“Miss Calinda” and Creole Tales

by Jennifer Gipson

This text is presented in the framework of the project "The stories that history tells us:  Afro-Créole literature from 19th Century Louisiana". 

The Creole language spoken in the nineteenth century by many Louisianans, both slave and free, represents and important part of our linguistic heritage.  This linguistic blend includes diverse elements, among them French and Spanish as well as African, Native American, Caribbean, and Haitian dialects.  “Miss Calinda” is a reminder of the significant body of Creole tales that circulated in oral tradition at the time.  The personification of animals and the depiction of a moral, two characteristics of this genre, are reminiscent of the fables of Aesop.  This tale and Mr. M. Jean-Pierre Piqué’s marvelous illustration, drawn specifically for this issue of the Tintamarre, will certainly mark the imagination of all of our reader, children and adults alike.  Alfred Mercier, while he was not of African heritage, made a substantial contribution to the preservation of the Creole language, especially with his Etude sur la langue créole en Louisiane.  His transcription and French translation of “Miss Calinda » appeared in Les Comptes Rendus de l'Athénée louisianais in 1880.  The following French version displays several elements typical of Louisiana French dialects, especially the use of the grammatical construction être après + infinitf to express the present progressive.


Biography of Alfred Mercier

by Clint Bruce

from the pedagogical pages of the Bibliothèque Tintamarre

A doctor and writer whose career marks the culminating point of Creole literature, Alfred Mercier was born on June 3, 1816, according to his diary, to a family of old Creole lineage in McDonoghville.  Mercier spent his childhood in Louisiana and part of his youth in traveling in Europe where he visited romantic and progressive circles.  He later studied medicine. 

In 1868 after an extended stay in France, Mercier and his family, now devoid of the small fortune that had previously remained, returned to New Orleans.  Mercier made his living as a doctor and became involved in the French Louisiana literary scene.  In 1875, he spearheaded the creation of L’Athénée Louisianais, an association dedicated to the promotion of French culture and language.  L'Athénée began to publish the Comptes rendus in 1876.

The years after 1873 proved especially productive for Mercier as a man of letters.  He published numerous works :  Le Fou de Palerme in 1873, La Fille du prêtre in 1877, his Etude sur la langue créole en Louisiane in 1880, his masterpiece L'Habitation Saint-Ybars in 1881, Emile des Ormiers, published serially in Le Franco-louisianais en 1886, Fortunia, a play in, 1888, and Johnelle in 1891—all of this without mentioning his poetry and numerous articles on scientific, lierary, and social topics.  Mercier dedicated his final years to the preservation of Louisana’s creole culture, opposing the English-speaking monocutural politique that had threathened the French language since the Civil War.  He died on May 12, 1894.

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