Extrait de l'article:
The older folks in Cajun country recall the sting of corporal punishment — of the pain inflicted on their knees, knuckles and elsewhere by teachers working to beat the French out of them.
Rita Dautreuil Marks was smacked with a ruler on her fingertips for speaking the forbidden tongue. She remembers kids being left in a dark room, sometimes deprived of lunch.
Merlin Fontenot, 92, recalls the penalty for a first offence: writing lines on the blackboard, 100 times, "I WILL NOT SPEAK FRENCH." Another violation brought a ruler across the knuckles.
Their teachers were enforcing the law. French was prohibited in Louisiana schools for a half-century under a 1921 state constitution, amid an aggressive push to modernize and integrate poorer communities.
Some teachers were particularly vicious in upholding the constitution, George Arnaud recalls.
"They put us on our knees if they caught us," said Arnaud, 66.
"Sometimes (they placed us) on corn or rice — so it would hurt a lot more."
The beatings had an impact. Arnaud entered school speaking only French; by adulthood he'd almost forgotten the language. Marks failed a grade; later to spare her children similar punishment, she refused to teach them French.
The decline in the number of French-speakers in Louisiana has been dramatic, as the oldest die off. It has plunged to 115,000 from 194,000 in just over a decade, in this former French territory that's home to a mix including Acadians expelled from Canada; Haitian Creoles; and European immigrants.
Tales of assimilation frequently transpire over four generations: many baby boomers describe how their grandparents spoke just French, their parents mostly French, while they speak mostly English, and their kids only English.
The culture had survived a more brutal disruption, two centuries earlier. One parish commemorates the 1755 expulsion from Atlantic Canada in its name, "Evangeline." Today, just under one-fifth of residents still speak French in this parish, named for the heroine of an epic poem about the diaspora.
(...) "It was considered an ignorant, backward language," said Cheramie.
(...) When older folks speak, they sound a bit like New Brunswickers or coastal Quebecers. But the kids speak a scrubbed-down French, stripped of old idioms and accents — closer to how English-Canadians sound after a few years' French immersion.
"French as we know it — probably, that's over," Marks said.