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Monday, April 8, 2013

Acadia, The Old Far - Really Really Old "Far West": Sprachbund and Kulturbund

A Sprachbund is the usual German term employed in linguistics in order to describe a language which has experienced a high level of convergence with another, and that as a consequence of this close proximity, the languages - be they genetically related or not - are "bound" together, meaning their mutual influence on one another can be felt in many ways. For instance, as it relates to the Indian Subcontinent, the fusion between the Dravidian (Tamil) and Indo-Aryan (Hindi) languages make the two unrelated language groups close as far as sharing many distinguishing features, and this aside from a commonly shared vocabulary in reference to the similar culture and values held by the two separate groups of speakers. Much the same can be observed in Romanian, an Italic language (from Latin), which because of the close proximity of other unrelated languages in Central and Southeastern Europe, basically the Slavic languages in the Balkans - around the Black Sea-, as a consequence of this geographic coexistence with Bulgarian for instance, Romanian and Bulgarian have over time come to share many distinguishing features.

Well, if you have read my previous article (see Acadian Prehistory) exploring the long history of interaction between the English and French languages - and all of the other related languages such as those that belong to the langues d'Oïl group, such as the Poitevin-Saintongeais variety that gave rise to Acadian/Cajun - then it is not surprising in the least to see English and French in general as a Sprachbund. English contains by far the most Latin borrowing of any Germanic language, whereas the French language is noticeably quite different that other Latin-derived languages (i.e. Italian, Spanish), since French contains a substrate influence from Gaulish (from the Celtic-speakers living in Gaul when Julius Caesar invaded it and imposed Roman rule and Latin along with it) and a superstrate influence from Frankish (Germanic). The Frankish kingdoms and subkingdoms were basically first restricted to the Ile-de-France where Paris is located, but eventually the name spread to all of what is modern-day France (again, read my previous article).

So basically, in a nutshell, the Celtic-speaking Gallic people under Roman rule spoke Latin with a Gallic accent, until the Frankish imposed their rule - and Germanic accent - years later after having carved themselves out a fair chunk of the Roman Empire in what would be eventually known as Francia or the Frankish Empire.

The Frankish Empire, 481 to 814

The French language can therefore trace back its Germanic influence to 481 when the Franks came to rule over this former Roman territory in Late Antiquity. This Celtic and Germanic influence is what distinguishes the French (and other langues d'Oïl) language from Latin-derived languages such as Italian and Spanish. The  Oïl accent opposes the Oc (Occitan) accent which dominates the South of France and which is more Latin. The Oïl accent heard in French Acadian is more from the Poitevin influence than from Parisian French variety, for "French" per se does not even exist yet at this early point in history. The Frankish borrowings passed into the Romance languages, meaning the vulgar forms of Latin that existed on the territory of Roman Gaul when the Germanic tribes invaded; Classical Latin was purely for scribal purposes, reading and writing, while in everyday usage, Old French - an artificial term that comprises such different dialectal forms of Latin as Francien ("French" from the Ile-de-France), Picard, Saintongeais, Occitan, etc... - basically it is in these precursors of "French" that inherited the Germanic borrowings. It is estimated that nearly close to a thousand Germanic Frankish terms were inherited by the these Romance languages, with only 400 that remain in Standard French today (Leclerc 1989: 339).

English inherited, it is estimated, nearly two-thirds of its vocabulary of words from French, mostly from Norman French since the Norman Conquest of England which is marked by the Battle of Hastings in 1066, where William the Conqueror defeated the English. Over the centuries, the English-speakers absorbed an astonishingly high percentage of words from the Norman language into their own. However, the reverse, with the English rule over France with the Angevin Empire (see previous article, Acadian Prehistory) did not have the same results on the "French" language(s), and this for the simple reason that most of the English rulers from the Angevin line were all originally from French pedigree and at this point in time the Kingdom of France was by far the most populated country in Europe and also the lingua franca of the epoch. As opposed to the thousands of French words which have passed into the English language since the 11th century Norman Conquest, in stark contrast to this the same cannot be said of English borrowings into French. As a matter of fact, English contributions to the French language are fairly recent in the history of the language, because up until the 17th century, the English linguistic influence was rather insignificant (Leclerc 1989: 349): a total of 8 English words borrowings in the 12th century, 2 in the 13th, 11 in the 14th, 6 in the 15th, 14 in the 16th, and then 67 in the 17th and 337 in the course of the 19th century (ibid. 349). As can be seen with these figures, the increase in English word borrowings into French coincided with the rise of the British Empire in the mid-17th century when England became the dominant colonial power in North America and India. The English words borrowed into French therefore usually had something to do with the exotic places and things being discovered in the course of their world conquest, along with other words typical to British morals, maritime trade, and political and judicial terms, equestrian sports, the newly established steam locomotive railroad system, and finally words that belong to the industrial revolution (Leclerc 1989: 349).

