Cursory statements about French in Louisiana usually list three separate varieties: “French”. French, Cajun French and Creole French. While very broadly speaking these distinctions, pertain, the actual situation is far more complex. Complicated too is the claim to the name, Creole.

The label Creole

There is “Creole” with a capital C, and there is “creole” with a lower-case initial. In its latter application, it refers to a type of language or culture and is not necessarily ethnically-specific. With an upper-case C, it refers to a member of a particular ethnicity, or to a specific language or culture. However not all speakers of creolized languages call themselves Creoles, and some populations who refer to themselves as Creoles do not speak a creole language.

The word originally meant anyone or anything originating in the Caribbean and other overseas colonies rather than in the land of their ancestors, i.e. Europe or Africa. Thus it could legitimately apply to both Europeans and Africans, and to subsequent locally-born generations springing from the union of both. It equally well applies to aspects of the new cultures emerging from the same contact, and we can thus speak of creole cookery or creole music as well.

In Louisiana, ownership of the term can cause conflict. As Tentchoff (1975: 91) says, “Black Creole speakers may identify themselves as Creoles. So, however, do some white French and Creole speakers. There are apparently two somewhat different meanings to the term . . . the semantic difference may in part be accounted for by the difference in historical origin of those using it.” She continues

Some white or black French or Creole speakers use the term “Creole” to mean “all native speakers of French,” black and white. In this instance it is identical in semantic content to the term “Cajun” . . . white speakers make a further distinction: whites are Cajuns and blacks are Negroes. “Cajun” in this contrast set becomes a secondary category with the meaning “white.” Other speakers of French use the term Creole in another way. It is an identity label but in this case it is used to distinguish descendants of “real Frenchmen” who came to Louisiana direct de la France, from “Cajuns” who arrived via Acadia.

Tinker (1935: 102) adamantly insisted that “the proud, sensitive Creoles . . . resented the association of ‘Creole’ with the black man’s baragouin . . . the real meaning of the noun ‘Creole’ can only be applied to a person entirely white, born of French or Spanish ancestors.”

Another (almost vanished) French-speaking population that refers to itself as Créole is found in scattered communities in the Mississippi River Valley in Missouri. These are the descendants of the coureurs des bois, fur-trappers also from Canada – though unrelated historically to the Louisiana Cajuns – and who settled in the region during the second half of the 18th century. The area they inhabited at the time of their arrival was known as Haute Louisiane, which no doubt accounts for their name. Their French dialect (called “Paw-Paw French”) has not been extensively described, though from the texts that we do have it has clearly calqued massively upon English (Carrière 1939). The mixed Russian-Aleutian population of Copper Island in the North Pacific between Siberia and Alaska are called Creoles (Hancock, 1996: 16), and the name has even been applied to speakers of “Armee-Slawisch,” a German-Slavic contact language once used by the military in the 19th century Austro-Hungarian Empire (Walter, 1999: 33).

1. “French” French

European metropolitan French, referred to in the literature as “plantation society French,” was widely spoken in Louisiana in colonial times by administrators and colonists from France, numbers added to by later settlers from the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and the French Revolution (1789-1799), Alsatian religious exiles, Catholic missionaries and others. It is referred to as “le bon français,” i.e. “good” French, and it is this “book” French which is taught in Louisiana schools, as elsewhere in the United States.1 In the late 19th century, Alcée Fortier wrote

The Creoles of Louisiana, and I mean by that expression the white descendants of the French and Spanish colonists . . . generally pronounce French well, and are remarkably free from any provincial accent. They have not, perhaps, the exact peculiarities of Parisian pronunciation, but speak like the inhabitants of Touraine and of l’Orléanais (1884: 98).

While varieties of French other than Cajun are undoubtedly spoken in Louisiana today by various groups (such as for example some Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants) “plantation society French” has been maintained via unbroken transmission since colonial times by a dwindling number of their descendants who live mainly in New Orleans and St. Martinville (once called “le petit Paris”). In 1952 Raleigh Morgan Jr. was still able to report that in St. Martin Parish, “a few aristocratic families were proud to represent French language and culture in the area and readily used this language in contacts with outsiders” (1970: 51), yet a decade later, Conwell & Juilland (1963:17) wrote that it was “no longer spoken by a community large enough to maintain its distinct character, [and it] has practically disappeared. It is preserved only artificially, in certain families and in cultural societies.” Far better documented is Cajun French.

louisiana_administrative map

Main LCF SPEAKING, BLUE areas (LFC: Louisiana Creole French)

2. Cajun French

Pronounced [keɪdʒən], “Cajun” derives from the English “Acadian” rather than directly from French ’cadien [kadj, kadʒ], i.e. Acadien, an inhabitant of L’Acadie, as Canada’s maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island) were known during the period of their French occupation; it is sometimes spelt Cadjin in French. Bruce & Gipson (2002: v) maintain that “250,000 Louisiana residents speak some variety of French at home;” of this number,² the vast majority is speakers of Cajun French.

