Cajun English, or Cajun Vernacular English, is a dialect of American English spoken by Cajuns living in Southern Louisiana. Cajun English is significantly influenced by Louisiana French, the historical language of the Cajun people, a subset of Louisiana Creoles — although many today prefer not to identify as such — who descend largely from the Acadian people expelled from the Maritime provinces during Le Grand Dérangement (among many others).
English is now spoken by the vast majority of the Cajun population, but French influence remains strong in terms of inflection and vocabulary. Their accent is considerably distinct from General American accents. Cajun French is considered by many to be an endangered language, mostly used by elderly generations. However, French in Louisiana is now seeing something of a cultural renaissance.
Cajun English is spoken throughout Acadiana. Its speakers are often descendants of Acadians from Nova Scotia, Canada, who in 1755 migrated to French-owned Louisiana after the British took control of Nova Scotia and expelled them from their land. In 1803 however, the United States purchased the territory of Louisiana and, in 1812, when Louisiana drafted their first state Constitution in order to be granted statehood, the English language received official sanction as the language of promulgation and preservation of laws. Despite this change, many Cajuns at the time who lived in small towns and were poorly educated, continued to use French exclusively. This isolated them, subjecting them to ridicule and treatment as second-class citizens. In the 1930s, English was the only language taught in schools and students who spoke French were punished and humiliated in front of their class. The Cajuns still continued to use Cajun French at home and in their communities, but this led to a stigma being associated with the language, and, as a result, parents stopped teaching it to their children. The combination of being native French speakers, and the incomplete English that the Cajun children were learning during their inconsistent public education, led to the advent of Cajun English, a fusion of both languages.
Many decades later, new generations of Cajuns perceived a loss of cultural identity, and their efforts to recover it started the Cajun Renaissance. The corresponding popularity of Cajun food, music, and festivities have been well received by tourists and some programs are now supported by the state government. Although Cajun English has made a comeback, the bilingualism that originally created it, a knowledge of both French and English, has not. Cajun English speakers today typically do not speak French, and experts believe that it is unlikely that this part of the culture will be recovered. This shift away from bilingualism has changed the source of many of the phonological differences between Cajun English and Standard American English from interference caused by being a native French speaker to markers of Cajun identity.
|English diaphoneme||Cajun phoneme||Example words|
|Pure vowels (Monophthongs)|
|/æ/||[æ]||act, pal, trap, ham, pass|
|/ɑː/||[ɑ]||blah, bother, father,
lot, top, wasp
|[a]||all, dog, bought,
loss, saw, taught
|/ɛ/||[ɛ~æ]||dress, met, bread|
|/ə/||[ə]||about, syrup, arena|
|/ɪ/||[ɪ]||hit, skim, tip|
|/iː/||[i]||beam, chic, fleet|
|/ʌ/||[ʌ]||bus, flood, what|
|/ʊ/||[ʊ]||book, put, should|
|/uː/||[u]||food, glue, new|
|/aɪ/||[ɑɪ~aː]||ride, shine, try,
bright, dice, pike
|/aʊ/||[aʊ~aː]||now, ouch, scout|
|/eɪ/||[eː]||lake, paid, rein|
|/ɔɪ/||[ɔɪ]||boy, choice, moist|
|/oʊ/||[oː]||goat, oh, show|
|/ɑːr/||[ɑ~a]||barn, car, park|
|/ɛər/||[ɛ~æ]||bare, bear, there|
|/ɜːr/||[ʌə~ʌɹ]||burn, first, herd|
|/ər/||[əɹ]||doctor, martyr, pervade|
|/ɪr/||[i~ɪ]||fear, peer, tier|
|/ɔːr/||[ɔə~ɔɹ]||hoarse, horse, war|
|/ʊər/||[uə~ʊə]||poor, score, tour|
|/jʊər/||cure, Europe, pure|
Cajun English is distinguished by some of the following phonological features:
Non-rhoticity, unlike most of the American south, cajun accents tend to drop r after vowel sounds.
There are several phrases used by Cajuns that are not used by non-Cajun speakers. Some common phrases are listed below:
"Come see" is the equivalent of saying "come here" regardless of whether or not there is something to "see." The French "viens voir," or "venez voir," meaning "come" or "please come," is often used in Cajun French to ask people to come. This phrasing may have its roots in "viens voir ici" (IPA: [isi]), the French word for "here."
Instead of "When did you go?"
To "save the dishes" means to "put away the dishes into cupboards where they belong after being washed". While dishes are the most common subject, it is not uncommon to save other things. For example: Save up the clothes, saving the tools, save your toys.
"Getting/Running down at the store" involves stepping out of a car to enter the store. Most commonly, the driver will ask the passenger, "Are you getting/running down (also)?" One can get down at any place, not just the store. The phrase "get down" may come from the act of "getting down from a horse" as many areas of Acadiana were only accessible by horse well into the 20th century. It also may originate from the French language descendre meaning to get down, much as some English-Spanish bilingual speakers say "get down," from the Spanish bajar.
"Makin' groceries" refers to the act of buying groceries, rather than that of manufacturing them. The confusion originates from the direct translation of the American French phrase "faire l'épicerie" which is understood by speakers to mean "to do the grocery shopping." "Faire" as used in the French language can mean either "to do" or "to make." This is a term frequently used in New Orleans, but it's not used very much elsewhere in the Acadiana area.
"Making water" is using the bathroom, specifically with reference to urination.[clarification needed] One would say, "I need to go make water." It's mostly used in New Orleans.
Cajun English speakers can exhibit a tendency to use "for" instead of "at" when referring to time. For example, "I'll be there for 2 o'clock." means "I'll be there at 2 o'clock." Given the connection between Cajun English and Acadia, this is also seen among Canadian English speakers.