The cultural legacy of the British Empire is truly great, and until the 20th. century the English word borrowings were mostly inherited from the British, but then, henceforth, the English contribution would come by way of the United States of America. The U.S.A. would influence the French language and culture through cinema, industrial innovations, commerce, sports, science and technology, and... Well, to say the least, when all is said and done, the English contribution to the French language in the long run might possibly outnumber the Italian influence, which up until now was the most important one with a little over 1500 "italianismes" having incorporated themselves over time in French - especially since the Renaissance period (ibid. 347-49). 

Another important detail to consider is that with the increase of English borrowings into the French language in the mid-17th century, importantly this period also marks the foundation of the Académie française by Cardinal Richelieu, the "French Academy" responsible for the preservation of the French language. The Académie and its forty immortels - the name reserved for its members - is considered as the ultimate authority on all matters pertaining to the French language, its grammar and spelling. The origins of the Académie française date to the 1620s and 30s and was modeled on the Accedemia della Crusca, founded in Florence in 1582. The Académie française would help France do what the Accademia had done for Italian, having formally made the dominant Tuscan dialect of Florence the model for "Italian" as an official national language.

So far any of this sound familiar at all? Germanic speaking barbarians overrunning the Roman Empire - Roman Gaul - in the end influencing the vernacular Latin spoken their to the extent that the langues d'Oïl group would retain this trace of influence to this day in languages such as Francien (the precursor to Standard French) and Poitevin (the precursor to Acadian) - what linguists refer to as the superstrate influence or trace of Frankish. Latin gave way to vernacular forms of Latin in "France" between the 7th to 9th centuries, and Francien and Poitevin among other vernacular forms of Latin are the culminating result of this Frankish influence in the North of "France". Then there are the Germanic-speaking Vikings from Scandinavia (Norway or Sweden) that terrorized the Frankish rulers into giving them what would be known as Normandie, and then barely a century and a half later these Normans would rule over England. Ironically, the Germanic cultured Vikings somewhat assimilated into French customs and developed their own vernacular, Norman French which they imposed on the English. The Angevin Empire (again, see Acadian Prehistory) is another prime example of the Sprachbund (language convergence) and Kulturbund (convergence of cultures over time) over Germanic (Frankish, Scandinavian, English) and Latin vernaculars (Francien, Poitevin).

This convergence even seems to follow the Poitevin people when they come to settle in Acadia, for as they fled a war-torn Poitou where the French Wars of Religion (1562-98) had destroyed and ruined, the peasantry had ultimately signed up to flee their feudal overlords and opted to leave France behind them. Although, at the beginning of the 17th century, the first Acadians certainly did not consider themselves to be French nationalists (as contemporary French immigrants consider themselves nowadays) but rather it was their regional Poitou identity that would have been most important to them. French nationalism simply did not exists as it does today at this point in time.

Since the first settlement of Acadia in 1604, with all the ensuing colonial wars that would culminate with the British conquest of Acadia in 1710, le Grand Derangement starting in 1755, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham 1759, the Louisiana Purchase in 1803... Seemingly, history is cyclical. The end result of all this is Canada and the U.S.A., which leaves the French element as a substrate - a minority - in a majority Germanic English-speaking majority. However, to understand the fact that both the history of the Quebecois and Acadian long before their North American origins are steeped in a world where the Germanic and Latin tongues has formed a convergence since the barbarians invaded Rome and the Germanic-speaking and -cultured Franks made France into what it is today.

To think of l'Office québecois de la langue française (OQLF) in the grand scheme of things,  their mandate of enforcing the province language laws, dealing with violations to these linguistic rights guaranteed by Québec's Charte de la langue française... In short, OQLF might indeed be a good instrument in the fight against rampant Anglicization and assimilation rates, but it is nevertheless nothing but an autodefense mechanism against a perceived threat - of the Germanic barbarian invasions? Notwithstanding, lest we forget, that it is these same barbarians - the Frankish that is - that for the most part basically created the "French" language, something that Cardinal Richelieu's creation of the Académie française in the first half of the 17th century, has consequently had the effect of preserving something as artificial and fleeting as a language that seemingly can be written down on a pile of paper somewhere for all to admire as a grandiose cultural achievement - as though something as full of life and breath as language, could ever remain static over time.

But all this is getting a little off topic...