French settlement in maritime Canada began in the mid-17th century, and by the time of British takeover following the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, a distinct Roman Catholic, French-speaking Acadian population had become sufficiently well established to be a thorn in the side of the new administration. In 1755, the then governor Charles Lawrence apprehended and expelled some ten thousand Acadiens. Some went to France and others to French possessions in the Caribbean; still others relocated to the American colonies further south and some were eventually able to return to Canada. This expulsion is remembered as Le Grand Dérangement, and has been immortalized in Longfellow’s epic poem Evangeline.

A movement amongst the deportees to locate a more permanent home led to negotiations with the colony of Louisiana, which was Catholic, French-speaking and in need of settlers. By 1762, however, France, had ceded it to Spain, and while the Spanish government was willing to accept the Acadiens, it only allowed them to settle in the areas north along the Mississippi and west of the Atchafalaya River rather than in New Orleans—in the region today known as Acadiana. For the next two decades, thousands of Acadiens found a home in rural Louisiana which, in 1800, once again became a short-lived French colony. Three years later France sold the territory to the new United States, which admitted it into the Union and eventually granted it statehood in 1812.

With plantation society speech in mind, Fortier remarked that Cajun French was “not very elegant” (1894: 99). While Cajun French is not a creolized language, the mainly northern French dialects from which it arose have been enhanced by adoptions from African and Native American languages, as well as over a hundred words from Spanish and of course very many from English. It has also been influenced to some extent by LCF. Overviews of its history and structure are found in both Daigle’s and Bruce & Gipson’s dictionaries.

3. Creole

Louisiana Creole French (here LCF) is known by a variety of names: Creole, Nègue, Gumbo, Couri-Vini, Vini-Couri, Français Plat, Congo and so on. There are three main areas in Louisiana in which it continues to be spoken: the so-called German and Acadian coasts, as the western shoreline of the Mississippi as it passes through the parishes of St. John the Baptist and St. James between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is known, the False River area in Pointe Coupée parish, and a larger area to the west of the Atchafalaya basin along Bayou Tèche, in the parishes of St. Martin, Lafayette and St. Landry. There are smaller communities elsewhere in Louisiana and in south-eastern Texas.2 In 1985 Neumann (1985: 20) recorded a Creole-speaking population of between sixty and eighty thousand; in 2003 Klinger (2003: xxviij) estimated that there were by that time “fewer than 50,000” and a decade later, Klinger and Neumann-Holzschuh (2013: 229) listed the language as being spoken by “fewer than 10,000 today,” adding that “most are elderly, and nearly all are fluent in English. The language is not being passed on to children.” It is quite possible, however, that as is the case with the English-lexifier Seminole Creole spoken in neighbouring Texas (Hancock, 2014), it “remains hidden to outsiders because it is a language closely associated with the home and the local community and is not typically spoken outside of these circles” (Deborah Clifton Hills, a Creole speaker, quoted in Klinger, 2003: xxvj). Speakers too are becoming increasingly wary of curious outsiders—journalists and students and others—who take but don’t give back; and thus the actual number may well be higher.

Origins

There have been various proposals put forward to explain where LCF comes from: that its structure is entirely of French origin, that it is the result of French and African languages coming into contact, and that it is entirely of African origin. The first position was maintained by Lane (1935: 13) who wrote that “the basis of the French Creole of Louisiana . . . is French, not French and something else,” while the latter was expressed in a phrase by Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvain (well known to creolists) that Creole was the African language “Ewe with French vocabulary.” The answer is something of both and something of neither.

In 1712 there were only twelve Africans in Louisiana; between 1719 and 1731 numbers of slave ships brought many more from both Senegambia and the Gold Coast/Benin region, and one ship came from Angola. None of these was ever a French-lexifier creole-speaking region, indeed there aren’t any anywhere in Africa, so we cannot assume that LCF was introduced at that early date.

Its current form reflects a number of input components or “ingredients,” which came together over the next century as it was taking shape: these were the Mande and Kwa languages of the incoming Africans, the Colonial French they met upon arrival, and the Caribbean Creole French dialects of slaves being brought to Louisiana in the early 1800s, over seven thousand of whom came from Haiti. Native American languages, Spanish and English have added to its composition.

The leading specialist in LCF, Albert Valdman, wrote (1978: 30) that “without a doubt, [LCF] was imported from the Antilles, particularly from Guadeloupe, Martinique and Haiti,” And although Creole French speaking slaves arrived from other parts of the West Indies, several grammatical characteristics in particular link LCF with Haitian, among them the construction of the plural. As with the English-lexifier creoles, the French-lexifier group falls into two sets – those that mark the plural with the word for “them” before the noun, and those that mark it by placing it after the noun.3 Only LCF and Haitian (as well as Cayenne Creole, spoken in French Guiana) belong to the latter. None of the others does this.4 This particular feature is significant, since it is found only in a restricted number of African languages, namely those in the Mande group (such as Mandinka and Bambara) and those in the Gbe subgroup of the Kwa languages, specifically Ewe and Fon. Similarities with these two languages, spoken in Ghana, Togo and Benin are remarkable, and have led creolist Claire Lefebvre (1985) to see them as providing the underlying structure of Haitian Creole, one of the Louisiana Creole input languages. For example Haitian and LCF both place the definite article (“the”) and the demonstratives (“this,” “that,” &c.) after the noun and both show plurality by adding the word that means “them” which also follows the noun. These are matched in Ewe and Fon. Bambara, a “Mande” language spoken in Senegal and Mali, is included for comparison in Table I.

