Cajun French

Cajun French
français cadien/français cadjin
Native to Louisiana
Native speakers
26,000 (2010 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 frc
Glottolog caju1236[2]
Linguasphere 51-AAA-hp

All varieties of French in Louisiana, including Cajun. Parishes marked in yellow are those where 4–10% of the population speak French or Louisiana French at home, orange 10–15%, red 15–20%, brown 20–30%.

Cajun French (French: français cadien/français cadjin) (commonly called Louisiana Regional French, and related to but distinct from the historical Colonial, or Plantation Society, French)[3] is a variety of the French language spoken primarily in Louisiana, specifically in the southern parishes. The Cajuns assimilated the Colonial Louisiana French dialect, but many mistakenly label it Cajun French.[4] Significant populations of Louisianians, descended from European, African, and Native American ancestors, continue to speak those varieties of French. Parishes in which these dialects are still found include but are not limited to Acadia, Ascension, Assumption, Avoyelles, Cameron, Evangeline,Iberia, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, Lafourche, St. Martin, St. Mary, Terrebonne, Pointe Coupée, Vermillion, and other parishes of Southern Louisiana.

Cajun French is derived from the mixing original French spoken by French soldiers and settlers in Louisiana before the arrival of the Acadians. The language incorporates words of African, Spanish, Native American and English origin, unknown in Acadian French. Areas of the state that have almost no population of Acadian origin speak a French that is to some degree mutually comprehensible with the French spoken in areas that the population is heavily of Acadian origin.

The French of the Acadians and the French of the earlier colonial period of Louisiana, commonly known as Colonial Louisiana French, and later waves of colonists eventually merged and are now in what may be considered a single language but showing significant regional variation. However, because some of the French is of pre-Acadian origin and it is spoken by many Creoles of color, white Creoles and American Indians, the broader and correct label Louisiana French is preferable.

Some Black Creoles speak Louisiana Creole French, a distinct creole language that is a mixture of pre-Acadian colonial Louisiana French, Spanish, African languages, and Native American languages, namely Choctaw. Cajun French is not to be confused with Louisiana Creole.

The number of speakers of Cajun French is around 200,000. The questions asked on the Louisiana census forms do not provide an accurate count of French-speakers in Louisiana. Since the early 1970s, the teaching of French has become much more widespread beginning in elementary and secondary schools and contact between Louisiana and the francophone world greatly increased. That has resulted in significant numbers of native French speakers in Louisiana adopting modern French vocabulary and grammar from France, Belgium or Canada while continuing to use Louisiana French vocabulary and expressions for local phenomena.

Cajun French, or Colonial Louisiana French, should be considered a continuum with normalized French with Louisiana vocabulary and expressions at one end and creolized Louisiana French at the other.


Bienvenue en Louisiane
Louisiana state welcome sign

The French resettled in Louisiana, establishing the culture and language there. Through the Colonial Louisiana French language, Cajun is ultimately descended. The word "Cajun" is an anglicization of "Cadien," itself a shortened pronunciation (by apheresis) of "Acadien".

French immigration continued in the 19th century until the start of the American Civil War, bringing large numbers of Francophones, speaking something more similar to today's Metropolitan French into Louisiana. Over time, through contact between groups, including a high rate of intermarriage, the dialects would mix, to produce the French we today call Louisiana French.[5]

Over time Louisiana French became the firmly established language of many south Louisiana parishes, mainly the Parishes of Acadiana. Louisiana French was spoken by the Cajun people but also by other ethnic groups that lived in small Acadian settled areas. Creoles, Amerindian ethnic groups such as the Houma, Chitimacha, Pointe-au-Chien,[6] Bayougoula, Tunica-Biloxi, Atakapa, Opelousa, Okelousa, and Avoyel, already spoke this variety of French prior to the arrival of the Acadian people in Louisiana.

The term "Cajun" is reported to have derived from the English pronunciation of the French word Acadien while others report that it meant "peasant" and was used by immigrants referring to poor persons of Acadian ancestry and all other lower-class people. Some Cajuns call themselves "Cadiens" or "Cadjins" in French.

The first spelling is derived from the French spelling "Acadien" and the second is an approximation, using French phonetics, of the pronunciation of the group name in Cajun French. "Cadien" is the French spelling preferred by Cajun academics. "Cajun" is an English word which is not accepted by Cajun academics to designate the group in French. The primary region where "Cajun French" or Colonial Louisiana French is spoken is called Acadiana (not to be confused with Acadia, which refers to the region in Canada where Acadian French is spoken). Cajun areas of Louisiana sometimes form partnerships with Acadians in Canada who send French teachers to teach the language in schools, although the languages at times are incomprehensible and unintelligible.

