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How to Speak Cajun English (Or at Least Understand It)

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Cajun What???

It may surprise many people to learn that most Cajuns under the age of 50 don't speak French; even those who do don't usually speak it as their first language. However, almost all of us grow up speaking some French, and our vocabulary is full of enough francophone words and mistranslated English phrases that it can be quite confusing to outsiders. (Even Louisiana residents who don't live in Acadiana.)

Cajun English is mostly American English, with a smattering of French words. Occasionally, we use French syntax when we speak English.

Cajun English is so widely used in towns like Ville Platte and Breaux Bridge that many people don't see the difference between Cajun English and American English, so we're not intentionally being difficult. Quite the opposite, generally speaking, Cajuns love visitors and are warm and welcoming to outsiders. However, we tease those we like, and if you look bewildered, we may very well have a bit of fun at your expense.

Pronouncation

(Probably your biggest hurdle)

When education became compulsory in Louisiana, Cajun children were forced to go to school and speak English. My three Cajun grandparents all remember brutal punishments at the hands of teachers if they were caught speaking their native language. As a result, they didn't teach my parents to speak French, and so my parents were only able to teach me the little they picked up. While speaking two languages is considered a sign of intelligence and sophistication now, it was considered a sign of ignorance and poverty two generations ago. Becaue of this, most Cajuns you'll meet will speak English, especially if they know you are an outsider. Older Cajuns, and those in rural or isolated communities, usually speak with thicker accents.

Parisian French (the French spoken in France, is soft, and full of S's and C's. Cajun French is more nasal and slower with H's, T's, and D's. Cajun English also differs from the American accents surrounding us. Compared to those with Southern drawls, Cajun English seems rapid and lively; Cajuns often "speak with their hands" and cut out pieces of words.One of the most classic tell-tale signs of a Cajun accent is replacing the "th" combination in English words with D's or T's. ("Wha dat ting ya got?" rather than "What's that thing you have?")

If you speak English as your native language, the following list will be very helpful to you, in beginning to understand the way Cajuns pronounce words. Read the following names as you would in English: Matthew, Lydia, Raphael, Alida, Richard, Granger, Hollier, Hebert,

Cajuns pronounce these names:

Matthew- Ma-chew

Lydia- Lay-ja

Raphael- Ray-feel

Alida- Ah-lee-da

Richard- Re-shard

Granger- Gron-jay

Hollier- Ol-yay

Hebert- A-bear

English usually puts the emphasis on the beginning syllable, while French puts in on the last. In Cajun English, we tend to emphasize the last syllable, as in French, which often makes our speech difficult to understand until outsiders listen carefully.

Idioms

Idioms are expressions which, if taken literally, usually don't make much sense. In English there is the expression "it's raining cats and dogs" meaning "it's raining very hard". Like societies throughout the world, Acadiana has it's own share of these phrases. Here are some you may hear:

If you are riding in a car with a Cajun, they may ask you, "You wanna get down with me?" when you park somewhere. This means, "Do you want to get out of the car and come in with me?"

If you are working with a Cajun, they may ask you to "save" something; usually this means to put that thing away. (Unless of course, it's obvious that something is in need of actual saving. i.e.- a kitten is about to run into the road.)

Cajuns and Creoles both will say they are going to "make groceries," rather than saying "buy groceries".

"I'm Patton's (pronounced pah-tan-s) duck" means that they are not particular, or don't have a preference of the options available.

"It gave me the frissons" means "It gave me the chills" or "It made me shiver". People who have involuntary muscle spasms, will also dismiss it saying, "I just caught a frisson."

"Pass a good time" means to have fun.

"'Gardes don" (pronounced gahd-A daw(n)) means "look at that".

"My foot" (or "hand" or "head" etc.) is kind of the Cajun version of "Whatever!"

"Mais, J'mais!" is the Cajun equivalent of "But I never!"

Cajun OnStar - (Did I mention that Cajuns like to pick?)

Cajuns love to joke, and will often make themselves look foolish to play with people and see how long they can be strung along.

Syntax

(Definition: what da pries give ya afta confession)

Okay, that's an old joke. For those of you who don't know what "syntax" means, it is "the way that a sentence is arranged". For the most part, Cajuns speak English in the traditional English/American syntax. There are some ways that Cajun English is unique, though.

When a Cajun is trying to emphasize an affirmative or negative sentence, they will often revert to French syntax. "No, I didn't do that!" becomes "I didn't do that, No!" One of the sweetest ways a Cajun man can express his affections is to say, "I love you, yeah."

We will also add directional pronouns to add emphasize. "Me, I don't have any, no."

Rather than saying "a lot" or "very" Cajuns will often double an adjective. "Don't drink that yet; it's hot hot!" "Have you seen Greg's new truck? It's big big!"

Cajun Sites You Ought to Visit

  • LSU Department of French Studies
    LSU is Louisiana's flagship university, and although UL is the official college of Cajun Country, LSU has a good French Studies Department.
  • Codofil
    This organization has done more to restore French to Louisiana than any other.
  • Cajun Radio
    A good source for all things Cajun

Frequently Used French Words

(Because some things are best expressed in French)

Cher- Forget the woman who sang with Bono, this word isn't pronounced "share;" the correct Cajun pronunciation is "sha" and it means "sweet" or "dear". Cajun women are more prone to say "Cher bebe!" than "What a cute baby!"

