Cajun French

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Further information: Cajun
Cajun French
français cadien/français cadjin
Native to Louisiana
Native speakers
250,000  (date missing)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 frc
Glottolog caju1236[2]
Linguasphere 51-AAA-hp
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%.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Cajun French (French: français cadien/français cadjin) (sometimes called Louisiana Regional French)[3] is a variety of the French language spoken primarily in Louisiana, specifically in the southern and southwestern parishes.

While historically other Louisiana French dialects, including Colonial or Plantation Society French, have been spoken in the state, these are now considered to have largely merged with the original Cajun dialects.[4] However, there are significant populations of Louisiana Creoles—descended from European, African, and Native American ancestors—who continue to speak this variety of French. Parishes where this dialect is found include, but are not limited to, Avoyelles, Iberia, Pointe Coupée, St. Martin, St. Landry, St. Mary, St. Tammany, Terrebonne, Plaquemines, and other parishes south of Orleans.

Cajun French is derived from a mixture of the original French spoken by French soldiers and settlers in Louisiana before the arrival of the Acadians, mixed with the French of the Acadians and that of many other waves of French speakers from places such as France or the former French colony of Saint Domingue, now Haiti.  The language incorporates words of African, Spanish, Native American and English origin.  Areas of the state that have almost no population of Acadian origin, such as the parishes of Avoyelles, Evangeline and St. Landry, speak a French that is mutually comprehensible with, and very similar to, the French spoken in areas where the population is heavily of Acadian origin.

The French of the Acadians and the French of the earlier colonial period and later waves of colonists eventually merged and exist today in what may be considered a single language showing significant regional variation.  However, because the French of the Acadians is only one of its sources, and because it is spoken not only by people who call themselves Cajun but also by many Creoles of color, white Creoles and American Indians, the broader and more neutral label Louisiana French is preferable.  Many Creoles of color call the language that they speak “Creole” although it is really Louisiana French and not Louisiana Creole. Since Louisiana Creoles of color do not call themselves "Cajun," they do not call the language they speak "Cajun."

The number of speakers of Cajun French or Louisiana French is probably in the neighborhood of 200,000. The questions asked on the Louisiana census forms do not provide an accurate count of French-speakers in Louisiana.

In the early 1970s, the teaching of French became much more widespread beginning in elementary and secondary schools and contact between Louisiana and the francophone world greatly increased.  This 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. To an extent, this has begun to recreate an educated Louisiana French to occupy the place once held by the now extinct Louisiana Colonial French.

Cajun French is not the same as Louisiana Creole.[4] Cajun French is almost solely derived from Acadian French as it was spoken in the French colony of Acadia (located in what are now the Maritime provinces of Canada and in Maine) at the time of the expulsion of the Acadians in the mid-18th century; however, a significant amount of cultural vocabulary is derived from Spanish, German, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole.[5]

Cajun French, or Louisiana French, should be considered a continuum with normative French with Louisiana vocabulary and expressions at one end and creolized Louisiana French at the other. At some point the Louisiana French becomes so creolized that it is better described as Louisiana Creole French, a separate language.

Parishes where Cajun French is spoken[edit]


Bienvenue en Louisiane
Louisiana state welcome sign

The French 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 (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 Cajun French.[6]

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,[7] 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 the first dictionary devoted to Cajun French. Once considered an authority on the language, it is not exhaustive; it omits alternate spellings and synonyms which Father Daigle deemed "perversions" of the language, but which are nonetheless popular among Cajun speakers and writers.[8] Though remaining useful today, Daigle's dictionary has been superseded by Dictionary of Louisiana French (2010) edited by Albert Valdman and other authorities on the language.[9]


The original Acadian community was composed mainly of farmers and fisherman who were able to provide their children with a reasonable amount of schooling. However, the hardship 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 these schools only long enough to learn counting and reading.[10] 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.[10] This educational system did not allow for much contact with Standard French.[10]

The strong influence of English language education on the Cajun community began when Louisiana became a state in 1812 and 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 where class was conducted in French. These French schools worked to emphasized 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 these teachers, and generally ignored them by continuing to speak French. Eventually, this led to children being punished for speaking French on school grounds.[10] This 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.[10]