In 1984, Jules O. Daigle, a Roman Catholic priest, published A Dictionary of the Cajun Language the first dictionary devoted to "Cajun French", or Colonial Louisiana French. Once considered an authority on the language, it is not exhaustive; it omits alternate spellings and synonyms that Father Daigle deemed "perversions" of the language but are nonetheless popular among so-called Cajun speakers and writers.[7] Though remaining useful today, Daigle's dictionary has been superseded by the Dictionary of Louisiana French (2010), edited by Albert Valdman and other authorities on the language.[8]


The original Acadian community was composed mainly of farmers and fishermen who were able to provide their children with a reasonable amount of schooling. However, the hardships after being exiled from Nova Scotia, along with the difficult process of resettlement in Louisiana and the ensuing poverty, made it difficult to establish schools in the early stages of the community’s development. Eventually schools were established, as private academies whose faculty had recently arrived in Louisiana from France or who had been educated in France. Children were usually able to attend the schools only long enough to learn counting and reading.[9] At the time, a standard part of a child’s education in the Cajun community was also the Catholic catechism, which was taught in French by an older member of the community.[9] The educational system did not allow for much contact with Standard French.[9]

The strong influence of English-language education on the Cajun community began following the American Civil War, when laws that had protected the rights of French speakers were abolished. Public schools that attempted to force Acadians to learn English were established in Louisiana. Cajun parents viewed the practice of teaching their children English as the intrusion of a foreign culture, and many refused to send their children to school. When the government required them to do so, they selected private French Catholic schools in which class was conducted in French. The French schools worked to emphasize Standard French, which they considered to be the prestige dialect. When the government required all schools, public and parochial, to teach in English, new teachers, who could not speak French, were hired. Cajun children could not understand their teachers and generally ignored them by continuing to speak French. Eventually, children became punished for speaking French on school grounds.[9]

The punishment system seems to have been responsible for much of the decay that "Cajun French" experienced in the 20th century since, in turn, people who could not speak English were perceived as uneducated. Therefore, parents became hesitant to teach French to their children.[9]

Preservation efforts

Marilyn J. Conwell of Pennsylvania State University conducted a study of Louisiana French in 1959 and published "probably the first complete study of a Louisiana French dialect,"[10] Louisiana French Grammar, in 1963. Conwell focused on the French spoken in Lafayette, Louisiana and evaluated what was then its current status. Conwell pointed out that the gradual decline of French made it "relatively common"/to find " grand-parents who speak only French, parents who speak both French and English, children who speak English and understand French, and grand-children who speak and understand only English."[10]

Conwell also claimed that some of the lost status of Louisiana French had been restored, partly because many of the French interpreters that the American army had used in World War II were Louisiana French speakers. Also, there were more French radio and television programs and French was being taught in elementary schools.

The decision to teach French to children was well-received since grandparents hoped for better opportunities for communicating with their grandchildren.[10]

Some residents of Acadiana are bilingual, having learned French at home and English in school. The number of speakers of Colonial Louisiana French has diminished considerably since the middle of the 20th century, but efforts are being made to reintroduce the language in schools. The Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) was established in 1968 to promote the preservation of French language and culture in Louisiana. In addition to this, some Louisiana universities, such as LSU, offer courses in "Cajun French" in the hopes of preserving the language.

Some people question whether the Louisiana French language will survive another generation.[3] Many parents intentionally have not taught their children the French language to encourage English-language fluency, hoping that the children would have a better life in an English-speaking nation. However, many grandparents are discovering that their grandchildren are researching and trying to learn the language.

Many young adults are learning enough French to understand French music lyrics. Also, there is now a trend to use the French language websites to learn the dialect. Culinary words and terms of endearment such as "cher" /ʃæ/ (dear) and "nonc" (uncle) are still heard among otherwise English-speaking Cajuns and Creoles. Currently, Louisiana French is considered an endangered language.