table_I

Table I: Comparison of Creole and African determiner placement

The similarity between LCF ye and Fon yě is intriguing, but the word may well be French eux (“them”) – or the result of reinforcement based on coincidentally matching forms in the northern French dialects; in Norman French eux sounds like “yie” (Spence, 1965: 101), in the town of Manche it is ye and in Picard French it is [ɛ] (Carnoy, 1897: 103). Also as in the northern French dialects, LCF, Haitian and the other Caribbean French lexicon creoles all have [u] for vous “you (plural/formal).” The LCF progressive marker (a)p(e), shared by both Haitian and Mauritian Creole as well as by Canadian and Cajun French, is based on the northern French use of après “after.”

While the possessive pronouns are postposed in the Caribbean French-lexifier Creoles as well as in the Kwa languages, they come before the noun in LCF5 as they do in Mande languages, and the strong presence of Bambara speakers in early Louisiana has already been noted (Mosadomi, 2000: 229).

Linguistic features

Lexicon

Almost all of the words in LCF can be traced directly to French, but French from a different time and from different places. Influence from its northern dialects has already been noted; we can add to it such words as isit “here,” nik “nest,” take “lock,” bafre “eat gluttonously” and the preservation of /h/ as in hale “pull”—which, like mare “fasten,” is a nautical word.

Words from English are legion; “gone” occurs in the song Mo Ti Fòm below, and “about” in Tu Mande Pu Twa. Valdman et al. include the example ye se hang li up “they could hang him.” Besides intruding into the lexicon, English semantics have influenced LCF, thus zot shar pa travaye “your car doesn’t work” (cf. French votre auto ne marche pas), li te sove so lazhònh “she saved her money” (cf. French elle épargnait son argent), ki tanh li ye astè? “what time is it now?” (cf. French quelle heure est-il maintenant?), deyò danh lapli la “out in the rain” (cf. French dehors sous la pluie).

There are lots of words in LCF that were introduced by the Spanish, among them syèst “siesta,” kanik “child’s marble,” tabasko “hot pepper,” lanyap “a little extra added to a purchase” and piyas “a dollar.”

Numbers are from African languages, e.g. bunda “the buttocks,” (cf. buntas in Afro-Seminole Creole), grigri and wanga “magic charms,” hudu and vudu “magic,” chak “drunk,” bènènh “sesame seeds,” fevi “okra,” gòmbo “okra; a stew,” and perhaps zadeko “music and dance style”.6

From local Native American languages come chawi “raccoon,” file “sassafras” and bayu “tributary of a river.”

If you don’t not know the structure of the language you are listening to, you won’t know where one word begins and another ends. For example the Arabic word for “the” is al, but it was understood to be part of the following noun, and thus we say alcohol, algebra, alkali, when we ought to be saying “the cohol,” “the gebra” and “the kali.” When the French words for “pea” and “cherry” (pois and cerise) were adopted into English, their final /-s/ was misinterpreted as the plural, hence the singular back-formations “pea” and “cherry” in English. There are no such Spanish words as tamale and frijole, which are English singulars back-formed from the Spanish plurals tamal(es) and frijol(es). In just the same way, there are very many LCF words that have incorporated bits of other words into themselves, usually from the French articles (le, la, les, un, une, de, des, du).7 These are part of the full Creole word, examples being nòm “man” (< “un homme”), zòre “ear” (< “les oreilles”), disèl “salt” (< “du sel”), lasèl “saddle” (< “la selle”), zanfanh “child” (< “les enfants”). The Africans were picking up the French words they were hearing, but not the grammar.8

Paradoxically, the following outline of LCF describes a language that no one actually speaks, because it is a compilation of all the creole features, particularly obsolescent ones, which not only differ from place to place,9 but also because LCF is surrounded by speakers of Cajun French and consequently exhibits more or less interference from it. Unlike the situation in Haiti where Creole speakers are not in daily contact with French speakers, LCF has always been spoken in the same environment as Cajun French, which has exerted a steady “metropolitanizing” influence upon it. Sometimes this is a natural process, and sometimes it reflects a conscious effort on the part of the speaker to “improve” his language. Social factors in Louisiana’s history have created the legacy of “ranking” languages and speech communities in that state: book French has more prestige than Cajun French, and Cajun French more than Creole. Examples of phonological and grammatical insertions from French are found in the text Mo ti fòm below, where the vowel [ø] instead of LFC [ɛ] (here written è) occurs in kø cœur “heart,” søl seul “alone” and vø veux “want” (replacing ole) and where je is paired with mo “I” and ma replaces mo in the first two lines. We can speak then of LCF as existing along a continuum, with “deep” or basilectal varieties at one end, and more (Cajun) French-influenced acrolectal varieties at the other. Because of what linguists refer to as variability, no one speaks any one way all the time, but moves back and forth along a spectrum. This outline describes the basilect.