Back to Sprach und Kultur bundes... hmm, I mean language and cultures convergences. Acadia seems to emerge as a sort of 17th century distant European Far West, in terms of cultural paradigms. Not unlike a final stage set for the ultimate expression of the eternal strife between Germanic (English) and Latin (Acadian French) cultures and languages. The fact that Chiac emerges as an ultimate mariage or hybridity of Acadian and English languages - a contact language that leaves native speakers often socially marginalized as potential Francophones or Anglophones. Chiac is quite interesting; a kind of in-between cultural and/or linguistic state - the ultimate expression of Sprachbund if ever there was one.     

I cannot help but think Charlemagne and Rollo would have approved.

Charlemagne statue in front of Notre-Dame-de-Paris


Interesting to see language on a grander scale than what is usually permitted according to a nationalistic discourse. Sometimes, in North America, one gets the distinct impression the world began at Plymouth Rock down south, while here in Canada, it's mostly the Plains of Abraham for the Quebecois and Port Royal for the Acadians. Why can't we not expand our horizons a little bit past caricaturist representations of ourselves - La Sagouine and Acadieman quickly come to mind - and look back a little further in time to when the first traces of Acadian language and literature can be discerned in the parent Poitevin language which composed the Sermons poitevins around 1250 when the language was first emerging as a distinct linguistic entity and language by comparison to others of the period.   

There you go, Acadian literature and language starts in the 13th century: How's that for a prehistoric Acadian nationalist discourse? Or am I simply the product of an assimilated Francophone mind to even want to embrace Anglicisms and Anglicization as symptomatic of a great Germano-Latino Sprachbund? If English, having embraced an estimated two-thirds of its vocabulary from Norman French and other Latin roots, then why should French fear Anglicization to the extent that it does? At least Chiac seems to embrace it, so maybe it the lingua franca of the future ;)

I'll have to give it some more thought. But for now, as I like to say in Chiac: Worry pas ta brayne, juste va t'otchuper avec tcheuchouse d'aute. (lit. "Don't worry your brain, just go preoccupy yourself with something else.")

Here are some interesting links for more about Chiac:


Leclerc, Jacques. Qu'est-ce que la langue ? Synthèse (Laval, Quebec), Mondia Editeurs, 1989.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Acadian Prehistory: From Medieval Religion, the Angevin Empire... and leaving Poitou behind

Some of the first Europeans who crossed the Atlantic and settled onto North America's distant shores, at the beginning of the 17th century, came from France. Having allied themselves with the five Algonquian-speaking Nations of the Wabanaki Confederacy (composed of the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki and Penobscot), these early French settlers intermarried and adopted local Amerindian customs "du pays" (native customs) and the land they inhabited, corresponding mostly to present-day Nova Scotia, would be known as La Cadie or l'Acadie - Acadia - and its inhabitants the Acadiens (Acadians) and later known as Cadiens (Cajuns) in Louisiana. Most of these early French settlers that formed the "first families" of Acadia came primarily from the Poitou, Aunis and Saintonge regions of western France. In fact, since the vast majority of these new settlers originated from Poitou, the Acadian French language of today still preserves most of the archaic sounds, words and characteristics of Poitevin, one of the traditional regional languages (dialects) of France. (Most of the old province of Poitou is located in the present-day department of Poitou-Charentes, although a part of it, which forms a part of the Pays de la Loire, is located within the Vendée department.)

Anciennes provinces de France 

So, with this being said, what exactly then does an article portending to explore "Acadian prehistory" propose to look at? Well, for the most part, I think it seeks to look at the world these French settlers left behind. It shall attempt to understand why these people would have wanted to leave Europe behind in the first place, to have risked everything - their lives, any real chance of seeing their families again - to brave it all and to have embarked on such a perilous journey across the Atlantic. And for what reason? Why would they have wanted to leave their European homeland behind for the unknown? These are some of the questions which I shall try to explore in order to better understand the historical context surrounding the departure of these migrants from the Poitou of the first half of the 17th century. 

Although, to understand this world, we'll have to back up a little... Let's first take a look at the religious and sociocultural backdrop that would permit us such an "entryway" into the culture of Poitou.

Medieval Religion... A Sort of Precursor    

Medieval European society possessed a strong religious feeling, expressed in many ways between the 10th and 15th centuries. This religious fervor that gripped medieval society appeared often while supporting multiple conquests with the sword. Firstly in 10th century Spain, after the Muslim Conquest, in these small Christian kingdoms – preserving both the Roman and Wisigothic Christian traditions – those were the few communities that remained in the mountainous regions of the peninsula under the new Muslim ruling majority (Balard et al. 1995: 188). In their battles against the Muslim Saracens, the Reconquista of the Spanish territories implicated not merely the subjugated inhabitants of Spain, but rather the whole of Europe because knights were recruited all throughout the West (ibid. 189). This Christian fervor which characterized the Reconquista of Spain, thus lasted well until 1492 and was a sort of nationalistic overzealousness particularly marked by the union of the sword and the cross – the ultimate unification of Church and State (ibid. 189). Thus, since the 1050s, when militant religious attacks by Europeans - the Crusades - that took place in the Holy Land, and resulted with the establishment of Christian princes in the Middle East with the violent sack of Jerusalem in 1099 (Balard et al. 1995: 189; Vincent 1995: 120), so similarly we can also see during the later Reconquista period that this notion of holy war against the Infidel foe was an integral part of the European identity even at the end of the 15th century. 

