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Ted Buchanan

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Donors help to preserve Louisiana French heritage

Tom Klingler, an associate professor and chair of the Department of French and Italian at Tulane University, has been named the Richard V. and Seola Arnaud Edwards Professor in French at Tulane University. 

Tom Klingler
Tom Klingler, associate professor of French, has been named the Richard V. and Seola Arnaud Edwards Professor in French. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

 

October 26, 2012   

Mary Sparacello
msparace@tulane.edu    

Seola “CeCe” Arnaud Edwards grew up speaking French. She didn't learn English until she started school—along with the 34 other students in her first grade class in Arnaudville, a town in south Louisiana.  

These days, very few Louisianians grow up solely speaking French, and it was in the hopes of helping to preserve Louisiana French heritage that Seola and her husband, Richard, established an endowed fund to support French department faculty at Tulane University.  

“The culture, the language, the color, the spirit of Louisiana is very important to us,” Seola Edwards says. “We want to do whatever we can to preserve the language—especially because it had been dying out."  

Tom Klingler, an associate professor and chair of the Department of French and Italian at Tulane University, has been named the Richard V. and Seola Arnaud Edwards Professor in French. Magnifying the value of the donation, the Louisiana Board of Regents in 2011 approved matching the Edwardses’ $60,000 contribution with another $40,000 as part of the state’s endowed professorships program.  

In the spring, Klingler plans to take his class, Field Research on French in Louisiana, to Seola Arnaud’s hometown. Arnaudville, located in St. Landry Parish, was named after her ancestors. There, Tulane students will conduct interviews with native French speakers.  

“The field interviews provide students with a rare opportunity for direct contact with Louisiana’s unique francophone populations, while helping to document and preserve the endangered language varieties they speak,” Klingler says.  

Though she now lives in Texas, Seola Edwards, 79, has many relatives who still live in Arnaudville. She is a direct descendant of Jacques Arnaud, who hails from the village of Jausiers in the Ubaye Valley of the French Alps. Arnaud immigrated to the United States and founded the town of Arnaudville.  

Edwards says she applauds Klingler’s appointment to the professorship and his work on the French language in Louisiana.  

“What Tom Klingler is doing is so valuable,” she says. “I really respect what he’s doing, and I’m grateful.”  

Over the past two decades Klingler has been at Tulane, he has interviewed more than 200 Creole and Louisiana French speakers and has co-authored the Dictionary of Louisiana Creole and authored If I Could Turn My Tongue Like That: The Creole Language of Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. 

Richard and Seola Edwards also established a professorship in history at Tulane, named after Richard Edwards’ mother, Eva-Lou Joffrion Edwards (NC ’21), who was very proud of the university.  

“She was a wonderful advocate for Tulane,” Seola Edwards says. The couple also donated the original manuscript of her autobiography, My Story, to the Newcomb College archives. The memoir details her life growing up on a sugar and cotton plantation in Rapides Parish.  

Seola Edwards says she has seen the younger generation get more excited about reconnecting with their French roots, something she and her husband hoped to help foster by creating the French professorship.   

"My grandchildren are young adults with children,” Edwards says. “They're all seeing the value of a second language and especially French that is so important to our state. It makes us proud. French is a part of us.”  

Mary Sparacello is a writer in the Office of Development

 

 

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