French's Legal Status in Louisiana
While Louisiana has no official language, French enjoys a special status in Louisiana. This is due to a recognition by the State legislature in 1968 (reaffirmed in 1972) of the French heritage of Louisiana and its importance in our present culture and touristic appeal. In 1968, the legislature established the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) to “preserve, promote, and develop Louisiana's French and Creole culture, heritage, and language.” Under this mandate, we seek to establish French immersion programs, promote French business and tourism, and identify French-speaking State employees who can render State services in French.
This, however, has not always been the case. Its use has gone through many changes, and several attempts have been made over the years to abolish its use in schools and government, as one can see in the ways in which French has been addressed in Louisiana's many constitutions:
- A measure was passed and included in the 1845 Constitution that permitted any legislator to address the body in either English or French.
- The Constitutions of 1845 and 1852 required all laws to be written in English and French.
- Under the Constitution of 1864, the dual language requirement was dropped, and directed that instruction be conducted in English in public schools. Article 128 of this constitution, however, prohibited the State from barring non-English speakers from public office, and the State published the Constitution in English, French, and German.
- In the post-Confederacy Constitution of 1868, an article was passed stating that “no laws shall require judicial process to be issued in any [language] other than the English language.” In the Constitution of 1879, this was adjusted to read that laws “be promulgated and preserved in the English language; but the General Assembly may provide for the publication of the laws in the French Language, and prescribe that judicial advertisements in certain designated cities and parishes…be made in that language.” Thus, the General Assembly recognized that French was still the dominant language in many parishes of the State.
- The 1879 Constitution also reversed the requirement for public school education in English and allowed for the possibility of primary school instruction conducted in French. This last provision was expanded upon in the Constitutions of 1898 and 1913 to include secondary school instruction. This was reversed in the Constitution of 1921, which again required public school instruction be conducted in English.
- In the most recent Constitution of 1974, however, did away with this provision and included a statement acknowledging “the right of the people to preserve, foster, and promote their respective historic, linguistic, and cultural origins.”
Sources: Louisiana State Senate, the Louisiana Law Review, "The French Language in Louisiana Law and Legal Education: A Requiem," by R. K. Ward