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UL Lafayette Conference Highlights Diversity of French in the Americas

 Joseph Savoie speaking at Université d'été
Jonathan Olivier
Joseph Savoie, president of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, addresses participants at the opening ceremony of “Université d’été” on May 22.

Students and young professionals from North and South America and the Caribbean participated in “Université d’été” that covered topics relevant to French-speakers of the Americas.

Lire en français sur Télé-Louisiane.

Better understanding the diversity of the French-speaking world of the Americas was the theme of the sixth edition of the “Université d’été sur la francophonie des Amériques,” which was held in Lafayette the final full week of May.

The program, held outside of Canada for the first time, was organized by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (UL) and the Centre de la francophonie des Amériques (CFA), a Quebec organization that seeks to facilitate relationships between the French-speakers of the Americas. The conference was structured as a course offering 45 credits, which was composed of 50 participants—30 from Canada and 20 from the rest of the Americas, including the United States, South America and the Caribbean.

“This program offers a perspective of the francophone communities of the Americas,” said Sylvain Lavoie, CFA president. “It’s a time of training, of exchange, of networking for the students and participants who take part. And also, the program contributes to this link between francophones to discover, to set off on adventure, and to create bridges between the different regions and the different participants.”

Throughout the duration of the program, there was a focus on la francophonie, a term that refers to the French-speaking community, either globally or locally. This conference, specifically, focused on la francophonie of the Americas—the issues faced by francophones of the Western Hemisphere who often exist as a linguistic minority. Lafayette served as a fitting place to discuss French as a minority language, given the status of the language in the region.

Guyaume Boulianne, from the francophone region St. Mary’s Bay in Nova Scotia, has been to Louisiana several times to explore the Acadian connection to the region and to play music. This time, he said he was able to explore what la francophonie means for him.

“Our French-speaking community and Louisiana’s are maybe more similar because of our Acadian connection,” he said. “But someone who is from Chile who speaks French, I’m not necessarily convinced that we have a similar identity due to that. But what joins us is the French speaking community.”

The overlying theme of the program was this diversity of la francophonie in the Americas—and the participants were encouraged to explore these connections further. It was a chance for francophones to interact with other French-speakers who, although they may differ culturally, share a common linguistic bond. Justin LeBlanc, director of economic development and tourism for Cap Acadie, New Brunswick, took part in the program in order to better understand who makes up la francophonie of the Americas.

“I really want to understand the issues of the different francophone communities from all over,” he said. “I know that in New Brunswick, we’re the only officially bilingual province of Canada, but we still at times have to fight for our rights as French-speakers. So, it’s really with an open mind that I’m trying to better understand the reality of these people.”

 Barry Ancelet speaking at Université d'été
Jonathan Olivier
Barry Ancelet, retired professor from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, recited poetry during the opening ceremony for the “Université d’été” on May 22.

There was a particular focus on Louisiana and its francophone population, with presentations by Barry Ancelet, Joseph Dunn, Lawson Ota, Christine Verdin and more. Subjects included how climate change is impacting Native American francophone groups, such as the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe and the United Houma Nation, as well as the importance of expression in French for those in a minority language context. Participants also took a field trip to Arnaudville in order to highlight several initiatives based in St. Landry Parish, such as École Saint-Landry and the Saint Luc French Immersion and Cultural Campus.

The program was another high-profile event that displayed the resiliency and importance of Louisiana’s French-speaking community after French President Emmanuel Macron visited the state in December. Nathan Rabalais, associate professor of French and francophone studies at UL, said that Louisiana was a logical choice for this program given the relationship the Center has with the state, local researchers and cultural activists. “The themes of this edition makes UL Lafayette an ideal place to explore these subjects,” he said.

In January, UL Lafayette became thefirst American university to join the “Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie,” an international network of 1,000 members from 122 countries that encourages cultural and economic development within the French-speaking world. In order to continue to facilitate the relationships, the university is committed to offering more opportunities to grow its presence within la francophonie.

“The Modern Languages Department is working to offer professional French certifications as well as new courses on translation and French business and media courses related to tourist sites and local businesses,” Rabalais said.