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Cajun French
français cadien/français cadjin
Spoken in Louisiana
Total speakers Unknown
Language family Indo-European
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2
ISO 639-3 frc
Louisiana French.svg

French spread in Louisiana. Parishes marked in yellow are those where 4–10% of the population speak French or Cajun French at home, orange 10–15%, red 15–20%, brown 20–30%.
Bienvenue en Louisiane
Louisiana state welcome sign

Cajun French (sometimes called Louisiana Regional French[1]) is a variety or dialects of the French language spoken primarily in the U.S. state of Louisiana, specifically in the southern parishes of Orleans, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, Jefferson, West Baton Rouge, Pointe Coupée, Avoyelles, St. Mary, Iberia, Assumption, and St. Landry.

While historically other Louisiana French dialects including Napoleonic French and Colonial or Plantation Society French have been spoken in the state, these are now considered to have largely merged with the original Cajun dialects.[2] Cajun French is not the same as Louisiana Creole.[2]

Cajun French is almost solely derived from Acadian French as it was spoken in the French colony of Acadia (located in what is now the Maritime provinces of Canada and in Maine), however a significant amount of cultural vocabulary is derived from Spanish, German, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole.[3].


Parishes where Cajun French is spoken


The French began sending colonists to Louisiana around the turn of the 18th century. The majority were residents of a small band of French provinces, most notably Île de France[4].

In 1755 (during the French and Indian War), about 75% of the Acadian population living in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia was deported in what is often known as the Great Expulsion (Grand Dérangement). Between 1765 and 1785, often following a long exile in the American colonies or in France, many of the exiles resettled in Louisiana, establishing the culture and language there. Through the Acadian French language, Cajun is ultimately descended from the dialects of Anjou and Poitou. The word "Cajun" is an anglicization of "Cadien," itself a shortened pronunciation of "Acadien."

French immigration continued in the 19th century until the start of the 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 Cajun French[5].

Over time Cajun became the firmly established language of many south Louisiana parishes. Cajun was not only spoken by the Cajun people but also by other ethnic groups that lived in Acadian settled areas. Creoles, Amerindian ethnic groups such as the Houma, Chitimacha, Pointe-au-Chien,[6] Bayougoula, Tunica-Biloxi, Atakapa, Opelousa, Okelousa, and Avoyel, through their cohabitation in south Louisiana's parishes eventually became proficient in Cajun French. Creoles and Amerindians already spoke 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. 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 is spoken is called Acadiana (not to be confused with Acadia, which refers to the region 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.

In 1984, Jules O. Daigle, a Roman Catholic priest, published A Dictionary of the Cajun Language[7] the first dictionary devoted to Cajun French. It is generally considered the authority on the language, though it is not exhaustive. It does not contain some alternate spellings and synonyms which Father Daigle deemed "perversions" of the language, but which are nonetheless popular among Cajun speakers and writers.


Decline and resurgence

Many residents of Acadiana are bilingual, having learned French at home and English in school. In recent years the number of speakers of Cajun French has diminished considerably, 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 Cajun language will survive another generation.[1] The number of people who speak Cajun has declined dramatically over the last fifty years. Many parents intentionally did not teach their children the Cajun language to encourage English language fluency, in hopes that the children would have a better life in an English-speaking nation. However, many of these same parents are discovering that their grandchildren are researching and trying to learn the language.

Many young adults are learning enough Cajun to understand Cajun music lyrics. Also, there is now a trend to use Cajun 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. Some of the language will continue to exist, but whether many people will be able to conduct a full and fluent conversation in the language is still uncertain. Currently, Cajun French is considered an endangered language.

Be this as it may, the Louisiana state legislature has greatly shifted its stance on the status of French. With the passage of Legislative Act No. 409 in 1968, the Louisiana governor was, and still 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. [8]

An article written online by the Université Laval argues that the state of Louisiana's shift from anti-French to softly promoting the language has been of great importance to the survival of the language. The article states that it is advantageous to envigorate the revival of the language in order to better cherish the state's rich heritage as well as 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 retains language politics and that the only political stance the state of Louisiana makes is that of non interference. All of this culminates in the fact that outside of the extreme southern portions of the state, French remains a secondary language that retains heavy cultural and identity values.[9]

According to Jacques Henry, chairman 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. Mr. Henry goes further to write that the official recognition, appreciation by parents, and inclusion of French in schools reflects growing valorization of the language and francophone culture. Henry ends his article by writing that ultimately the survival of French in Louisiana will be guaranteed by Cajun parents and politicians, stating that the French language's survival is by no means guaranteed but that there is still hope.[10]


Cajun French often varies by community and ethnic group. However, Cajun French can be said to have two general dialects: Prairie French and Bayou French.[11]

Prairie French

Prairie French is spoken among Cajun, Creole and Black residents in southwest Louisiana.

Bayou French

Bayou French is primarily spoken among Cajuns and American Indians in southeast Louisiana. The Black population of southeast Louisiana now only has a few fluent speakers.

Borrowed words

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Words of Native American origin

Words of Native American Origin[12]
Term Gloss Origin
About this sound Bayou Bayou Choctaw bayuk
About this sound Chaoui Raccoon Choctaw or Mobilian shaui
About this sound Choupique Bowfin Choctaw shupik, "mudfish"
About this sound Latanier Palmetto Carib allatani
About this sound Pacane Pecan Algonquian via Mobilian
About this sound Patassa Sunfish Choctaw patàssa "flat"
About this sound Plaquemine Persimmon Illinois piakimin, via Mobilian
About this sound Tchoc (Black)bird Possibly Atakapa t'sak

See also



  1. ^ a b Language Labels (French in Louisiana), Tulane University.
  2. ^ a b [1]
  3. ^ Nadeau, Jean-Benoît, and Julie Barlow. The Story of French. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2006.
  4. ^ Brasseaux, Carl A. 1987. The Founding of New Acadia. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press
  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. ^ Clarence's Guide to the Cajun French Language, Cajun Phrases, and Cajun Dictionary
  8. ^ CODOFIL Conseil pour le développement du français en Louisiane, Bienvenue,
  9. ^ Louisiane: La politique linguistique actuelle en Louisiane, Université Laval, 16-5-08,
  10. ^ Henry, Jacques. "Le Français en Louisiane: Le Doubt puis L'Espoire",
  11. ^ Cajun Subcultures
  12. ^ Read, William A. 1931. Louisiana-French. Revised edition. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.

General references

Cajun French Dictionary and Phrasebook by Clint Bruce and Jennifer Gipson ISBN 0-7818-0915-0. Hippocrene Books Inc.

Tonnerre mes chiens! A glossary of Louisiana French figures of speech by Amanda LaFleur ISBN 0-9670838-9-3. Renouveau Publishing.

A Dictionary of the Cajun Language by Rev. Msgr. Jules O. Daigle, M.A., S.T.L. ISBN 0-9614245-3-2. Swallow Publications, Inc.

Cajun Self-Taught by Rev. Msgr. Jules O. Daigle, M.A., S.T.L. ISBN 0-9614245-4-0. Swallow Publications, Inc.

Language Shift in the Coastal Marshes of Louisiana by Kevin J. Rottet ISBN 0-8204-4980-6. Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Conversational Cajun French I by Harry Jannise and Randall P. Whatley ISBN 0-8828-9316-5. The Chicot Press.

External links


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