To understand to what extent and the importance Christianity and the religious sentiment played in medieval Europe, it may well be explained by the fact that the Church incorporated into its ranks the warrior class of knights to manage its territorial domains (Vincent 1995: 68). This Christianization movement of the warrior class of chivalry by the Church had the effect of contributing to the overall religious sentiment an aspect of militancy, a change which would finally result in "forging a Christian model of behavior for the warrior*" (Vincent 1995: 68; *my translation of the French text).  
It is precisely this fusion of the cross and sword which had the consequent effect of reinforcing some negative Christian attitudes towards the "Infidels". The idealization of the Christian knight would eventually lead to the 12th century, when several military religious orders would be created as a direct result from this new merger, such as the Orders of the Hospitaliers, the Templars, as well as the Order of St. Jacques in Spain (Vincent 1995: 69). This Christianized chivalrous ideology gave birth to both the poetic epics of the epoch and the courtly literature (Vincent 1995: 70). However, this Christianized ideal that had been embodied in chivalry would quickly lose ground, for in the 13th century, the ideology of chivalry – the knightly ideal – would come to pose a formidable threat to the waning European royal powers (ibid. 70).   


This strongly felt religious sentiment expressed between the 10th and 15th centuries that the Church idealized as the warrior knight figure, can possibly be explained by the fact that during this time the Christian Empire had lost several of its territories to Muslims conquerors (Riley-Smith 2005: 1). About all these political religious shifts of power, Riley-Smith (2005) takes stock of the situation regarding territorial possessions:

By the early eighth century the Christians had lost North Africa, Palestine and Syria and most of Spain to the Muslims. But then the frontier between Christiandom and Islam had stabilized until the Byzantine emperors, ruling from Constantinople what Remained of the eastern Roman empire, went on to the offensive in the second half of the tenth century. 
Ibid. 1.
Indeed, the threat of the loss of power and territories by the Church could only but add to the religious sentiment of the epoch. Heretical movements were not peculiar to the 12th century, however, there was still a real proliferation of heresies which the official Church strongly condemned and persecuted such as the Vaudois (Waldensians) and the Cathars (Balard et al. 1995: 180-82; Vincent 1995: 102).

The religious sentiment of the time also made itself felt through the emergence and foundation of several major religious orders such as the mendicant orders of the Dominicans and Franciscans. It is also interesting to note that after its heretical persecutions, the Church borrowed some of these heretical elements and brought them in the fold of the official religion. In relation to this, as Balard et al. (1995) observe, the "founders of new religious orders took from the heretics their methods and their way of life: itinerant preaching, and radical vows of poverty," in fact, they go so far as adding that "these were the reasons for their success*" (ibid. 182, *my translation). While the Church had possibly succeeded in supplanting the heresies, they had nevertheless managed to exert some level influence on Christianity. The Inquisition was established in 1231-1233 in order to suppress heresy by force, since the path of persuasion had proved to be ineffective (Vincent 1995: 104). 

How do warring knights - "soldiers of Christ" - and Crusades in the Holy Land connect with the history of the Poitou region and the people that would form the "first families" of Acadia? Well, in fact, all of these events and people can be connected in many very interesting ways - and here is where we begin to get a real glimpse into the Poitevin* identity. (*For those of you who are unaware, the term "Poitevin" is the adjectival form in reference to something or someone from Poitou. In its variant spelling "Potvin," it is also a popular Acadian family name.) 

From the 9th to the 12th centuries, the County of Poitou was under the powerful rule of the Ramnulfids - named after Ramnulf I, the founder of the family-, a French dynasty also referred to as the House of Poitiers (the capital of Poitou) (Kibler & Zinn 1995: 57).

