Researchers race to save Missouri French, the dialect now spoken by just 30 people

Once widely spoken across Illinois Country, one of the major forms of French to originate in the US will soon be extinct

History researchers are racing to save Missouri French, the dialect spoken fluently by less than 30 people in old mining towns, before the few remaining native speakers succumb to old age.

Missouri French, an amalgam of Old Norman French, Native American languages and frontier English, is spoken in Old Mines, southwest of St. Louis, and is one of the three major forms of French to originate in the United States, remaining widely in use well into the 20 century.

Missouri French speakers are descendants of early French settlers in the upper Mississippi River County, formally known as Illinois Country, over 300 years ago.

The dialect, also called Missouri-Illinois French or paw-paw French for the region's plentiful paw-paw fruit trees, flourished in isolated communities such as Old Mines and was used by hundreds of families for generations.

In the 1980s the paw-paw French was spoken by hundreds of people, according to GeoCurrents, but most of these speakers were middle aged or elderly residents, who would now be aged at least 75-years-old.

The dialect was widely associated with being ignorant or uneducated, meaning only phrases and songs have been passed down in recent generations, who instead spoke English.

"When they didn't want us to know what they talked about, they talked to us in French," said Lucy Baquette, whose husband traces his regional roots back to the founding families of St. Louis.

Examples of Missouri French

  • Cars – Chars
  • Cold – fraitte
  • Party – bouillons
  • It rains - ça fait mouier

The last academic study of the dialect is understood to have been written 75 years ago, creating a huge written gap in knowledge.

Dennis Stroughmatt has been working to help preserve the language, after discovering it as a student at the Southeast Missouri State University 20 years ago.

Having studied French for a term, he befriended families in and around Old Mines in an effort to preserve the region's music and language. The area’s unofficial slogan is “On est toujours icitte”, or "we are still here."

“They have fought to keep their language and culture alive," Mr Stroughmatt said. "I want to do anything I can to help.”

He has since recorded oral histories, uncovered wax cylinder recordings and immersed himself in their traditional language, music and stories.

Mr Stroughmatt plays fiddle in his three-piece band, Dennis Stroughmatt et L’esprit Creole, which aims to “carry the torch of this enduring culture” by performing at different folk festivals across America.

His work was honoured in May by the Missouri Humanities Council for seeking to "revive an epoch of Midwestern history that was on the verge of extinction." He was one of five to win the Missouri Humanities Award for Preserving Traditional French Culture and Music of Old Mines, which was hailed as an "exemplary community achievement".

Carol Diaz-Granados, an anthropology researcher at Washington University in St. Louis who studies the region's Native American archaeology, commended Mr Stroughmatt's historical preservation efforts.

Missouri French "was on the verge of being lost," she said. "People are passing away. It's the end of an era."

The Old Mines Area Historical Society, the volunteer-run group which Ms Diaz-Granados is a board member of, is now working to restore an old log cabin on the outskirts of town that would serve as the centrepiece of a 19th century village and history museum commemorating the region's deep French roots.

The region also stages an annual Old Mines Missouri French festival to celebrate its linguistic origins.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Extras
indybest

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Market Administrator (1st line Support, Bloomberg, Broker)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Market Administrator (1st line Support, Trade Fl...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

Data Support Analyst (Linux, Solaris, Windows Server, Reuters)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Data Support Analyst (Linux, Solaris, Windows Se...

Helpdesk Support Engineer (Windows, MS Office, Exchange)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Helpdesk Support Engineer (Windows, MS Office, E...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition