said Wiltz. “I wanted it to be a community effort. Since I started, I now have an advance class.”
Wiltz said the sessions are more of a class than a Creole Table, but “we’ll have some of what you might have at a table where there’s some discussion. We have not fully got to the point where we totally speak Creole,” he said. “Because the people don’t know it yet, they’re learning.
“But with the advance class, I’ve asked people who speak Creole so that the folks that are learning will have some exposure to hearing conversations that are occurring in Creole.”
Wiltz also has Creole conversations that can be read.
“We look at the phonetic side of the language, a little of that, so that they can pronounce words,” Wiltz said. The 8-week class is $25 for beginners and $30 for the advanced class for materials and such.
I had to ask if there’s a difference between Creole and Cajun languages, and Wiltz drew on growing up in St. Martin Parish for the answer.
“Whites were the Cajuns and they spoke Cajun French,” said Wiltz. “People who spoke Creole could understand the Cajuns. They lived together, so therefore they had to find common ground with one another.
“So there are some differences but not a great deal.”
Cajuns and Creoles find themselves in the same pirogue: a slowly disappearing language and culture. This has them looking at preserving the languages as necessary to saving both.
“I think it’s a great thing,” said Fuselier, adding that the zeal for the Creole language is similar to the zydeco jam hosted at the visitor center the second Saturday of the month. “I’m glad to see kind of the same thing happening with the Creole language. It’s part of the roots of the parish.
“It's waned in some ways. But there’s some native and Creole speakers. So I’m glad to see them sharing the language and showing more of the culture, how broad it is in St. Landry and beyond St. Landry, too.”