Missouri French

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Missouri French
missouri français
Native to Missouri
Region State of Missouri and elsewhere along the Mississippi River valley
Native speakers
unknown (nearly extinct cited 1989)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3

Missouri French (French: missouri français) is a nearly extinct variety of the French language formerly spoken in the upper Mississippi River Valley in the Midwestern United States, particularly in eastern Missouri. Once spoken widely across the region known as the Illinois Country or Upper Louisiana, the dialect is now highly endangered, with only a few elderly local residents able to speak it. It is one of the three major forms of French that originated in the United States, together with Louisiana French and New England French.


Speakers of Missouri French, who call themselves Créoles, are descendants of the early French settlers of the upper Mississippi River Valley, the region then known as Illinois Country (French: Pays des Illinois) or Upper Louisiana (French: Haute-Louisiane). French colonization of the region began in the late 17th century by Acadian coureurs des bois from what is now Canada. By 1760, they had settled six towns — Cahokia, Kaskaskia, St. Philippe, Nouvelle Chartres, and Prairie du Rocher in present-day Illinois, and Ste. Genevieve in Missouri — and claimed the region for the colony of French Louisiana.[2][3]

As the British moved into the Northwest Territory (the region to the east of the Mississippi), which they finally annexed in 1765 following the French and Indian War, many of these French colonists relocated across the river into what is now Missouri, establishing St. Louis and other settlements and outposts. From that time through the early 19th century Creoles began settling in the Ozark highlands above the river, particularly after all of French Louisiana was sold to the United States in 1803.[3] French speakers flocked to the mountains following Moses Austin's establishment of serious mining operations at Potosi in 1797, and founded settlements such as Old Mines (French: La Vieille Mine), which became a center of Missouri French language and culture.[2]

Linguists began studying Missouri's French enclave in the 20th century, as the dialect was dying out. At this time much of the population was centered in the Old Mines area in the Missouri Ozarks. J.-M. Carrière noted that there were around 600 French-speaking families around Old Mines in the 1930s and 1940s.[3] Carrière undertook a study of the dialect, recording 73 folk tales from local conteurs. Among other distinguishing features, he noted that Missouri French had been heavily influenced by English, with many English words and even entire idiomatic phrases borrowed or translated into the dialect.[4] This contact led to a substantial decline in use of French over the next decades; by the end of the century, only a handful of elderly speakers of Missouri French remained.[1] Ulrich Ammon compares it to the other two major forms of French that developed within the present-day United States: Louisiana French and New England French, which he considers largely a New England variety of Canadian French.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Ammon, pp. 306–308.
  2. ^ a b Carrière 1939, p. 109.
  3. ^ a b c Carrière 1941a, p. 410.
  4. ^ Carrière 1939, pp. 113–119.


  • Ammon, Ulrich; International Sociological Association (1989). Status and Function of Languages and Language Varieties. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 0-89925-356-3. Retrieved July 30, 2013. 
  • Carrière, J. -M. (1939). "Creole Dialect of Missouri". American Speech (Duke University Press) 12 (6): 502–503. JSTOR 451217. 
  • Carrière, J. -M. (1941 a). "The Phonology of Missouri French: A Historical Study". The French Review 14 (5): 410–415. JSTOR 380369. 
  • Carrière, J. -M. (1941 b). "The Phonology of Missouri French: A Historical Study (Continued)". The French Review 14 (6): 510–515. JSTOR 381703. 
  • Paw-paw French