Valérie Saugera, Associate Professor of French and Director of the Language Program in French, has been awarded a National Endowment of for the Humanities (NEH) grant for her project, “Chronicling Louchébem, the Resilient Secret Language of the Butchers of Paris.” This Fellowship, one of the most prestigious in the humanities, will allow Professor Saugera time to complete her current book project on Louchébem, a secret, endangered language (argot) spoken by Paris butchers since the nineteenth century.
Saugera has expertise in lexical borrowing and has published widely on Anglicisms in the French language. She is the author of Remade In France: Anglicisms in the Lexicon and Morphology of French published with Oxford University Press in 2017. In this new project, she marries linguistic and ethnographic research to explore a trade argot that many considered dead. Saugera’s research shows that it is still alive and used by a significant number of traditional butchers in Paris.
Although Louchébem is often classified as extinct, Saugera’s recent fieldwork reveals that the secret language of Parisian butchers survives, although in decline. An argot borrowed from thieves’ slang that emerged in the nineteenth-century, in a slaughterhouse located in Villette. Louchébem is still spoken in butcher shops. The pressures on the butchers’ profession since the late 1980s lend urgency to the task of documenting Louchébem, especially given that scholarly research has overlooked this singular argot. Based on ethno-linguistic fieldwork, including data collected from 227 Parisian butchers, Sugéra’s book project chronicles Louchébem by tracing it to its origin, recording its history, and evaluating its current status. This project investigates an endangered cultural and linguistic phenomenon while shedding light on wider issues of modernity, including the role of tradition, the relationship between language and consumption, and the value of linguistic diversity in a world where languages are rapidly dying off.
We are providing a link to an overview of a talk about Louchébem that Professor Saugéra delivered in 2018 in the context of an annual LCL colloquia series. It provides a helpful overview of what the NEH committee obviously recognized as a fascinating, urgent, and highly innovative project.