Pied noir: an American connection? or maybe not...

Salikoko Mufwene s-mufwene at UCHICAGO.EDU
Mon Jan 18 16:01:37 UTC 2010

Geoffrey Nunberg wrote:
> The French linguist Bernard Cerquiglini did one of his "Merci,
> Professeur" spots on TV5 on this item -- it was reprinted in a
> collection of the same name. He repeats the story about the North
> African stokers (Alain Rey in Dict. Hist. de la Langue Française
> attributes this "well attested" etymology to a  1965 paper by Gaston
> Esnault in Le Français Moderne). He then explains the shift in
> reference to Europeans as follows:
> Il faut attendre la guerre d'Algérie pour voir apparaître la
> désignation actuelle. Vers 1954 a Casablanca, un groupe contre-
> terroriste français prend le nom des Pieds-noirs. On y a vu une
> allusion aux irréducibles Indiens Black Feet de la conquête de
> l'Ouest. Je crois plûtot qu'il s'agit d'un de ces cas usuels de
> retournement. Les Européens, désireux de se maintenir en Algérie, ont
> adopté le terme dont on qualifiait les Arabs. Pour revenir aux États-
> Unis : les Rednecks du Sud, terme péjoratif pour désigner les paysans
> au cou brûlé par le soleil car ils travaillaient dehors, revendiquent
> aujourd'hui fièrement cette appellation. Il en fut sans doute de même
> pour les Français d'Alger qui se qualifièrent eux-mêmes de Pieds-noirs.
This development of the term appears to be part of a more general trend 
in colonial history. European colonists in Latin America and in 
Louisiana proudly claimed themselves as Creoles (a derisive term during 
the first century of colonization), to distinguish themselves from the 
other European-born colonists (considered less corrupt by the 
Metropolitans), who were often given privileges over them. They claimed 
to be indigenous to the colonies and the right to govern themselves. In 
the English colonies, the English colonists did not want to be lumped 
together with their southern counterparts in Latin America (whom they 
accused of mixing with the Natives and slaves) and claimed instead to be 
Americans, rather than English, a sentiment that led to the American 
Revolution. In French colonies, the Creole Whites tried to marginalize 
the European born Whites as "zoreilles" (< French "les oreilles" 'ears') 
in reference to their reddened/burned ears under the tropical sun, an 
indication that they had not acclimated yet. (Some suspect another 
reason, viz., that they were the ears of the King and thus had to be 
distrusted!) In South Africa the Dutch settlers also identified as Boers 
would identify themselves as "Afrikanders" > "Afrikaners" to distinguish 
themselves from the British/English colonizers in in the early 19th century.


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