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French on Shifting Ground - Cultural and Coastal Erosion in South Louisiana

French on Shifting Ground

Cultural and Coastal Erosion in South Louisiana

By Nathalie Dajko
Series: America's Third Coast Series

Hardcover : 9781496830647, 200 pages, 25 b&w illustrations; 54 charts, November 2020
Paperback : 9781496830937, 200 pages, 25 b&w illustrations; 54 charts, November 2020

An intensive study of the disappearance of land and language in Louisiana


In French on Shifting Ground: Cultural and Coastal Erosion in South Louisiana, Nathalie Dajko introduces readers to the lower Lafourche Basin, Louisiana, where the land, a language, and a way of life are at risk due to climate change, environmental disaster, and coastal erosion. Louisiana French is endangered all around the state, but in the lower Lafourche Basin the shift to English is accompanied by the equally rapid disappearance of the land on which its speakers live.

French on Shifting Ground allows both scholars and the general public to get an overview of how rich and diverse the French language in Louisiana is, and serves as a key reminder that Louisiana serves as a prime repository for Native and heritage languages, ranking among the strongest preservation regions in the southern and eastern US. Nathalie Dajko outlines the development of French in the region, highlighting the features that make it unique in the world and including the first published comparison of the way it is spoken by the local American Indian and Cajun populations.

She then weaves together evidence from multiple lines of linguistic research, years of extensive participant observation, and personal narratives from the residents themselves to illustrate the ways in which language—in this case French—is as fundamental to the creation of place as is the physical landscape. It is a story at once scholarly and personal: the loss of the land and the concomitant loss of the language have implications for the academic community as well as for the people whose cultures—and identities—are literally at stake.


"Partly linguistic, partly ecological, partly sociocultural, the complex array of developments characterizing threats to language, land, and lifeways in south Louisiana is aptly and uniquely captured in French on Shifting Ground. Most impressively, Nathalie Dajko adopts the correct tone, never letting the rich presentation of linguistic data overshadow an unfolding human drama of considerable consequence. For researcher and lay reader alike, French on Shifting Ground is an indispensable source and a gateway to the complex dynamic of the interacting challenges associated with imminent loss of language, place, and identity."

- Michael D. Picone, professor of linguistics and French, University of Alabama

"Nathalie Dajko’s French on Shifting Ground: Cultural and Coastal Erosion in South Louisiana examines the ways in which conceptions of individual and communal identity are tied inextricably to place and language. Informed by years of fieldwork and interviews with hundreds of cultural consultants, Dajko’s ethnographic narrative not only provides keen and hard-earned insights, but also the whys behind her conclusions. The voices of people and places convincingly underscore her arguments, making for compelling and accessible reading. Highly recommended."

- Shane Rasmussen, director, Louisiana Folklife Center, Northwestern State University of Louisiana

"Chapters on the history of French in Louisiana and on perceptual dialectology distill current knowledge admirably and can profitably be read on their own. Nathalie Dajko’s extraordinary skill, sensitivity, and respectfulness as a fieldworker in southern Louisiana for fifteen years are evident in the centrality accorded to people in this study."

- Connie Eble, professor emerita, University of North Carolina, and past president, American Dialect Society

"This book masterfully combines a scholarly and personal perspective to understand the recession of both the language and land of the coastal marshes of Louisiana that deeply affected the identity of the people who lived in the Bayou for centuries. It is a captivating narrative that is transformative in its understanding of the intersection of language, land, and place. A must-read for anyone interested in endangered languages!"

- Walt Wolfram, William C. Friday Distinguished University Professor and director of the Language and Life Project, North Carolina State University

"Highly readable and engagingly written, the book combines solid linguistics with an ethnographic perspective, revealing the author's intimate knowledge of the region and its people. Particularly welcome is the light shed on the often-neglected Indian community and the role Indian identity plays in the larger Bayou identity."

- Kevin J. Rottet, associate professor of French linguistics, Indiana University