Pronunciation and spelling

Pronunciations differ from place to place. In the Valdman et al. LCF dictionary, the word for “horse” is listed with all of the following regional variants: shval, shwal, swal, shfal, shvo, shvòl and shwo.

The French secondary and central vowels (as in peu, le, lune, neuf) do not occur in basilectal Creole, but can influence it; ti “you” approximates French tu [ty] and replaces to in Mo ti fòm, below. Unlike French, where /t/, /d/ and /n/ are “dental” sounds, in Creole they are pronounced as in English. The /r/ sound is like the Spanish tap rather than that of French, and may not be sounded at all after vowels.

The earliest texts, as with representations of creole languages everywhere, were always written impressionistically using the orthography of the lexifier language, and LCF was written according to French spelling conventions. They were also typically composed by Europeans, who tended either to “normalize” it in the direction of the lexifier, or else exaggerate its distinctive features to create an artificial parody of the creole as actually spoken.10

Spelling based on the lexifier language can never accurately reflect the true pronunciation of any creole, and furthermore promotes the idea that the creole is simply a dialect or poorly-spoken version of it. Following is the first of the texts below, in its original spelling:

’Ous fait ’ous chaudière chauffée, ’ous met’ la graisse en dans l’i, ’ous met’ la farine, deux cuillers la farine, ’ou brassez et brassez et brassez jisqu’à ça vient jaune jaune jaune là dans, alo’s ’ou’ ajoute un ’tit brin deau-l’eau en dans l’i, et c’est ça comme ’ous fait un bon roux.

In the present description, /o/ and /e/ represent the mid-high vowels in French “eau” and “clé,” and /ò/ and /è/ represent the mid-low vowels in French “cotte” and “même.” Nasal vowels are indicated by adding /nh/: pen [pen] “pan,” penh [pẽ] “pin,” Dan [dan, dæn] “Dan,” danh “tooth” [dã]. /j/ has its French value ([ʒ]), and /dj/ is [dʒ], like English “j” in “judge.”

Grammar

Nouns: articles and plurality

Nouns are not marked for number, thus shwal is “horse” or “horses,” nab is “tree” or “trees,” bèf is “ox” or “oxen.” Note that in spoken French too, singulars and plurals sound the same, only distinguished by their preceding article: la femme, les femmes ([la fam], [le fam]).

When plurality is not evident from the context, e.g. when following a numeral, it can be indicated by following the noun with ye: shwal ye “horses,” nòm ye “men,” dezèf ye “eggs,” zozo ye “birds.” The same ye can follow proper nouns, and has an “& Co.” function: Mishèl ye “Michael and his group/family/crowd.”

The indefinite article is ènh: ènh nòm “a man,” ènh fòm “a woman,” ènh zozo “a bird,” ènh dezèf “an egg.”

Note also kèk “any” and okènh “not any, no” that function in the same way: kèk diri “some rice,” okènh lajanh “no money.”

The singular definite article, la, follows the noun: nòm la “the man,” fòm la “the woman,” zozo la “the bird,” dezèf la “the egg,” dolo la “the water.” In some areas it has alternate forms, thus zozo a, nòm nanh when the word ends in a vowel or a nasal sound.

The definite article la and the plural marker ye can be used together: nòm la ye “the men,” zozo la ye “the birds,” dezèf la ye “the eggs.”

Nouns: possession

Nouns possessed by other nouns have the pattern possessed plus possessor: shwal Janh “John’s horse,” dezèf ye marshanh la “the merchant’s eggs,” bèf la ye fèmye la “the farmer’s (particular) cattle.”

Unlike the case in Haitian and other Caribbean creoles (though not Guyanais), possessive pronouns come before the noun possessed. These are

mo “my”
to “your” (sg.)
so “his, her, its”
nu ‘our”
vu, u, vo “your” pl.
ye “their”
mo zanfanh “my child,” to fis ye “your sons.”

In some areas, an alternative construction with a is found: zanfanh a mo “my child,” fis ye a twa “your sons.”

Possessive absolutes (“mine,” “yours,” &c.) combine these with kènh (in some places chènh): nu kènh “ours,” so kènh “his, hers, its,” bwat la ye kènh “the box is theirs,” chèmbònh to kènh “take yours.”

Other pronouns

The subject personal pronouns are mo “I,” to “you” (sg.), li “he, she, it,” nu “we,” vu, u “you” pl. and formal” and ye “they.” Like Yoruba and other African languages, there is also an ‘emphatic’ set: mwèmo, twato, lili, nuzòt, vuzòt, yeye. These are usually contracted: mo ole = m’ole, to ap = t’ap, &c.

The object personal pronouns are mo, mwènh “me,” to, twa “you” (sg.), li “him, her, it,” no “we,” vo “you” (pl.), ye “them.”

Impersonal pronouns include kikshòz “something,” kèkènh “someone” and ye “one” (ye di “one says”).

The equivalent of French reflexive pronouns (ex. je me lave, “I wash myself”) is constructed with mèm “self” on the model of English: mo lav mo mèm “I wash myself” or is omitted where it would occur in French: to pa te lève bomatènh “you didn’t get up this morning.”

