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Language Legislation in Louisiana

"To date, 22 States – including my home State of Louisiana – have already
declared English their official language."
– Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.)

Louisiana has never declared an "official language" as such. In 1812, it became the first and only state to enter the Union in which a non-English-speaking group commanded a popular majority. Because the dominance of French in Louisiana caused some concerns in Washington, Congress required the state's first constitution to safeguard the rights of English speakers. This provision (later dropped) required that all laws and official documents be published in the language "in which the Constitution of the United States is written" – that is, in English, but not only in English.

Until the Civil War, Louisiana continued to publish documents in French and its legislature continued to operate bilingually as a practical necessity. Numerous officials, including Governor Jacques Villeré (1816-1820), did not speak English. Louisiana's 1845 constitution made these practices a requirement – a recognition of French language rights. An 1847 law authorized bilingual instruction in the state's public schools.

Article XII, § 4 of Louisiana's current (1974) constitution provides:

    The right of the people to preserve, foster, and promote their respective historic linguistic and cultural origins is recognized.

This principle is also embodied in Louisiana's Revised Statutes (43:204)*:

    When advertisements are required to be made in relation to judicial process, or in the sale of property for undpaid taxes, or under judicial process or any other legal process of whatever kind, they shall be made in the English language and may in addition be duplicated in the French language. State and local officials and public institutions are reconfirmed in the traditional right to publish documents in the French language in addition to English.

*Thanks to the Louisiana State Library for this reference.

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