WELSH - Every Tuesday afternoon a group of French speaking residents gather at the McBurney Memorial Library with coffee in hand.
From 2-3 p.m., the group warms up on their French with a cup of hot coffee and conversation.
They practice speaking French to one another, trying to learn the proper way to pronounce the words with hopes of being able to make a complete sentence or carry on a conversation in French.
For many speaking French is a link to their past. For others it’s an attempt to revive what they say is a dying language.
“A lot of these people grew up speaking French, but don’t speak it anymore because they have no one to speak it to,” Library Branch Manager Laci Cormier said.
According to historians, Cajuns spoke French almost exclusively until the 20th century.
“It’s been years since I have heard it spoken,” Bonnie Boudreaux said. “My grandmother always spoke it when we were little and my brothers spoke to her in French, but I always spoke in English.”
Boudreaux said speaking French is becoming a dying art because adults have forgotten the words and no longer pass the language on the next generation.
“We’re running out of our French speakers,” she said. “If we don’t learn to carry it on, no one will be left to speak it.”
At 92, Lucille Boudreaux is wanting to reconnect with the past.
“I used to speak French, but I don’t speak it fluent like I used to,” she said. “You lose it, if you don’t use it and I want to be able to speak French again.”
Growing up, Boudreaux said her grandmother could not speak English so everyone spoke French.
“But we were taught English before we started school,” she said.
Father Roland Vaughn learned to speak French as a child growing up in Kaplan.
“Growing up my Dad had a rule, no English at home,” he said.
But students were forbidden to speak it in school and often were punished for speaking the language.
“Many of us wrote lines, ‘I will not speak French on the playground,’ he said.
Another attendee, who grew up with a French speaking grandmother, remembers being punished for saying, “I want my nickel” in French after losing it at school. Other students heard her but didn’t understand and told the teachers she was cussing, she said.
James Beard said French was the only language spoken when he was growing up.
“My grandparents couldn’t speak English at all and I spent a lot of time listening to them, so I learned it at a young age,” Beard said. “But my parents taught me English when I went to school. Hearing it now, brings back a lot of memories of good times growing up with people no longer here.”
Adrian Boudreaux is among the youngest embracing the language. Boudreaux has played music for over 20 years with many of the top Cajun bands, but doesn’t speak the language.
“I’ve had the opportunity to hear people speak French for many years, but I never had the chance to speak it myself,” he said. “It’s still hard for me to carry on a conversation. Hopefully I can learn it by hearing it spoken by those who can speak it.”