LOUISIANA WAS FOUNDED as a French colony at the end of the seventeenth century and by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the southern portion of the present-day state was decidedly Francophone.  The subsequent Louisiana French experience was conversion to ethnic minority status. The changing linguistic character of the Francophone population is a little documented aspect of this transformation. Recent scholarship has posited a rapid nineteenth-century decline of the public and private use of French and suggests strong linguistic assimilation of the Louisiana French by 1900. This essay focuses on the Cajun-French of southwest Louisiana to offer an alternative scenario. The nineteenth-century Cajun-French, who constituted much of the white Louisiana French population, was mother tongue Francophone, including widespread monolingualism, and French was common to private and public discourse. This factor was linked to settlement patterns, population density, and the maintenance of social networks and institutions t hat inhibited language shift. Bilingualism was common; however, this was an uneven trend influenced by class, sex, and rural versus urban residence, and it did not correlate with the abandonment of French as a primary mode of communication.
Rampant decline of French as a mother tongue and language of popular discourse started in the early twentieth century because of mandatory education, the complete elimination of French as an official language, the erosion of traditional settlement patterns, and socioeconomic changes in the Cajun population. Despite such developments, public and private French usage was common among Cajuns until the post-World War II era and in many instances into the present. While focusing on southwest Louisiana, the results of this study have implications for assessing the resilience of French throughout past and present Louisiana.
There were two terms commonly used for Louisiana's colonial era white Francophone population. Creoles were the descendants of settlers who came directly from France, or more generally, anyone native born to the colony.  Acadians (in French, Acadien) were the descendants of French Canadians who the British had exiled from the present-day provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick during the Seven Years War (1755-1763). These labels masked considerable socioeconomic diversity. Creole was a prestige term often linked to landed elites and the urban upper class; however, it was also widely self-ascribed by all classes of white French of non-Acadian ancestry.  The Acadian population included a rising number of upwardly mobile middle-class farmers and planters who sought association with the Creole elite, the latter component Carl Brasseaux has referred to as "Genteel Acadians." The majority of Acadians, however, were rural yeomanry.  Throughout the nineteenth century, there was increasing intermarriage be tween Acadians and Creoles at all levels of society. At the same time, the Louisiana French in general assimilated or strongly acculturated small numbers of European and Anglo-American settlers who intermarried into predominantly Francophone communities. 
Intermarriage and the reversal of fortunes caused by the Civil War and Reconstruction era economic turmoil led to the rise of a large, multicultural Francophone population of landless laborers, tenant farmers, and yeomen, who comprised the majority of white Louisiana French.  This loose melding of sub-groups was ascribed the label Cajun, an Anglo American derivation of the term Acadien, by Acadian and Creole elites, and especially by Anglo Americans with little knowledge of regional ethnic diversity. However, the term Creole continued to be self-ascribed by many of non-Acadian descent, and it was also used in an ambiguous manner by some Anglo Americans in reference to Cajuns. The "Cajunization" process was common for southwest Louisiana and therefore, for the purpose of this study, the term Cajun is used in reference to its Francophone population while acknowledging that it masks considerable diversity. 
A CRITICAL PERSPECTIVE ON NINETEENTH-CENTURY LANGUAGE SHIFT
There is no indication that pre-1803 Acadians and Creoles were anything other than mother tongue Francophones and that French was the public and private medium of communication.  Recent scholarship has argued that in the wake of post-Louisiana Purchase non-French settlement, a linguistic reversal occurred. Lawrence Estaville, for example, asserts that the "greatest erosion" of the Cajun French language came during the nineteenth century.  The primary cause for this linguistic shift was the "sheer numbers of Anglos [that] played the foremost role in the demise of French as the primary language spoken in Louisiana in education, government, commerce, and in common, everyday usage."  He concludes that "by the turn of the 20th century, Louisiana's French Creoles and Cajuns were... speaking English with their fellow Americans." 