The demonstrative pronouns are

sila          “this”          sila la          “that”

sila ye      “these”       sila la ye     “those”

As in the other Caribbean French lexifier creoles, but not Guyanais, they follow the noun: nòm sila “this man,” nòm sila ye “these men,” sila la ye pli piti “those are smaller.”

Verbs

Verbs in creole languages include adjectives as well, thus granh “big” is better interpreted as the verb “to be big.” These are dealt with below.

Infinitives are marked with pu: pu bwa “to drink.” In times past such verbs as “run,” “jump,” “eat,” “drink” and so on had single invariable forms, modified by free-standing particles. Today, a distinction has emerged that distinguishes the habitual and the imperative from the past – ‘short-form’ – and from the verb when it follows those particles – the ‘long form,’ usually indicated by a final –e: shòp la frèm a siz èr “the shop closes at six,” shòp la frème jòrdi “the shop is closed today,” shòp la te frème “the shop was closed” (Klinger & Neumann-Holzschuh 2013: 233).

The verb alone has a past time reference: mo wa mo nònk “I saw my uncle.” This does not apply to some ‘stative’ verbs (including adjectives), which have a present tense reference: ye jòng kè u pa ’le kuri èk mo “they think you don’t want to go with me,” “m’ ole kokola “I like Coca-Cola,” mo gènh kat frè “I have four brothers,” mo kònènh shante “I can sing,” mo las “I’m tired” sham sila fret “this room is cold.” The verb gènh “have” has its own alternative past tense i: mo i ènh shar mènh pa no mo “I had a car, but not any more.”

If the action is ongoing, but not necessarily at the moment, (i.e. is habitual but not progressive), it is indicated with kònènh or kutmènh: mo kònènh travay a Walgreens “I work at Walgreens;” the same is expressed by the verb alone: li zanfanh kuri a lèkòl “his children are going to school (these days).”

If the action is in progress, the marker is ape (ap’, ’pe, ’e): m’ap lav mo shòshònh “I’m washing my socks,” li zanfanh y’e kuri a lèkòl “his children are going to school (at this moment).”

The same ape is used for a definite future, just as in English: m’ap travay la dimènh “I’m working there tomorrow.”

If a past action took place before a more recent past action, it is marked with te: li te antre e li mè so shapo sir tablèt la “he came in and put his hat on the shelf.” Te can combine with ape: mizisyènh salopri sila la ye t’ap juwe danh Kit-Kit la ankò aswar “those terrible musicians were playing at the Kit-Kat again tonight.”

The “maybe” future marker is va (or ’a): mo pa kruwa kè ye va fè Lwiz pròmkwin la “I don’t believe that they will make Louise the prom queen.”

The definite future uses ale: y’ ale fè Lwiz pròmkwin la “they will make Louise the prom queen.”

An action to be completed some time in the future is marked with sa: par minwi, u sa turne jòromo “by midnight, you’ll have turned into a pumpkin.”

The conditional marker is se: mo se kuri la “I might go there,” mo se fè li si mo pe “I would do it if I could.”

Other words that are used in verbal constructions include bèzwènh “need to,” kapab, kab, ka, pe “can,” pròn and tòmbe “begin to,” sòti “have just:”

u bèzwènh pranh vu pilil “you need to take your pills”
Mimi epi Mariyan kapab pale Nèg “Mimi and Marianne can speak Creole.”
so fòm tòmbe babiye li “his wife began to nag him.”
mo sòti peye lwaye la “I’ve just paid the rent.”

Verbs are made negative with the word pa, which goes before adjectives and ‘long form’ verbs but after ‘short form’ verbs, and goes before the future marker ale and the progressive marker ape (p’ap’, p’ape):

li pa fenh “he’s not hungry.”
li gènh pa ase lazhanh “he doesn’t have enough money.”
li pa manje krevis “he didn’t eat any crawfish.”
li manj pa krevis “he doesn’t eat crawfish.”
li p’ape manje krevis “he’s not eating crawfish.”
Pa also translates “don’t:” pa tushe! “don’t touch!”

The BE verb is ye, both for existing (kumanh u ye? “how are you?”) and for being located (u li ye? “where is it?”). It is also se: se ènh mezònh “it’s a house,” mo frè se ènh tichèr “my brother’s a teacher.” Both can go together for emphasis in ‘front focussing’ constructions: se ènh tichèr li ye “he’s a teacher.” The past tense of be is te, li te ènh tichèr “he was a teacher,” and the future is sa: li sa ènh tichèr “he’ll be a teacher.”

Adjectives

These are not marked for number or gender as they are in French, but they do generally follow their French placement either before or after the noun: dolo sho “hot water,” shmiz blanh ye “white shirts,” ènh granh mezònh “a big house,” ènh ti gasònh “a little boy.”

In most places adjectives are compared just as they are in French (plus . . . que), thus mo mezònh pli granh kè to chènh “my house is bigger than yours,” but in some areas the creole ‘serial’ construction with pase “surpass” is used: mo mezònh pli granh pase to chènh. “Less than” is mwènh . . . pase: liv Sizèt mwènh antèrèsanh pase Janh chènh “Suzette’s book is less interesting than John’s.” The superlative takes the definite article as in French: mo mezònh pli granh la “my house is the biggest.”

