Date: Tue, 24 Jan 1995 10:49:30 CST


Subject: Cajuns & TV

The question of TV influence in the chronology of the decline of Cajun

French is to be viewed in the larger context of a web of inroads into

Cajun life and community made by the dominant Anglo culture. While

the end to backwoods isolation brought with it economic opportunities,

especially in the wake of the oil boon and its spin-off industries, it

has also brought Cajun French to the brink of its existence. TV is a part

of this equation, and so, indirectly, it has been an instrument of decline

contributing to the demise of many things Cajun, including the language.

It would be hard to prove, however, that TV directly disturbed the Cajun

language by its mere presence. The most debilitating element affecting the

language was its systematic stigmatzation to the point that parents no

longer spoke it to their kids, for fear that the latter would be dis-

enfranchized. For the first half of the present century, French was an

`illegal language', proscribed from use in educational institutions by

state law.

Now what constitute an interesting problem is the following scenario: Cajun

French speakers abandon wholesale their dominant language to speak English

at home for benefit of kids; kids must constitute a dominant code for them-

selves in English from the semi-lingual parents and from whatever other

English raw material they come in contact with. School is an obvious place,

but if their peer group is mostly other kids in the same situation, then

kids will reinforce each other in the adoption of a distictively local code.

Certainly something of this sort took place to explain the existence of

Cajun English, even among many monolinguals. However, some Cajuns feel as if

they have been deprived of both languages. This perception is probably mostly

due to the stigmatization associated with both Cajun codes, but it is also

possible that, given the special set of circumstances suggested above, a

variety of codes exist that leave their speakers feeling like semi-

linguals when interacting with anyone from outside. It is also possible

that some Cajuns would look to radio and TV more for the benefit of their

English. At least one lay testimony would lead us to believe this is so:

" 1950, when television became prominent in most Cajun households,

the Cajuns were stripped of their culture and language and were unable

to learn the American culture and language. Television provided that

means. Television simply taught Cajuns how to speak English."

(Randall P. Whatley & Harry Jannise, _Converstional Cajun French I_, p. x,


To say that TV taught Cajuns English is an obvious exaggeration, but behind

it lies some valid testimony to the importance of TV as a point of reference

in a context where reference points were up for grabs. Perhaps, therefore,

TV had special impact on some Cajuns, but this impact was obviously limited

in scope since Cajun English is not TV English. At any rate, to the extent

that TV did have linguistic impact, it was the prior stigmatization of French

and abrupt transmission failure that paved the way for this, not the mere

presence of TV.

Mike Picone

University of Alabama