Date: Wed, 20 Apr 1994 12:36:50 CDT


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

the population?

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.

Mike Picone

University of Alabama