Date: Wed, 20 Apr 1994 12:36:50 CDT
From: Mike Picone MPICONE[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UA1VM.BITNET
Subject: Re: Cajun query
To answer the queries on Cajun language & culture:
1. Should Cajun language be labelled as a language or as a dialect?
A dialect, if one considers mutually intelligibility with Metropolitan
French to be the criteria. (However, don't most languages end up being
called a `language' for political reasons?) But this is complicated by the
fact that a continuum exists such that some would include
Louisiana Creole in the realm of Louisiana French.
2. Is Cajun language a composition of several languages, and if so, which
Louisiana French is owing to the combination of elements from `Colonial
French', Acadian French, Creole and lexical contributions from Spanish,
Choctaw, African languages and other Native American languages. But it
is not homogeneous, and different varieties will exhibit greater or
lesser commonality with Colonial or Creole. In almost all cases, however,
the Acadian element is dominant.
3. Is Cajun language still spoken on a large scale in Louisiana? Is it still
being used in, for instance, local newspapers, local radio and TV stations,
Estimates vary, but there remain several hundred thousand speakers of
Cajun French in Louisiana and Southeastern Texas. Fluent speakers are
generally over 55 yrs. old. This is due to transmission failure because of
the official policy of stigmatization pursued in Louisiana until 1968. There
are only a couple `newspapers' in French (one by CODFIL=Council for
the Development of French in Louisiana, La Gazette de Louisiane) but
very few read them because Cajun French speakers are typically illiterate
in French. On the other hand, some local news programs and religious
broadcasts on TV set aside a few minutes for French each day. There are
a few radio programs and even a couple of radio stations that broadcast
predominantly of exclusively in French.
4. Is Cajun language spoken by several population groups or just one group of
There is a mosaic that includes whites, African Americans and Native
Americans. Some African Americans speak Creole varieties, others are
indistinguishable from the white Cajun majority. The whites include
the descendants of the Acadian immigrants, descendants of other French
colonists arriving both before and after the Acadian immigrations (1765-
1785), and immigrants of many other nationalities that assimilated to
the dominant Acadian Cajun code. Germans are especially well represented.
5. Could you give some examples of typical Cajun words or sayings, etc.?
The two classic phrases are: Laissez rouler les bons temps
`Let the good times roll'
La^che pas la patate
`Hang in there' (lit. don't drop the potato)
6. Has Cajun language undergone any major developments through the ages or
has it more or less remained the same as it was in the 18th century?
It's hard to say since there are few written records of earlier forms
of Cajun French. Clearly, however, there has been change. The
vocabulary has been enriched in past periods, but with growing
bilingualism and English dominance, code-switching and other `intercode'
phenomena have replaced French-sourced productivity.
7. Is Cajun language also spoken in schools in Louisiana or should standard
American English only be spoke in schools?
There are some immersion programs in Louisiana public schools to promote
French among the young. In most cases it is not Cajun French that is
being taught, though teachers (who are usually from France, Quebec or
Belgium) do get some orientation concerning local French. From the
turn of the century until the policy reversal in 1968, French in
school was greatly discouraged and, for a time, even against the law.
8. Also, if there is some sort of Cajun (cultural) institution, could you
send me the name and the address of this institution?
Two possibly useful adresses:
University of Southwestern Louisiana
Center for Acadian and Creole Folklore
Lafayette, Louisiana 70504
217 West Main Street
Lafayette, Louisiana 70501-6843
For a very readable overview of Cajun culture: _Cajun Country_ by Ancelet
et al, University Press of Mississippi, 1991. It also contains some
transcriptions of Cajun French stories, jokes and songs with translations.
That's all I have time for. Hope it will be helpful to you.
University of Alabama