The Coat of Arms of the Counts of Poitiers

In the Late Middle Ages, the nobility of Poitou made this region into an extremely powerful one. The House of Poitiers gave birth to the dukes of Aquitaine as well as to the future kings of Cyprus. The Crusades had been responsible in leading to the establishment of a dynasty of kings of Cyprus originally from France - from the House of Poitou. The Ralmnufides had managed to implant themselves in the Holy Land with Raymond de Poitiers (1115-1149), from which issued the last princes of Antioch and counts of Tripoli. Eleonor of Aquitaine (Aliénor d'Aquitaine), the last Ralmnufide, married the King of France Louis VII The Younger (Le Jeune), and then after canceling it, remaried with Henry Plantagenet (Henri de Plantagenêt), King of England. Due to many of these royal ties, Poitou possessed a degree of autonomy and exercised its power on many fronts whenever it was put into check. For instance, during the last half of the 12th century, the Poitevin nobility manifested its power through a great number of revolts against the King of England, then it did the same in the first half of the 13th century, this time leading many revolts against the King of France. Thereafter until the end of the Middle Ages, the nobility of Poitou contested all forms of any centralized form of power that posed a threat to their own holdings.  

It was in 1152, when Eleanor of Aquitaine (Aliénor d'Aquitaine) married Henry Plantagenet (Henri de Plantagenêt), the later King of England (known as Henry II), with this marriage Poitou came under English control. Since Eleanor was the last Ralmnufid heir, this made her one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in Europe - and eight weeks after her divorce from the King of France, Louis VII - she married Henry, thus making him also Duke of Aquitaine and Gascony (Warren 1987). Consequently, Henry ruled over an "empire" - a sort of commonwealth (Warren 1973: 574) with semi-independent states- that covered nearly half of medieval France, these in addition to his previous holdings in England, Scotland and Ireland among other possessions. As the son of Geoffrey of Anjou, Henry therefore ruled as Count of Anjou, as one of the multiplicity of illustrious title he carried. In recent times, historians often refer to Henry Plantagenet's "empire" as the Angevin Empire, a contemporary invention that makes reference to the land holdings of the Angevin Plantagenet dynasty - the term "Angevin" being the adjectival form applied to Anjou and its residents, and to those of Angers, its capital city from where his father Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, ruled (Scott 2000).  

 The Angevin Plantagenêt Dynasty - A Veritable "Empire"


The extent of the Angevin Empire around 1172; solid yellow shows Angevin possessions, checked yellow Angevin hegemony

The stage has been set...

In this mostly rural existence, it is here in the European countryside that a phenomenal western expansion and extraordinary development would begin, as a "starting point of the European global domination that lasted until the 20th century*" (Vincent 1995: 71, *my translation). 

Rural and urban development in 12th and 13th century Europe was felt across the continent. From the countryside to the city-centres, the impact of economic development occurred everywhere and therefore greatly contributed in creating what is considered as the commercial revolution of Medieval Europe, reaching its peak during the years 1250-1290 (Balard et al. 1995: 148). The city undoubtedly played a central role in this commercial revolution, mainly because of its large companies, which based on the political power (of a particular city or state), would clearly dominate the world of trade and commerce (ibid. 148). 

This period of change and renewal had a great many long-lasting effects. Foremost, this led to an increase in population; the population of France nearly doubled between the late 10th and 12th centuries, an augmentation from 5 to 9.2 million inhabitants (Le Jan 1996: 166-67). Although, despite this demographic explosion, there was still a high mortality rate attributed to food shortages and famines (ibid. 167). Germany’s increase in population contributed to tradespeople and merchants coming together and creating corporations and guilds, that which consequently led to the creation of more and more establishments setting up shop in the city-centres (St. Martin Leon 1941: 67). And thus this industrialization of Europe’s commercial activities would finally lead to the foundation of the Hanseatic League, which in turn begat more commercial trade (ibid. 67). It was specifically during this time that cities would come to dominate the trading activities established between the two major trade routes, the Mediterranean and the Nordic Seas, and that between the two axes, both inland and sea routes would create multiple linkages (Balard et al.1995:148). 

Other important factors that further stimulated the European economy during this time, was the increase in demand for agricultural and artisanal products (craft industry), because the population growth had consequently generated the demand for a labor force to feed it (Le Jan 1996: 167). There was also the increase in lordships, which may also have in turn directly contributed to an increase in production (ibid. 167). The multiplication of the feudal courts due to “the breakdown of powers boosted local consumption and increased aristocratic spending*” which meant that “building castles, parish churches or the reconstruction of large monastic churches, for example, such as Cluny II and Cluny III, stimulated the economy*” (Le Jan 1996: 167, *my translation). 