Estaville provides vivid examples of the decline of French in public settings including the virtual disappearance of French language newspapers, the erosion of French as the language of politics, and the disappearance of French from Catholic church services. However, episodes of these assaults on French are largely derived from studies of limited areas of southeastern Louisiana, especially urban centers such as Baton Rouge and New Orleans that experienced a massive influx of Anglo-American and European settlers immediately following the Louisiana Purchase. For example, as it pertains to the French language press, the readership of French language newspapers consisted of relatively small numbers of urban Creole and Acadian elites and recent immigrants from France rather than Cajuns. 
Decline of French as the language of state-level government occurred in the mid-nineteenth century when Anglo Americans assumed political dominance in Louisiana government after several decades of struggle with Creole elites.  However, the impact of this transition on local political discourse or social life outside of power centers is overemphasized. For example, because of Reconstruction-era legislation weakening French's official status it is suggested that French was de-emphasized and even strongly discouraged in public schools.  But, school attendance was not mandated by law until 1916 and public schools in southwest Louisiana were scattered. Furthermore, the need for the labor of older children in agriculture mitigated against school enrollment. Thus, school attendance by Cajun children was limited. To cite examples of this, in 1900 in rural ward ten of Calcasieu Parish, less than a third of the school age Cajun children were reported as attending school.  Likewise, in Lafayette Parish, only two thousand of nearly seven thousand white school aged children were enrolled in public schools.  Gerald Gold reports that few children from rural Evangeline Parish attended school until busing programs were initiated in the 1930s. 
For Cajun children who attended public school in the nineteenth century and at the turn of the twentieth century it was not a traumatic experience that discouraged French usage. Although French's official status was reduced, allowances were made in the state's post-Reconstruction constitution for its use in public schools, a provision that was reiterated in the state constitutions of 1898 and 1913.  As a result, one observer in southwest Louisiana noted that, "French is taught together with English in the public schools" and "Although we desire to see every child in Louisiana speak English we wish to see everyone speak French also."  For schools emphasizing English instruction, there was linguistic accommodation as bilingual adults assisted in the instruction of monolingual Francophone children. 
Examples cited for the decline of French in religious services come from one study of a mid-nineteenth century Catholic Parish in Baton Rouge,  and a regional assessment of the language policy of the late nineteenth and twentieth century Catholic church. In regards to the latter, Cecyle Trepanier proposes that the Catholic church played a role in undermining French language in the nineteenth century because the church hierarchy sought to gain acceptance in the United States by "Americanizing" its members.  Trepanier reported that numerous Catholic churches either never conducted services in French or they discontinued them by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, considering that the Catholic church did not exercise strict daily social control over Cajuns,  the exact impact of its policy on the daily linguistic practices of Cajuns is unproven. This lack of clerical hegemony over the Cajun French was true for southwest Louisiana where few permanent Catholic churches operated, except in the eastern portion of this sub-region, until well into the twentieth century.  Of fourteen churches in greater southwest Louisiana discussed by Trepanier, only three never had French services or had discontinued them by 1920, four eliminated French between 1921 and 1944, and seven maintained French into the post-World War Two era, including three that continued French usage until 1980. In some communities where French was discontinued at an early date or it was never utilized, this situation occurred for reasons other than language loss by Cajun parishioners. 
While French was de-emphasized by the Catholic church, there was increasing activity among Cajuns by Protestant denominations. Although some authors view this as an indicator of assimilation of the Cajun-French, it is not completely accurate.  Various Protestant denominations promoted French as a public language by utilizing it in worship. For example, the Baptist church organized a Louisiana French Baptist Mission in 1884 that utilized Cajun ministers and non-Cajun ministers fluent in French.  By 1929, there were fifteen officially designated French Baptist missionaries (with numerous assistants) and this number grew to thirty-seven in 1943 with the majority concentrated in southwest Louisiana.  French Baptist congregations were eventually established in most southwest Louisiana towns as well as other areas of Louisiana. In 1959, a Baptist French …