Each week our Master Tour guide Sandy is going to share some history, thoughts and New Orleans related information with you – to inspire you to come out and learn even more with us on one of our walking tours!
New Orleans was founded in 1718 and the first shipment of slaves arrived in 1719. The vast majority of all slaves entering the colony during French and Spanish rule originated on the west coast of Africa. This included such modern day countries as Nigeria, Benin, and Cameroon and specifically centered around such tribes as the Igbo, Fon, and Yoruba. Upon arrival in the new colony, these slaves were expected to learn the language of the ruling regime. A group of adults forced to learn a new language will retain many aspects of the mother tongue and this certainly happened in New Orleans as Creole appeared on the scene and that later gave way to English once the Americans arrived post 1803. Certain West African holdovers are present in what is typical of black speech patterns, and while these patterns have historically been used to debase that population as ignorant, they stem from the mother tongue and it is a credit to the strength of that culture that they remain. Anyone wandering the streets of the Big Easy especially during football season has inevitably heard the “Who Dat” Saints rallying cry and thus been privy to a bit of West African sentence structure. Many African languages adhere to the rule that a syllable can have only one consonant and one vowel. English abounds with words that posses more than one consonant/vowel pairing and thus these words were changed by slaves clinging to structures of old. “This” became “dis” and “that” became “dat.” The influence goes beyond structural changes by introducing new words into English such as okra, voodoo, gris gris, and banana. The word “banjo” is African in origin, as is the instrument. “Bug” comes from bugu, meaning to annoy and “dig” meaning to understand. English has certainly been enriched by a myriad of such cultural exchanges and they do not reflect an ignorance on the part of any group but rather a tenacious clinging to what was lost. Who Dat indeed!
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