So, in short, it was really cause and effect, since peasant production within the feudal system was being put under extreme pressure at a level of productivity hitherto never seen (Le Jan 1996: 167). Consequently, there were so many adjustments that needed to be made in order to adjust with this exorbitant new demand. The direct impact of this economic boom therefore resulted in a migratory surge to clear some new lands in certain areas, which had the causal effect of contributing to innovation on the part of the labourers who significantly improved their tillage equipment and techniques, revolutionized commercial transportation, and also saw a growing number of markets and fairs to facilitate all trade (Balard et al. 1995: 143-44; Le Jan 1996: 167-69). In summary, with all of these activities, we can attest that the economic development of both rural and urban areas had as an overall effect on Europe, the necessity to further develop international trade thanks to these local products (Le Jan 1996: 169). 

By extension, the emergence of the cities, each one created around a market in turn granted certain freedoms to its citizens. The medieval city “could gain the status as a specific territory which was no longer bound to serfdom and seigniorial lordship” and which that―
Together with increasing commercialisation, the cities could construct a precisely defined space in which peace was guaranteed and the merchants gained a personal freedom enabling them to calculate their commercial activities. In this way, merchants were no longer subject to unpredictable decisions by noble lords. […] [T]he city was differentiated from its surroundings by its specific legal status: its burghers [the inhabitants of the city] were free, it had a daily market and a separate court district and was privileged in delivering duties and other contributions. City law was fixed in the town charter, the privilege bestowed by the prince or the king, to which the citizens added their own codifications of the law.
Almut Höfert 2003 : 66.
Thus, it is precisely in the city’s organizational structure, where merchants lived in the exact same neighborhoods, that which greatly facilitated their grouping into either a business or corporation (Martin Saint-Léon 1941: 70). Also, this same mutually-shared environment would instigate the creation of merchant guilds, which would also provide its members with a certain religious sense of Christian communal living (ibid. 70). About this sense of communal belonging,  this was a professional solidarity that also manifested itself as a “religious feeling affirmed and somehow symbolized in [Christian] monuments that reflected the whole soul of the Middle Ages [...]*” (ibid. 70, *my translation). This same communal feeling, according to Le Jan (1996), “foreshadowed the fall of feudalism*” (ibid. 180, *my translation).  

One of the greatest contributions that the city bequeathed to the 12th and 13th centuries was the city itself as a universitas - the university - which basically operated as an educational guild. Thus, in the 12th century, the development of schools undoubtedly lends to the affirmation of the intellectual function of the city (Balard et al. 1995: 198-200; Le Jan 1996: 181-82). To summarize, the city and its universitas greatly contributed to the artistic and intellectual urban life of the times (Balard et al. 1995: 197-205). 

The birth of the city, the university, guilds/corporation, staggering population growth, and the beginnings of the fall of feudalism: The unfolding of the modern world occurred in medieval Western Europe. Thus, the agricultural age, which had lasted in Germany and France from the 6th century, came to an end during the 12th and 13th centuries, opening a new era of urban and industrial civilization (Martin Saint-Leon 1941: 67). 

In relation to Poitou, during the 12th century it formed a part of the Angevin Empire under King Henry II, but when the Angevin domains were inherited by John of England (from King Richard I), at this time the French King, Philip II de France (also known as Philippe Auguste), succeeded in taking control of most of his continental possessions by 1204 (Spielvogel 2011: 308-10; Purser 2004: 172-73). Previous to this defeat, the King of England had ruled more territory on the continent than the King of France. Although, despite Philippe Auguste’s success in ridding himself of English rule over the Poitou region along with other former Angevin possessions, this was by far not the end of the conflict between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of France. As a direct result of a rather complicated dynastic conflict, the Hundred Years’ War – lasting from 1337 to 1453 – was a series of bloody conflicts that left the Poitou region in perpetual conflict. As the Seuil du Poitou (situated at the south of Poitiers) is a strategic access point between the North and South of France, because of this, many important battles have taken place in and around this area. One such decisive battle was the Battle of Poitiers (1356) which proved disastrous for the French forces and actually resulted with the capture of King Jean II of France by Edward, Prince of Wales – better known as the Black Prince (Curry 2003). 