As in French, adjectives can function as nouns, mo shè “my dear,” mo piti “my little one.”

WH-words

kumanh “how.”
u fo tich mo kumanh pale Kurivini “you must teach me how to speak Creole.”
kòmyènh “how many.”
kòmyènh fwa fo mo ’pi to maman di twa sa? “How many times must your mother and I tell you that?”
kòfè “why.”
kòfè u fè mo braye? “why did you make me cry?”
kote “where.”
plas la kote tòti pòndi li dezèf “the place where the tortoise lays its eggs.”
kanh “when.”
kanh t’a vini bèk? “When are you coming back?”
ki “what.”
ki se? ki se sa? “what is it?”
ki, ki mun “who, whom.”
ki ye la? ki se sa la? “who’s there?”
pu ki mun t’a fè jambalaya s’la la? “whom did you make that jambalaya for?”
ki sa “that.”
ki sa se tèrib! “that’s awful!”

Texts

The first two texts are recipes that are typically Creole – for roux, a thick sauce that serves as a base for several dishes, and gumbo, a stew. Although gumbo means okra, it can apply to stews prepared without it, as is the one given here.

Rèsip pu fè ènh ru

U fè vu shodjè shofe, u mè lagras andanh li, u mè lafarin, dè kiyè lafarin, u brase e brase e brase jiska sa vyènh jònh jònh jònh ladònh, ala u ajut ènh ti brènh dolo andanh li, e se sa kòm u fè ènh ru.

A recipe for making a roux

“You heat your pot, you put a little fat in it, you put some flour, two spoonfuls of flour, you stir it continuously until it all becomes very yellow, then you add a little bit of water into it, and that’s how you make a roux.”

Rèsip pu fè bònh gòmbo

Prèmyè shoz, fo pranh lavyan la ki ye pele taso, alò mè li danh to shodjè èk ènh ti branh lagrès e ènh ti branh lafarin e ènh pè dezònhyònh e ènh pè dilay. Pa tro dilay paske s’a [sa va] fè li sònti move. Lese li turne so kulè, ènh pe branh, apre mèt ase dolo pu fè tanh to ole. Kanh li près fini, mè file la danh, e pa bliye mè twa u kat fèyi leriye la danh. Si to gènh de krab u de shèvre, to kapab mè ye danh. Mènh vèye bènh ki li pa brile, e t’ a fè bònh gòmbo. Pa bliye, fo manje li èk diri.

Recipe for making a good gumbo

“First thing, it is necessary to take the meat they call taso [dried meat], then put it in your pot with a little bit of fat and a little bit of flour and a little onion and a little garlic. Allow it to turn colour to become slightly brown, and afterwards put in enough water to make it soften [to how] you want it. When it’s nearly done, put in sassafras, and don’t forget to put in three or four bay leaves. If you have some crabs or some shrimps, you can put them in. But pay attention that it doesn’t burn, and you’ll have made a good gumbo. Don’t forget, you must eat it with rice.”

Mo ti fòm
Blackie Derouselle, song recorded in Breaux Bridge, 1976

Ma ti fòm, li kite mo My little woman, she’s left me
Li kite mo tu søl She’s left me all alone.
Ma ti fòm, li kite mo My little woman, she’s left me
Li kite mo tu søl She’s left me all alone.
Kanh li gòn, li fe mo braye, When she left, she made me cry,
Li kite mo avèk ènh mal de tèt. She left me with a headache.
Te prònh tu mo lajònh, Took all my money
Te prònh tu sa mo gènh avèk mo. Took all I had with me.
Te pa di mo aryènh Told me nothing
Te pa di mo kanh li te ape gòn. Didn’t tell me when she was leaving.
To kònènh mo lèm twa avèk tu mo kør You know I love you with all my heart
To kònènh mo jə lèm twa avèk tu mo kør You know I love you with all my heart
Kòfè ti fè mo kòmònh ti fè, Why did you treat me the way you did,
Kanh ti fè mo braye? When you made me cry?
Di mo shè, ki se jamènh byènh pu fè Tell me dear, that it’s never a good thing to do
Di mo shè, kwa mo gènh pu fè Tell me dear, what do I have to do
J’ òne èseye tu ma vi I’ve been trying all my life
Mènh ti vø pa lèmènh mo. But you just don’t want to love me.

Tu mande pu twa
Clinton Broussard, song recorded in Beaux Bridge, 1979

E la ba, ye tu mande pu twa! Hey over there, everyone’s asking for you!
Mo kuri la ba e la lezu I went over there, and there was the zoo
E ye tu mande pu twa, And they all asked for you
E ye mande baut mo shmanh And they asked about my trip
E mo kuri la ba, òmba dolo And I went over there, down into the water
Ye tu mande pu twa They all asked for you
Pwasònh la mande, kribis la mande The fish asked, the crawfish asked
E tu mande pu twa. They all asked for you.

