Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
The town of Pointe aux Chênes, Louisiana, is the site of both language death (of Louisiana French) and rapid coastal subsidence: both the language and the land, key components of local identity, are undergoing a process of shift. It is additionally the site of a furious debate over the name of the town. The bayou that Pointe aux Chênes (‘Oak Point’) sits on is called Pointe au Chien (‘Dog Point’), and it is the bayou’s name that many residents use for the town as well. A vocal contingent, however, insist upon the alternate moniker; in the mid-1990s the town’s name was officially declared to be Pointe aux Chênes following the herculean efforts of a single driven resident. In this paper I use multiple lines of inquiry—interviews with residents, an analysis of the linguistic landscape, archival research, semantic and narrative analysis—to examine the dispute over the name of the town, which dates back at least 150 years and tends to split along ethnic (American Indian vs. Cajun) lines. While historical research does not provide a conclusive answer as to which name came first, I show that the disappearing French language has become enregistered and the name of the town commodified. The disappearance of both the language and the land has exacerbated an already charged situation. It is more than simple stewardship or place formation that is at stake; it is very personal identities that stand to be lost.