Title: What’s in a name?: Research questions and Researcher questions about Creole New Orleanians
As part of a broader project examining language variation and change in post-Katrina Greater New Orleans, I report on preliminary results of linguistic analysis with a focus on the methodological conundrum of how to study ethnic identity in New Orleans. Ethnicity in New Orleans has always been fluid and complex, tracing back to colonial times when a tripartite social division of major ethnic groups existed – Free Europeans, Enslaved Africans, and Free People of Color (Campanella 2006). And indeed, New Orleans historically had a large population of Free People of Color compared to elsewhere in the American South. Over time, this population acquired intergenerational wealth and privilege that set them aside as an elite—and sometimes insular—ethno-cultural group which came to be known as Creoles (Brasseaux 2005). In current times, the term ‘Creole’ is contested. Some locals define Creoleness based on phenotypical features such as skin tone or hair texture, while others consider it a linguistic or cultural label, and still others refuse the legitimacy of this label entirely. Via quantitative and qualitative analysis, I shed light on a situation in which language change and social change appear to be progressing in tandem, posing questions about how to encode varied definitions – as well as varying individual stances towards those definitions – of ethnic identities in variationist research. In doing so, I build upon prior research on the linguistic expression of complex and multiracial identities (cf Holliday 2019; Bissell & Wolfram 2022) as well as work centered on methodological considerations in coding ethnicity (cf. Hall-Lew & Wong 2014; Nagy, Chociej, & Hoffman 2014).