Pèsòn p’ ole danhse avèk mo
Delton Broussard, song recorded in Lawtell, 1975

E Mama, e Pòpa Hey Mama, hey Papa
Pèsònh p’ ole danse avèk mo. No one wants to dance with me.
E Mama, Pa li mò, Hey Mama, Papa’s dead
Kanh li pa juwe lakòdeyènh, When he can’t play the accordion,
E Mama, Pa li mò Hey Mama, Papa’s dead
Kanh li pa juwe so lakòdiyènh. When he can’t play his accordion.

Proverbs

Bònhtònh fe krapo manke bunda
“The good life leaves the frog with no buttocks.”
Sha brile pè dife
“A burnt cat fears the fire.”
Kòshònh la kòne onsi ki bwa li pe fròte
“The pig knows which tree to rub on.”
Krashe nanh lè, li va tòmbe òno to ne
“Spit into the air and it will fall back on your face.”
Di mo ki mun to lèmenh, m’ a di to ki to ye
“Tell me whom you love and I’ll tell you who you are.”
Marangwanh pèdi so tanh kònh li pike kayman
“A mosquito wastes its time when it bites an alligator.”
Kote y’ ena sharòn, y’ ena karènkro
“Where there is carrion, there are buzzards.”
Rande sèvis bay shagranh
“Doing good brings grief.”
Tu makak truve ye piti jòli
“All moneys think their children are beautiful.”
Nèg pòte mayis òndònh so lapòsh pu vole pul; milat pòte kòdònh òndònh so lapòsh pu vole shwal; nòm blanh pòte lajònh pu tròmpe fi.
“The black man carries corn in his pocket in order to steal a chicken; the mulatto carries rope in his pocket to steal a horse; the white man carries money in his pocket to catch a girl.”

Notes

1
Programmes to teach Cajun French have been introduced in a limited number of schools.

2
In the towns of Beaumont, Orange and Port Arthur in Texas’ so-called “Golden Triangle,” as well as in Houston’s Third Ward. There are also Creole speakers in northern and southern California, who have moved there following the Mississippi floods in the 1920s and more recently since the Katrina disaster.

3
All of the Atlantic English-lexifier creoles save those in Suriname pluralize by placing dem after the noun. Sranan, Djuka and Saramaccan in Suriname place it before. Other grammatical features shared by LCF and Haitian but none of the other Caribbean French-lexifier creoles, include the progressive marker (a)p(e), the future marker (v)a and the conditional marker s(r)e.

4
In Trinidadian, Guadeloupian, Martiniquais, Dominican and St. Lucian, “horse” is shuval and “horses” is se shuval. A pre-posed pluralizer is also used in the Indian Ocean creoles, thus Seychellois and Maurician sheval “horse,” ban sheval “horses.” In Guyanais it is shuval ya (earlier ye), in Haitian it is shwal yo and in LCF it is shval ye. A sketch of Trinidad Creole French will appear in a later issue of Kreol Magazine.

5
As they do in Guyanais Creole, which is remarkably similar to LCF: mo shuval “my horse.”

6
The usual explanation for this word is that it originates in the phrase les haricots son pas salés “the snap-beans aren’t salted” (in LCF zariko ye pa sale), and while a song with this refrain emerged in the 1950s, its association with music remains obscure. It was originally a reference to hard times. In Serer, a Senegambian language, zare ko means “it is the music;” two thirds of all the Africans brought to Louisiana were from this region. It has been argued that a number of words that have become part of general colloquial American English also come from languages spoken in Senegambia, thus from Wolof possibly come hip “be aware,” cat “guy,” honkie “white person,” dig “understand; appreciate,” jive “disparaging talk,” rock “musical style” and from Mandinka bug “annoy,” bug “insect,” jitter “shake,” jam “musical session” and jazz “musical style.” While some of these were first recorded in Louisiana, they do not seem to be a part of the LCF lexicon itself (Hancock, 1980: 413).

7
The incorporation of articles into the whole word is found in all creoles with French-lexifier input, including Chinook Wawa, a native Indian contact language once widely spoken in the American north-west/Canadian west, which has input from the early French missionaries and coureurs de bois. It survives – barely – as a creole, i.e. as a native language, in Grand Ronde, Oregon, and will be featured in a future issue of our magazine. Examples are divay “wine (< du vin), liplet “priest” (< le prêtre), labab “beard” (la barbe), lilang “tongue,” also a name for Chinook Jargon itself (< la langue. See http://rjholton.com/PDFs/Ce1.PDF.

8
The actual process of creolization is explained in Hancock (20XX).

9
Klingler (2003: 70-71) discusses the research of others which supports the likelihood that different varieties of LCF emerged possibly independently in separate areas of early Louisiana, pointing out that the dialect spoken in Bayou Tèche is more directly related to Haitian than elsewhere in the state.

10
Beside their evident academic deficiency, the racist attitudes of the authors pervaded some of those early descriptions. Tinker (1932: 567) explained the emergence of LCF on “physical differences. The thickness of their lips and tongues made it impossible for [the Africans] to pronounce certain of the French vowels . . . Gombo has a strange vitality. Like some tropical growth that chokes out all other vegetation, it entirely supplanted the tribal jargons in Louisiana.” Even academic, language-oriented journals such as The American Journal of Philology could publish such observations as “[T]he thick lips, the aural myopia, not of one but of tens of thousands of individuals . . . gave birth to these winged Ethiopianisms . . . the French negro of Louisiana is endowed with a cunning set of wits; his auditory nerve, while not acute, enables him to pick up certain word-fragments and debris” (Harrison, 1882: 286-287).

