The Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, commonly known as CODOFIL, is a special interest organization dedicated to preserving and promoting francophone rights and culture in Louisiana. Founded in 1968 by an act of the state legislature, CODOFIL was formed in reaction to a half-century of repression of French language and culture that went so far as to forbid the speaking of French in public schools. The cultural organization subsequently grew into one of Louisiana’s most visible international diplomatic institutions under the direction of former U.S. Congressman James Domengeaux. Over the years, the organization’s influence has extended its mission to include shaping educational policy (specifically bilingual and immersion curricula), community outreach, international diplomacy, and economic development.
The Birth of CODOFIL
Louisiana State Senator Dudley J. LeBlanc and political scientist Raymond Rodgers played key roles in the formation of CODOFIL. During the Great Depression, LeBlanc helped forge political and cultural liaisons with French Canada through a series of Acadian pilgrimages that traversed through eastern Canada, from Québec to Nova Scotia. In the 1960s, Rodgers, who had lived and worked in the province of Québec, built on LeBlanc’s efforts. Rodgers served as Governor John McKeithen’s aide-de-camp in negotiating and drafting the “Québec-Louisiana Agreement,” which opened official diplomatic exchanges between Louisiana, Québec, Ottawa, and Washington, D.C.
In the late 1960s, as Rodgers worked to establish diplomatic relations between the state and Canada, a handful of activists led by LeBlanc crafted legislation designed “[t]o further the preservation and utilization of the French language by removing discrimination against French.” During the 1968 regular session of the Louisiana state legislature, LeBlanc co-sponsored a bill “[t]o authorize the establishment of Council for the Development of Louisiana-French,” an organization that grew to be the most influential international organ of cultural nationalism in French Louisiana. Legislative Act No. 409 empowered CODOFIL to “to do any and all things necessary to accomplish the development, utilization, and preservation of the French language as found in the State of Louisiana for the cultural, economic, and touristic benefit of the State.”
The Development of CODOFIL
CODOFIL began life as an unfunded and understaffed government agency, surviving on financial support from Québec’s Ministry of International Relations. The ministry funded CODOFIL until 1972, when the Louisiana state legislature allotted funds for the agency after the inauguration of Cajun governor Edwin Edwards. A turning point for the organization came in 1972, when Domengeaux implemented a statewide French-language teaching program that imported 145 French citizens to work as instructors in Louisiana schools. Between 1976 and 1992, CODOFIL expanded its teaching force to include native Francophones from Québec, France, Belgium, and Switzerland. Domengeaux’s teaching program coincided with the rise of the separatist Parti Québécois, which took control of the provincial government beginning in 1976. “The supplanting of English is in no way part of CODOFIL’s policy,” Domengeaux assured those who worried about importing instructors from Québec. “There is absolutely no danger of a Québec developing here [in Louisiana].”
Domengeaux assumed CODOFIL’s presidency in 1968, upon the council's formation, and served in that role until his death in 1988. He delegated the day-to-day operations to an appointed director. Domengeaux stayed focused on his international agenda and offered the directorship to foreign nationals, including Belgian-born Philippe Gustin and French native Jacques Henry. Meanwhile, CODOFIL experimented with a different kind of community outreach. In 1974, working closely with music coordinator Barry Jean Ancelet, Domengeaux and the Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife Program sponsored the inaugural Hommage à la musique acadienne, despite the fact that Domengeaux disliked Cajun music. CODOFIL continued to support the concert series until 1980, when the Lafayette Jaycees assumed the responsibility.
Codofilism: A Linguistic Controversy
Linguistically, CODOFIL endorsed the standards of international French exclusively, to the detriment of the indigenous forms of French in the state. Local accents, local vocabularies, even local teachers were all suspect in Domengeaux’s mind. In reaction, Rousseau Van Voorhies coined the term codofilism to articulate growing resentment within the Cajun community. Naysayers called CODOFIL “a phony” and “a farce…a ridiculous sham.” Part of their critique hinged on Domengeaux’s class bias. International French was an elite form of communication, they argued, in a state that had long identified the language with working-class culture. Others questioned his linguistic qualifications. “He was the spokesperson for the French movement,” recalled CODOFIL’s longest tenured director Philippe Gustin, “but his French was terrible. When he ran out of words, he would create words which did not exist in the French dictionary. “You could not tell if Jimmy Domengeaux was speaking simple French, Québec French, Belgian French, or Cajun French,” Gustin continued, “it was Domenegeaux French; you know, his own French language.”
During the 1990s, CODOFIL underwent a dramatic transformation. The organization transferred governance to local hands in 1993 as Earline Broussard became the first Louisiana native to assume the directorship. Broussard and her successor, David Cheramie, emphasized local culture rather than a continental European or French Canadian model. The 1990s also witnessed the rise of French immersion programs throughout the state, which began in the early 1980s. Modeled on language immersion programs in Canada, a new generation of Louisiana Francophones has emerged as thousands of children have already graduated from the CODOFIL program.
CODOFIL’s enduring legacy in Louisiana continues to unfold. The state agency is now housed under the lieutenant governor’s office in collaboration with the Office of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism. Beyond Louisiana, hundreds, if not thousands, of Francophones from across the western hemisphere who served as language instructors in the state are now versed in the state’s culture. Moreover, CODOFIL’s mode of international collaboration proved so successful that James Domengeaux’s council became the model for sister organizations in other parts of French North America, including the Council for the Development of French in Manitoba (CODOFIM) and the Council for the Development of French in New England (CODOFINE).
Cite This Entry
Chicago Manual of Style
Brasseaux, Ryan . "Council for the Development of French in Louisiana." In KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010–. Article published September 15, 2011. http://www.knowla.org/entry.php?rec=1177.
Brasseaux, Ryan . "Council for the Development of French in Louisiana." KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Ed. David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 15 Sept. 2011. Web. 18 May. 2013.
Would you like to learn more about this topic from books and other reading materials?
Bernard, Shane K. The Cajuns: Americanization of a People. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003.
Dorman, James H. “Louisiana’s Cajuns: A Case Study in Ethnic Group Revitalization.” Social Science Quarterly 65, no. 4 (December 1984): 1043–57.
.The People Called Cajuns: An Introduction to an Ethnohistory. Lafayette: Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1983.
Gold, Gerald L. The Role of France, Quebec and Belgium in the Revival of French in Louisiana Schools, Publication B-91. Quebec: International Center for Research on Bilingualism, 1980.
Henry, Jacques M. “The Louisiana French Movement.” In Albert Valdman (ed.), French and Creole in Louisiana. Westport, CT: Praegar, 1997.
“Le CODOFIL dans le mouvement francophone en Louisiane.” Présence Francophone 43 (1993): 27–28.
Rodgers, Raymond S. “Conclusion of Quebec-Louisiana Agreement on Cultural Co-operation.”The American Journal of International Law 64, no. 2 (April 1970): 380.
Simon, Anne L. “CODOFIL: A Case Study of an Ethnic Interest Group.” M.A. Thesis, University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1977.