Title page for ETD etd-04022009-185330

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Leumas, Emilie Gagnet
URN etd-04022009-185330
Title Mais, I sin in French, I gotta go to confession in French: A Study of the Language Shift from French to English within the Louisiana Catholic Church
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department French Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Sylvie Dubois Committee Chair
Jack Yeager Committee Member
Malcolm Richardson, II Committee Member
Rafael Orozco Committee Member
Jay D. Edwards Dean's Representative
  • parishioner
  • parish
  • spatial diffusion
  • communities of practice
  • correspondence
  • sacramental registers
  • nineteenth century
  • language shift
  • change
  • archdiocese
  • New Orleans
  • archives
  • bilingualism
Date of Defense 2009-01-21
Availability unrestricted
To study language change within South Louisiana Catholic Church, I examined the sacramental registers of more than 250 churches, the country of origin of 1043 priests, the parish visitation reports of 37 individual churches and 160 original data cards from 1906 Census of Religious Bodies. Metalinguistic elements were collected from various files available at the archives.

This study reveals the complex nature of the language switch from French to English, a network structure of top down management and elements of change in each community of practice which pressured the other levels. It is specific to the Louisiana Catholic population, the clergy, and the administration of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Results make clear that most of the language changes in the sacramental registers happened at the turn of the twentieth century. The “linguistic tip” occurred during the administration of Archbishop Blenk when, in 1907, the mean switch date of the sacramental registers occurred, followed by the 1910 loss of French control in the administration, and the 1913 switch of the archiepiscopal council minutes from French to English. Results also show that priests who made these switches were comfortable in both French and English. Analysis of the pastoral letters to the clergy and parishioners revealed that the status of the French language within the archdiocesan administration slowly changed over time. The body of priests who ministered in the Archdiocese of New Orleans from 1860 to 1920 changed from a heavily dominated French-born clergy to a more multi-ethnic clergy, but more importantly the archdiocese began to recruit men from Louisiana to enter the priesthood. The evidence suggests that the priests’ overriding motivation for language change is rooted in important societal changes taking place within and outside their locality. The source of language change was rooted in the massive migration of Irish Catholics. One important social change was the establishment of Protestant institutions in parishes once dominated by the Catholic faith. This dissertation presents how through mutual engagement it negotiated both explicitly and implicitly a language shift from French to English.

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