11
In colloquial English, this can be expressed by “and them”: Mike and them, commonly pronounced “Mike ’n ’em.” The Creole-like alternative “Mike dem” can be heard in Louisiana English.

References cited

  1. Bruce, Clint & Jennifer Gipson, 2002. Cajun French-English English-Cajun French Dictionary and Phrasebook. New York: Hippocrene.
  2. Carnoy, H., 1879. Patois Picard. Querrieu.
  3. Carrière, J.M., 1939. “Creole dialect of Missouri,” American Speech, 12(6): 109-119.
  4. Comhaire-Sylvain, Suzanne, 1936. Le Créole Haïtien, Wetteren: De Meester.
  5. Conwell, Marilyn & Alphone Juilland, 1963. Louisiana French Grammar. The Hague: Mouton.
  6. Daigle, Jules O., 1984. A Dictionary of the Cajun Language. Ann Arbor: Edwards Bros.
  7. Fortier, Alcée, 1894-5. “The French language in Louisiana and the Negro French dialect,” Transactions of the Modern Language Association of America, 1: 96-111.
  8. Hancock, Ian, 1980 “Review of F. Kaufman and John Guckin, The African Roots of Jazz (Alfred Publishing Co.: Port Washington, 1979),” Research in African Literatures 11(2):411-415.
  9. Hancock, Ian, 1996. “The special case of Arctic pidgins,” in Ernest Håkon-Jahr & Ingvild Broch, eds., 1996. Language Contact in the Arctic. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 15-29.
  10. Hancock, Ian, 2014. “Creoles in Texas,” Kreol Magazine, 9:37-40, 11: 43-48.
  11. Hancock, Ian, 20XX. “Krio,” Kreol Magazine, 00:00-00.
  12. Harrison, J.A., 1882. “The creole patois of Louisiana,” The American Journal of Philology, 3: 285-296.
  13. Klein, Sybil, 1999. Gumbo People: Poésie Créole. New Orleans: Margaret Media.
  14. Klinger, Thomas A., 2003. If I Could Turn My Tongue Like That: the Creole Language of Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
  15. Klinger, Thomas & Ingrid Neumann-Holzschuh, 2013. “Louisiana Creole,” in Susanne Maria Michaelis, Philippe Maurer, Martin Haspelmath & Magnus Huber, eds., The Survey of Pidgin and Creole Languages, Vol. II, Portuguese-based, Spanish-based and French-based Languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 229-240.
  16. Labrie, Denise, 2009. Parle Creole French, Southern Louisiana Dialect. Houston: Samizdat.
  17. Lefebvre, Claire, 1985. “Relexification in creole genesis revisited: the case of Haitian Creole,” in Pieter Muysken & Norval Smith, eds., Substrata vs. Universals in Creole Genesis. Amsterdam: Benjamins, pp. 279-300.
  18. Morgan, Jr., Raleigh, 1970. “Dialect leveling in non-English speech of southwest Louisiana,” in Glenn Gilbert, ed., Texas Studies in Bilingualism, Berlin: de Gruyter, pp. 50-62.
  19. Mosadomi, Fehintola, 2000. “The origin of Louisiana Creole,” in Sybil Klein, ed., Creole: the History and Legacy of Louisiana’s Free People of Color. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, Ch. 10, pp. 223-243.
  20. Neumann, Ingrid, 1985. Le Créole de Breaux Bridge, Louisiana: Etude Morphosyntactique, Textes, Vocabulaire. Hamburg: Buske.
  21. Reade, William, 1931. Louisiana French. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press (1963 reprint).
  22. Spence, Nicol, 1965. “Jersey French,” The Linguist, 27(4): 98-107, 27(5): 126-135, 27(6): 155-164.
  23. Tentchoff, Dorice, 1975, “Cajun French and French Creole: their speakers and the questions of identities,” in Steven L. De Sesto & John L. Gibson, eds., The Culture of Acadiana: Tradition and Change in Southwest Louisiana. Lafayette: Southwestern University Press, pp. 87-109.
  24. Tinker, Edward Laroque, 1932. “Louisiana Gombo,” Yale Review, 21: 566-579.
  25. Tinker, Edward Laroque, 1935. “Gombo, the Creole dialect of Louisiana,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, 45: 101-142.
  26. Valdman, Albert, 1978. Le Créole: Structure, Statut et Origine. Paris: Klincksieck.
  27. Valdman, Albert & Thomas Klinger, 1997. “The structure of Louisiana Creole,” in Albert Valdman, ed., French and Creole in Louisiana, New York: Plenum Press, pp. 109-144.
  28. Valdman, Albert, Thomas Klinger, Margaret Marshall & Kevin Rottet, 1998. Dictionary of Louisiana Creole. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  29. Walter, John, 1999. Central Powers’ Small Arms of World War One. Ramsbury: The Crowood Press.