FEL grant report: Ti Liv Kréyòl

This is a report by Nathan A. Wendte of the Department of Anthropology, Tulane University, concerning his project funded by FEL in 2018 on Ti Liv Kréyòl: A Learner’s Guide to Louisiana Creole.

FEL provided a grant in 2018 that enabled professional illustrations and design for a second edition of a learner’s guide book on Louisiana Creole called Ti Liv Kréyòl. Louisiana Creole is an endangered French-based creole spoken by fewer than 10,000 people, mostly in the US state of Louisiana. It developed in the 18th century from contact between the French of colonial settlers and various West African languages spoken by slaves imported between 1719 and 1743. This is the story of the Learner’s Guide project.

In the spring of 2016, I began compiling a short list of Louisiana Creole vocabulary items for my own personal use. At the time, there was a burgeoning online revitalization effort underway for the language, and prior to my involvement, the community had decided on a distinctive orthography that would give Louisiana Creole a unique visual identity. There were many things still in flux, however, and the orthography was being occasionally tweaked here and there to meet the needs of learners. That short vocabulary list eventually grew to almost 1,600 items, which I shared with my colleague Oliver Mayeux, lecturer in Linguistics at Cambridge University, UK. He then suggested we do something with it.

At the time, there were rumblings in Louisiana about expanding the local French immersion school curriculum to include a ‘Creole component’. While everyone agreed that this was a noble goal, there was no consensus on what such a component should actually look like. One of the only Creole voices in these discussions was Herbert Wiltz, a longtime educator and the first person to produce contemporary teaching materials in Louisiana Creole. Education authorities were confused by the many French-influenced languages called ‘Creole’, including the vernaculars of Haiti, Guadeloupe, and others. Many thought that any of these could be ‘good enough’ for French immersion students in Louisiana.

(l-r) Oliver Mayeux, Herbert Wiltz, Nathan Wendte.

Driven by the conviction that Creole ethnolinguistic identities are not interchangeable (even though they may share the Creole label), I began working on a short language primer for conversational learners of Louisiana Creole. I drew up preliminary drafts of 18 lessons and sent them to Oliver and Herb for corrections and suggestions. We added the glossary and a brief introduction that laid out our goals for the project. Thanks to Oliver’s keen eye and Herb’s native speaker intuitions, the first edition of Ti Liv Kréyòl was released in summer 2017. Herb, Oliver and I made it available to the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) for use by immersion classroom teachers wishing to include a ‘Creole component’ with Louisiana-specific materials.

Soon after, it became apparent it needed revisions to make it more user-friendly. Thanks in large part to edits and suggestions from Adrien Guillory-Chatman, who is a learner, teacher, and advocate for the Louisiana Creole language spoken by her ancestors, we modified the guide to make it clearer for learners using it outside the classroom. We also added a separate section to address issues of Louisiana Creole grammar and regional variation. Finally, with support from FEL, we enlisted local Louisiana illustrator Jonathan “radbwa faroush” Mayers and talented designer Irina V. Wang to produce a vastly improved second edition of Ti Liv Kréyòl, as a downloadable pdf and book (available on Amazon.com from 1st October 2020).