By the mid-14th century, not only was the Hundred Years’ War “an economic as well as military struggle that imposed severe financial strain on both sides” (Nicolle 2004: 8) but also, in 1348, the Black Death – an outbreak of the bubonic plague – had entered into France, causing millions of deaths, waves of the epidemic which “some historians maintain that up to half the population of France may have succumbed” (ibid. 7-8).
Despite the everlasting wars and conflicts dividing the English and French Kingdoms, as Nicolle (2004) remarks, the two societies were in fact quite similar in many respects:
Throughout most of the Middle Ages, French and English societies were very similar, especially in the heartlands of southern England and northern France. Furthermore the ruling class of England still spoke French and were largely of French origin. In contrast there were noticeable differences in speech, culture and law from southern France with its significant Romano-Mediterranean heritage.
Ibid. 7.
The irony is not lost on us that one of the results of the Hundred Years’ War is that it stimulated nationalistic sentiment, in the end leaving France devastated and prostrate, meanwhile not without having “engendered a certain degree of French national feeling toward a common enemy that the kings could use to reestablish monarchical power” (Duiker & Spielvogel 2011: 384). The French monarch, King Louis XI (1461-1483) seized on this opportunity, successfully moved away from a feudal monarchy, and instead laid down “the foundations of a strong French monarchy” (ibid. 384). These nationalist feelings also emerged in England, finally resulting in the fall from grace of the French language in 1362, when for the first time at the opening of parliament, the king’s speech was delivered in English (Balogné Bérces 2008: 6). This would mark the rehabilitation of the English language as the national language of England, since prior to this – in fact since the year 1066, the date of the Norman Conquest – it is the language known as Old Northern French (or Norman French) which for centuries following the Conquest was the language of the governing classes of England and, consequently, “[f]or some centuries, English ceased to be the language of the governing classes, and there was no such thing as standard literary English; and when English did once again become the language of the whole country it had changed a good deal under the influence of the conquerors” (Barber 2000: 134; see also Balogné Bérces 2008: 6-7). (Norman French would also further develop into Anglo-Norman in England.) The rulers of Normandy, despite being essentially French in culture, originally descended from Scandinavian Vikings who had occupied parts of northern France (Rollo became the first Duke of Normandy in 912) known as Normandy (ibid. 134). But by the mid-11th century, when William the Conqueror defeated the English at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the Normans had already lost their Scandinavian speech (Barber 2000: 134-37). This 14th century form of English is called Middle English by linguist historians, and interestingly, the present-day spelling of Modern English actually reflects the pronunciation of the 14th century (Balogné Bérces 2008: 6). 

The rehabilitation of English as the language of England can therefore be seen to have been born out of these nationalist sentiments that came out of the Hundred Years’ War. And much the same can be said of the French language. In the Middle Ages, there was no definite “French language” per se, because Latin had evolved into somewhat different forms wherever it had formerly been spoken, and the dialect of the Ile-de-France [the Island of France, where Paris is located] had not yet succeeded to impose itself on the remainder of the French Kingdom to become the standard French as it is known today (Walter 1994: 289). The Parisian French language would, with each territorial conquest and military operation by the Kingdom of France, slowly spread over “English France,” meaning the lands under the King of England’s rule – a result of the Angevin Empire (Leclerc 2010: Chap. 4). 

Without going much further into too many details, the Poitou region had formerly been part of the Angevin Empire, meaning under English rule, but in the course of the Hundred Years’ War between the French and the English the region was retaken by the French House of Valois in the early 1370s, and would consequently become part of the “dauphinist heartland” in the early 15th century (Wagner 2006: 340). 

In the end, with the rise of nationalism having resulted from the dynastic conflict of the Hundred Years’ War (1337 to 1453), during this drawn out conflict English became rehabilitated as the national language of England much like Parisian French would become the national standard for France. The King of France, François I, by order of the royal decree of Villers-Cotterêts, in 1539, decided to replace Latin with French in all official documents (Walter 1994: 289).  

The story of the birth of the English and French languages reminds me of the adage, the one popularized by the Yiddish linguist, Max Weinreich: A language is a dialect with an army and navy. And this much becomes quite evident when studying how a language becomes a language, and others dialect. The winners are the ones that usually get to (re)write history, so it is therefore not in the least surprising that the dialect with the most sociopolitical power gets upgraded to “language” status, while the losers’ tongue is relegated to being a “dialect.” 

In the Middle Ages, in France, there exists a tripartite division when it comes to language groups; firstly, there is the langue d’oïl group of “French” languages (patois, dialects…), which possesses a more “evolved” pronunciation mainly due to the Germanic linguistic influence; secondly, the langue d’oc group is closer to the Latin from which it derives; and third, the Francoprovençal group, which is closer to Occitan (langue d’oc) but highly influenced by oïl languages (Walter 1994: 289). 

Medieval Poitou is where the langue d’oïl meets with the langue d'oc zone.


The result of the royal decree of Villers-Cotterêts, in 1539, was that Parisian French – the language of the capital city – thus became the official language of the rest of the Kingdom. This standard French belongs to the oïl group of languages, as does the French spoken in Poitou, with dialectal differences. 