Preservation efforts[edit]

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,”[11] Louisiana French Grammar, in 1963. Conwell focused on the French spoken in Lafayette, Louisiana and evaluated what was then its present-day status. Conwell pointed out that the gradual decline of Cajun 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.”[11] Conwell also claimed that some of the lost status of Cajun French had been restored, partly because many of the French interpreters that the American army had used in WWII were Louisiana French speakers. Also, there were more French radio and television programs and French was being taught in elementary schools. This decision to teach French to children was well-received, since grandparents hoped for better opportunities for communicating with their grandchildren.[11]

Some residents of Acadiana are bilingual, having learned French at home and English in school. The number of speakers of Cajun 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 Cajun language will survive another generation.[3] Many parents intentionally have not taught 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 grandparents 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. Currently, Cajun French is considered an endangered language.

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.[12]

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 invigorate 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 sets language policy 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.[13]

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. 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.[14]


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.[15]

Prairie French[edit]

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

Bayou French[edit]

Bayou French is primarily spoken among Cajuns and American Indians in southeast Louisiana. The Black population of southeast Louisiana now only has a few speakers and those are mostly non-fluent. It has a thicker creole influence, and bilingual speakers of creole tend to switch back and forth in this accent.

Borrowed words[edit]

Words of Native American origin[edit]

Words of Native American Origin[16]
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

Code-switching and lexical borrowing[edit]

Code-switching occurs frequently in Cajun French. This is typical for many language contact situations.[17] Code-switching was once viewed as a sign of poor language skills, but it is now understood to be an indication of proficiency in the two different languages which a speaker employs. Fluent Cajun French speakers frequently alternate from Cajun French to American English, while less proficient speakers will usually not.[18]

Examples of code-switching in Cajun French spoken by a 64 year-old woman in Pierre Part[edit]

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. Ca 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.” Ca 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!”[17]

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 aux craquettes.[18]

Notable Cajun French speaking people[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Cajun French at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Cajun French". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b Language Labels (French in Louisiana), Tulane University.
  4. ^ a b "Iberia$Content/Cajun+French+Definition?OpenDocument". Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  5. ^ Nadeau, Jean-Benoît, and Julie Barlow. The Story of French. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2006
  6. ^ Brasseaux, Carl A. 1992. Acadian to Cajun: transformation of a people, 1803-1877. Jackson and London: University Press of Mississippi.
  7. ^ Three Local Tribes Await Federal Decision, December 8, 2007, Houma Today.
  8. ^ O'Daigle, James (1984). A Dictionary of the Cajun Language. Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards Brothers, Inc. 
  9. ^ Valdman, Albert (2009). Dictionary of Louisiana French: As Spoken in Cajun, Creole, and American Indian Communities. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1604734034. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Conwell, Marilyn (1963). Louisiana French Grammar. The Hague: Mouton & Co. pp. 18–19. 
  11. ^ a b c Conwell, Marilyn (1963). Louisiana French Grammar. The Hague: Mouton & Co. p. 19. 
  12. ^ "CODOFIL". 
  13. ^ "Louisiane: La politique linguistique actuelle en Louisiane". Université Laval. 2008-05-16. 
  14. ^ Jacques, Henry. "Le Français en Louisiane: Le Doubt puis L'Espoir" (PDF) (in French). 
  15. ^ "Cajun Subcultures". Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  16. ^ Read, William A. 1931. Louisiana-French. Revised edition. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
  17. ^ a b Blyth, Carl (1997). French and Creole in Louisiana. New York, N.Y.: Plenum Press. p. 40. ISBN 0-306-45464-5. 
  18. ^ a b Blyth, Carl (1997). French and Creole in Louisiana. New York, N.Y.: Plenum Press. p. 41. ISBN 0-306-45464-5. 
  19. ^

General references[edit]

  • 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 0-88289-316-5. The Chicot Press.
  • Dictionary of Louisiana French as Spoken in Cajun, Creole, and American Indian Communities, senior editor Albert Valdman. ISBN 978-1-60473-403-4 Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010.

External links[edit]