Posted by Jim Johnson on November 28, 2012 1 Comment
Cajun accents express the spice of the bayou culture of southern Louisiana, but just like the foods, there are variations in the recipe for learning a Cajun accent.
There is an area of eastern Canada known as Acadia which was and still is a primarily French-speaking region. It was a region under dispute, commonly claimed by both the English and the French, so it was a region that also saw a great deal of war, disputing governance.
It wasn't considered prime real estate in the 1600's, however. Most of the immigrants were poor Europeans who settled in the marshy lands and subsisted on farming, hunting and fishing, but they didn't tend to take in enough to do much trade. They were primarily focused on getting enough to provide for themselves.
As time passed, the Acadians began to drain some of the marshland and develop it into valuable farmlands. The increasing value of the land and the expanded trade that came with the improvements drew the attention of the English, who seized the area during the French and Indian War in the mid-18th century. Many Acadians were forced out in what became known as the Great Expulsion.
Some Acadians fled to other parts of French-speaking Canada, while others were forcibly moved to other British colonies, England and France. Eventually many of the Acadians who had attempted to remain in Canada were also expelled. Some eventually settled in some of the American colonies along the east coast.
A lot of the Acadians were treated very poorly, and many died due to rough conditions and mistreatment. They were a people without a home, even once France agreed to repatriate them. Acadians didn't belong anywhere.
Spain had taken over American territories, including modern-day Louisiana. Because France and Spain were on good terms and immigration was encouraged, many of these displaced Acadians saw an opportunity to find a new homeland. Southern Louisiana even had some similar conditions to Acadia, with the swamps along the coast and the Mississippi River.
They were able to live in isolation in this "undesirable" swampland. The Acadian culture was allowed to flourish, and French remained the primary language.
The transplanted Acadians were not alone in Louisiana. They began to intermarry with others who already lived there: French and Spanish colonists, Native Americans and blacks in the region interacted with and blended in with the Acadian culture. The term Acadian eventually transformed to a Cajun, and the term stuck.
The Cajun culture flourished for a time as non-Acadians were assimilated, and Cajun and Creole cultures intermingled. Cajuns further developed distinct traditions of food, music and culture, and French remained the primary language.
In the early 20th century, however, there was an attack on the Cajun culture in the form of education reform. New laws requiring uniform public education brought many Cajun children into the schools, but speaking Cajun French was not tolerated.
One individual I interviewed shared stories of being beaten for speaking any French in school or anywhere on school grounds. English was to be the language for the uniform education.
Oddly enough, through reforms of the late 20th century, Cajun French is now taught in many schools in Southern Louisiana with attempts to revive the language and to embrace the culture. Cajun food and culture are now symbols of pride and are a great economic boon.
Unfortunately there is a generation that was discouraged from speaking the language, though it still has an influence on their accents. There is not necessarily a French quality to their sound, but there is still that distinct Cajun flavor to their speech. This is especially common for people under 30 who may only speak a few words and phrases in French.
I had the opportunity to capture a range of accents for the AccentHelp Cajun download. There is an excellent example of a French-influenced Cajun speaker, though his wife - also a Cajun - has a distinctly east Texas/west Louisiana accent. I was also privileged enough to interview a woman who spends most of her time speaking exclusively in Cajun French. During our interview, I often couldn't tell when she switched from French to English because of how thick her accent was.
When learning a Cajun accent, it's best to start with a stronger version of the accent so that you can grasp the changes and the overall flavor of it. Once you have that, you can adjust it to the appropriate strength for the character, but you don't want to miss out on that essential Cajun spice!