Cajun vs. acadian

How close is Cajun French to Acadian French? I read that many Metropolitan French have trouble understanding Acadian French, but Cajun French seems a direct decendent of Acadian French–so, there shouldn’t be much problem, right?

I may be out to lunch here – Louisianans, please correct me – but my impression is that Cajun is a dialect of English that has incorporated a large number of French terms owing to the Cajuns’ Acadian heritage. Is there a significant population of actual Francophones in the Cajun areas of Louisiana?

There is such a thing as Cajun French but it is really rare these days and it is quickly dying. I have only met a couple of people that spoke it as a native language and they were very old and also spoke English. However, there is a movement to keep it alive as a second language in Southern Louisiana especially in the Lafayette, LA area. Tulane, where me and my ex-wife went to college, had a strong French department and she majored in it. There were courses in Cajun and Creole French dialect and history and she can speak some of those as well. As a side-note, most people don’t know that New Orleans is not in the Cajun area of Louisiana. There is the “Cajun Triangle” that is roughly bounded by the cities of Alexandria, Baton Rouge and Lafayette and it doesn’t include New Orleans. New Orleans had Creole French however.

You are right though that Cajun is mainly an English dialect these days that includes some French words and some unique French-like words plus a distinctive accent. That can still be found easily. I don’t know enough about Acadian French to comment on the similarities. They are directly related but they broke off a very long time ago and evolved in very different environments after that.

Not so many anymore, but there are still a few parishes with over 20% French speakers. The language is dying out in Louisiana, but there are still people trying to save it.

If you’re curious as to what Cajun French sounds like, here’s a poem by Cajun folklorist and nationalist Barry Ancelet (writing as Jean Arceneau) “Colonihilisme” (Colonihilism)

Some Cajuns friends of ours who lived in LaFayette introduced us to his parents who lived in Mamou. They were elderly and spoke only a dialect of French and no English. My friend’s children speak very little French at all. That’s a little sad to see.

I think of that sometimes when I see the older generations speaking Spanish in my neighborhood and some are so insistent that their grandchildren should speak only English.

Anyway, Mamou is the place to be for Mardi Gras! It’s quite unusual. It has to do with chickens and horses.

Wikipedia does a fairly good job of addressing parts of this question for the Cajun French side. I still don’t know that much about current Acadian French though to make the direct comparison.

This type of Mardi Gras celebration is nicely depicted in Pat Mire’s film “Dance for a Chicken.” It’s quite entertaining and enlightening to see, especially if your concept of Mardi Gras is limited (like mine was) to New Orleans-style parades and throngs of breast-baring/breast-ogling drunks. There’s an article about it here, but the film is much more fun. It’s not every day, nor everywhere, you see someone dancing on horseback.

I didn’t realize when I posted my first link above that it actually plays the whole film. Set aside an hour and watch it; I think you’ll find it quite an enjoyable experience.

That looks an awful lot like standard French w some poetic phrasings thrown in. I’d expect the real dialectal stuff is rather farther away if there are mutual intelligibility problems.

I think you’re right. I’m having trouble finding actual examples of Cajun French. Here’s a scene from the 1948 “Louisiana Story” which was basically a 1948 propaganda film put out by Standard Oil. I think this is Cajun French:

There’s a little bit of Cajun French (with English subtitles) in the film I linked to above.

Years ago I was visiting a friend who lives in New Orleans who had a book on Cajun culture. Part of it discussed how Cajun French differs from other French. I don’t know French, so I just skimmed it, but I recall that one difference is that certain word endings (for verbs, I believe) are left off in Cajun French.

I also read or saw something years ago that told how during WWII, Cajun soldiers in France were able to communicate effectively with the people there, despite having often been told that their language wasn’t “real” French.

30 years ago when I was in grad school in Lafayette, my wife worked at Trappey’s, a vegetable cannery. The women who worked for her were real Cajuns. My wife had a good bit of French in college, but it was French French, and she could understand a bit of what the women were saying - but it definitely was not English (except for some loan words.)

At that time there were distinctive dialects from people living just 30 miles apart, and the Lafayette women made fun of the French of the Abbeville women. This was during the oil boom, and the roads between towns were a lot better, so I’m not surprised that the dialects are merging. Even back then there was a lot of concern about the Cajun French language dying, and some people were trying to make it a written language.

We lived there before Cajun food became a fad, and there was little if any Cajun food in New Orleans (except maybe a Don’s Seafood.)