By this point in history, we are not too far from the first Acadian settlement of Port-Royal, founded in 1604… Nor are we too far from the “first families” arriving from the Poitou region in this first half of the 17th century…

As if the people of the Kingdom of France had not suffered enough during the Hundred Years’ War (1337 to 1453), a series of conflicts which had totally ravaged the countryside, ruined agriculture, disrupted trade, caused famine and exacerbated the breakout of the bubonic plague… 

Early 17th Century: From Poitou to Acadie  

No sooner had France come out as the victor against the English, that suddenly it would itself at war with its own people with the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598), which is the name historians give to the civil war that broke out between French Catholics and French Calvinist Protestants (Huguenots). As a precursor to later persecutions that would follow, as early as in the 1550s the religious conflict acquired a distinct political character that would culminate in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre; when in August 1572, the Roman Catholic Party was responsible for the killing of as many as 8 to 10,000 Huguenots across France (Leonard 2011: 43). 

During this time of Reformation, Poitou emerged as the centre of Calvinism. In the early sixteenth century, the province of Poitou had been rich, but had been badly hit by the Wars of Religion (Elliott 1984: 10). At this time in Poitou “[d]isorder was endemic” and “local feuds […] had torn Poitou apart” (ibid. 10). Some historians even go so far as to say that Protestantism, as a challenge to the Catholic Church's authority was a precursor to the later Enlightenment of the 17th century. Poitou was especially active during the French War of Religions (1562-1598). 

Importantly, not too long thereafter, in 1604, Acadia was established “as a proprietary colony” by Pierre Duguay, sieur de Monts, who, “one year earlier, had acquired a tentative monopoly over the region’s fur trade and fisheries” (Brasseaux 1987: 5). It has been confirmed that most of the French settlers of the early 17th century that constituted Acadia’s “first families” were former residents of the La Chaussée area of Poitou, where in 1635, Charles de Menou d’Aulnay de Charnisay (as Razilly’s successor), had recruited the French families living on his and his mother’s lands – on the seigneuries they owned (Arsenault 2004: 63-4). The family names that appear in the old parish registers of La Chaussée, located near the village of Aulnay, in France, in the first half of the 17th century, are the same names that would appear transplanted in North America – a world away in Acadia – in the second half of the 17th century (ibid. 63-4). The names of these early colonists – along with their wives’ maiden names – families with such typically Acadian patronyms like Babin, Belliveau, Bertrand, Blanchard, Boudrot, Bour, Bourg, Brault, Brun, Doucet, Dugast, Dupuy, Gaudet, Giroire, Guérin, Joffriau, Lambert, Landry, LeBlanc, Lejeune, Mercier, Morin, Poirier, Raimbault, Robichaux, Savoie, Terriot, Thibodeau  (ibid. 63-4). In short, all of these families had lived on d’Aulnay’s – or his mother’s – lands, either on his seigneurie in Martaizé (in Vienne) or somewhere in or around the villages of La Chaussée and Aulnay (ibid. 63-4). Other French families such as the Bernard and Mius d’Entremont would also be added to these others, and the Scottish family Melanson, the English family Granger, and the Irish Kuessey (Caissy) and the French Flanders family Forest (ibid. 63-5). For the most part, these early seventeenth century settlers (the engagés) “were drawn consistently from a particular stratum of rural French society – the peasant class – and were destined to serve as laborers in the New World” (Brasseaux 1987: 8). Therefore, as a consequence of this, “[m]ost early French settlers in Acadia thus shared not only the same subregional culture and language, but also the same agrarian background and nonmaterialistic values (ibid. 8).   

Interestingly, much has happened since these original early 17th century families left Poitou. For instance, the old regime of the Kingdom of France and its historic provinces was, in 1790, in the early years of the French Revolution, reorganized into the present-day département system which consequently superseded the old provincial divisions. Regional identities have also, for the most part, given way to a national French identity and language, instead of the old provincial one. The protohistorical Acadians left France before it became a country, before the time when French society underwent an epic transformation into the France we all know today. The Acadians settled in North America when their provincial identity and language were stronger than that of any “French” one.  

Below, Jacques Leclerc (2010) has drawn up a map that shows us quite specifically (top right) the specific area in the Loudunais region where most Acadians find their origins. 

 Over four hundred years later, below are maps of where the most Acadians/Cajuns - and their languages - can found in both Canada and since the 1755 Grand Dérangement (The Great Acadian Upheaval), in South Western Louisiana, in the U.S.A. 

In Canada, the Acadian communities are indicated below (with the small Acadian flags) in what is still generally referred to as Acadia (Acadie):
 In South Western Louisiana, since the arrival of the Acadians there, they have become better known as Cajuns (Cadiens) and their homeland is referred to as Acadiana (Acadianie) - or also Cajun Country in English.  

The traditional 22 parishes in Southern Louisiana, USA, that belong to the Acadiana Region with the "Cajun Heartland USA" subregion in a darker shade.



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