The Louisiana state legislature has greatly shifted its stance on the status of French. Since the passage of Legislative Act No. 409 in 1968, the Louisiana governor is granted the authorization "to establish the Council for the Development of Louisiana-French" and that the agency is to consist of no more than fifty members, including a chairman. The name was soon changed to CODOFIL and was granted the power to "do anything possible and necessary to encourage the development, usage and preservation of French as it exists in Louisiana.[11]

An article written online by the Université Laval argues that the state of Louisiana's shift, from an anti-French stance to one of soft promotion has been of great importance, to the survival of the language. The article states that it is advantageous to invigorate the revival of the language to better cherish the state's rich heritage and to protect a Francophone minority that has suffered greatly from negligence by political and religious leaders. Furthermore, the university's article claims that it is CODOFIL and not the state itself that sets language policy and that the only political stance the state of Louisiana makes is that of noninterference. All of this culminates in the fact that outside the extreme southern portions of the state, French remains a secondary language that retains heavy cultural and identity values.[12]

According to Jacques Henry, former executive director of CODOFIL, much progress has been made for Francophones and that the future of French in Louisiana is not merely a symbolic one. According to statistics gathered by CODOFIL, the past twenty years has seen widespread acceptance of French-immersion programs. He goes further to write that the official recognition, appreciation by parents, and inclusion of French in schools reflects growing valorization of the language and French ends his article by writing that ultimately the survival of French in Louisiana will be guaranteed by Louisianan parents and politicians, stating that French's survival is by no means guaranteed but that there is still hope.[13]

Code-switching and lexical borrowing

Code-switching occurs frequently in Cajun French. This is typical for many language contact situations.[14] Code-switching was once viewed as a sign of poor education, but it is now understood to be an indication of proficiency in the two different languages that a speaker uses. Fluent French speakers frequently alternate from French to American English, but less proficient speakers will usually not.[15]

Examples of code-switching in Louisiana French spoken by a 64-year-old woman in Pierre Part

1. Il y avait une fois il drivait, il travaillait huit jours on et six jours off. Et il drivait, tu sais, six jours off. Ça le prendrait vingt-quatre heures straight through. Et là il restait quatre jours ici et il retournait. So quand la seconde fois ç’a venu, well, il dit, “Moi, si tu viens pas,” il dit, “je vas pas.” Ça fait que là j’ai été. Boy! Sa pauvre mère. “Vas pas!”

One time he was driving, he was working eight days on and six days off. And he was driving, y’know, six days off. It would take him twenty-four hours straight through. And he would stay here four days and then go back. So when the second time came, well, he said, “If you don’t come,” he said, “I’m not going.” So I went. Boy! His poor mother. “Don’t go!” she said. “Don’t go!”[14]

2. Le samedi après-midi on allait puis…wringer le cou de la volaille. Et le dimanche, well, dimanche ça c’était notre meilleure journée qu’on avait plus de bon manger. Ma mère freezait de la volaille et on avait de la poutine aux craquettes.

Saturday afternoon we would go…wring the chicken’s neck. And on Sunday, well, Sunday, that was our best day for eating well. My mother would freeze some chicken and we would have some poutine of croquettes.[15]

Notable Louisiana French-speaking people

See also



  1. Cajun French at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Cajun French". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. 1 2 Language Labels (French in Louisiana), Tulane University.
  4. "Iberia$Content/Cajun+French+Definition?OpenDocument". Retrieved 2013-09-10.
  5. Brasseaux, Carl A. 1992. Acadian to Cajun: transformation of a people, 1803-1877. Jackson and London: University Press of Mississippi.
  6. Three Local Tribes Await Federal Decision, December 8, 2007, Houma Today.
  7. O'Daigle, James (1984). A Dictionary of the Cajun Language. Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards Brothers, Inc.
  8. Valdman, Albert (2009). Dictionary of Louisiana French: As Spoken in Cajun, Creole, and American Indian Communities. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1604734034.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 Conwell, Marilyn (1963). Louisiana French Grammar. The Hague: Mouton & Co. pp. 18–19.
  10. 1 2 3 Conwell, Marilyn (1963). Louisiana French Grammar. The Hague: Mouton & Co. p. 19.
  11. "CODOFIL".
  12. "Louisiane: La politique linguistique actuelle en Louisiane". Université Laval. 2008-05-16.
  13. Jacques, Henry. "Le Français en Louisiane: Le Doubt puis L'Espoir" (PDF) (in French).
  14. 1 2 Blyth, Carl (1997). French and Creole in Louisiana. New York, N.Y.: Plenum Press. p. 40. ISBN 0-306-45464-5.
  15. 1 2 Blyth, Carl (1997). French and Creole in Louisiana. New York, N.Y.: Plenum Press. p. 41. ISBN 0-306-45464-5.

General references

External links

Cajun French test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator
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