“Somewhere lives a bad Cajun cook, just as somewhere must live one last ivory-billed woodpecker. For me, I don’t expect ever to encounter either one.”
— William Least Heat Moon (William Trogdon), Blue Highways, 1982
ST. FRANCISVILLE, La. — People talk funny in this part of the world. At least they sound foreign to an Illinois Yankee, transplanted to Texas for the past two decades.
We’ve gotten an earful of Cajun French as our cross-country bicycle caravan passed through the southern Louisiana parishes of Allen, Evangeline. St. Landry, Avoyelles and Pointe Coupee on our way from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla.
Cajun French, according to Wikipedia, is a variety, or dialect, of French transplanted to southern Louisiana by way of Nova Scotia. But Cajun French has deviated so far from French over the past couple of centuries that a speaker of modern French would barely be able to follow a conversation in Cajun.
Fellow rider Cathy Blondeau, who was born and grew up in France, lived in the American South for two decades and now lives in Victoria, British Columbia, says she can pick up only a few words of a Cajun conversation.
The French began colonizing the New World around the turn of the 18th century. Some came by way of the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River and established settlements in what is now southern Illinois and Missouri. Others founded New Orleans. Still others, drawn by rich fisheries of the North Atlantic, settled in what is now the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.
In 1755, during the French and Indian War as Britain and France jockeyed for dominance in North America, about 75 percent of the “Acadian” population living in Nova Scotia was deported by the British in what is known as the Great Expulsion (Grand Dérangement).
Many of the exiles resettled in Louisiana, establishing the Cajun culture and language, says Wikipedia. The word “Cajun” is an anglicization of “Cadien,” itself a shortened pronunciation of “Acadien.”
“French immigration continued in the 19th century until the start of the Civil War, bringing large numbers of francophones speaking something more similar to today’s Metropolitan French into Louisiana,” says the online encyclopedia. “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.”
Because I can’t descibe a Cajun accent, I’ll quote a Cajun version of the Ten Commandments, as found under glass at the lunch counter at Maxie’s Cajun Diner in Mamou, which calls itself the “Cajun music capital of the world.”
1. God is number one … and das’ All.
2. Don’t pray to nuttin’ or nobody … jus’ God.
3. Don’t cuss nobody … ‘specially da Good Lord.
4. When it be Sunday … pass yo’self by the church house.
5. Yo mama an’ yo daddy dun did it all … lissen to dem.
6. Killin’ duck an’ fish, das’ OK … people — No!
7. God done give you a wife … sleep wit’ jus’ her.
8. Don’t take nobody’s boat … or nuttin’ else.
9. Don’t go wantin’ somebody’s stuff.
10. Stop lyin’ … yo tongue gonna fall out yo mouf!
By the way, I mentioned in an earlier post that Community Dark Roast is the favored coffee in Cajun country. But a Cajun friend, John Gravois, added this proviso on Facebook: “While Community is fine for everyday use, it’s Seaport that you need to get you going on a slow morning.”