Fache- pronounced "Fa-shay" It means "angry" and is thrown into English sentences. "She's really fache now."

Mais la!- "May La" it's an expression of exasperation.

"Mais" means "but" and is often used in place of it in English sentences. "I don't know, mais I've got a good feeling about this."

"Ta Tie" I don't know how to spell this one in French, so I spelled it phonetically. It means a monster, or scary creature. It's also a pet name for little boys, as in, "Come here, you lil ta tie."

"Mange" pronounced "maw-sg-A" means "to eat" and is often used in place of "eat".

"Tres" pronounced "Th-ray" means "very" and "Beaucoup" (boo-coo) means "a lot," both of these are scattered into English sentences.

New Guestbook Comments

Antoinette Hollier on February 01, 2020:

First site I've ever seen that has the right pronunciations. You have to add Jean-Louise is John lewis

Dawnababes on September 21, 2019:

That's probably why people in Cajun Country talk so much with their hands ... no one's on the same page in the spoken language, LOL!

Irene Schober on May 21, 2019:

Why is the Bayou ...y pronounced as an i ? (Like: Bai-u)...

Jonny on May 18, 2019:

I miss my frien wit me,Joostaah Wilsohn,

Sawyer on November 05, 2018:

I'm from the bayous of Mississippi, near the parts where it's still common to speak Cajun (even though I don't speak that much), and when I moved up North I always wondered why no one else emphasized the ends of words and only emphasized the beginning until I found out it was a Cajun thing, whoops.

Nikki DePaulo on August 18, 2017:

Bgbanjo Banjo 14 months ago

QUOTE: "How would you translate tow wah pas sah? And does anyone remember the significance of the phrase?

I'm from Ohio but lived in Laplace twice in my life. An old Cajun speaking man told me a story about that phrase while we sat and had a beer together. Acadiana gets in your blood. I'm curious if anyone else knows the story behind the phrase."

/QUOTE

To wah pa sah sounds an awful lot like "You didn't see that?"

To wah pa ca. To: you/tu Wah: See/voir Pa: pas/not Sah: that/ca

If I used the phrase, I would be using it like..... You ain see dat?

If I saw something obvious and the person next to me doesn't see it. I would ask that question... You don't see that?!!!

To wa pa ca?!! Me... ce dret la devan to figi!

You don't see that? But.. it's right there in front of your face!

I'm not using the proper accents, but I'm pretty sure that's what to wah pa sa means. For anyone who cares.

Plaquemine on July 06, 2017:

Tah tah - give me that/hand it over

Mostly used when talking to babies or children who are playing with things they aren't supposed to have. You wouldn't use tah tah when talking to an adult.

redheadednanna on July 04, 2017:

Being from Ville Platte, the "Swamp Pop Capital of the World" as designated by the LA legislature and home of The Louisiana Swamp Pop Museum, I mentioned "Swamp Pop" on the internet meaning Swamp Pop music. Someone (obviously NOT from south Louisiana!) asked what flavor the pop was! I had never thought of the term Swamp Pop as a soft drink, although as kids we called any soft drink "pop".

Heather Gautreaux Rose on June 23, 2017:

I am a GAUTREAUX (gotro)

We always referred to a monster as a ba bat. Has anyone else?? I may be spelling it wrong.

Pola on April 27, 2017:

How do you say, "We will be killed" in Cajun?

Lindsay W on January 13, 2017:

But they meant gratin at the bottom of the pot.

Gra-deaux is the dirty stuff between your toes. You don't want dat in ya pot sha!

Opelousas on October 29, 2016:

The stuff at the bottom of the pot is roux (rue)

Dean Mallet on September 20, 2016:

(Es -pez)-"phonetic spelling" is another great Cajun expression showing annoyance and or disdain towards someone's actions or character.

For example: Espez d'avocat (Your some sort of lawyer!) i.e.: person is or acting as a smart alleck.

Nancygail75 on September 19, 2016:

I have a friend who taught her little girl to be gentle with babies by saying something that sounds likes, "Tah tah" as she gently patted the baby. Anybody know what this means? The friend said it's what her Cajun grandmother always said when she taught little ones to be gentle with babies.

Merry on July 18, 2016:

Pi-let is not a fly swatter itself it's what the fly swatted will do to your hind end . If you pi-let (pee-lay) something you break or destroy it . Just one thing I noticed that cajun people tend to do. Shaws doesn't mean "you" it means "thing" and inanimate object that you can't remember the name of becomes a Shaws but we tend to direct it towards people as well . There are different dialects all over the state, each region seems to have different meaning for at least a handful of words . One of those words here in Central Lafourche Parish is Moblian broken down mo blee ahn it's what we call a box turtle but in Breaux Bridge you'd get your" mout washed out wit soap" for saying it as there it refers to a part of the female anatomy .

Owen on June 25, 2016:

to bgbanjo: Do you mean Tu veux passe. That was often use to scare off dogs or kids.

Owen on June 25, 2016:

Don't forget the ultimate nasty: zirable (zee rob)

Fire Stone from NY on June 05, 2016:

learn a lot of on the reading common .Thanks for everybody

Bgbanjo Banjo on June 04, 2016:

How would you translate tow wah pas sah? And does anyone remember the significance of the phrase?

I'm from Ohio but lived in Laplace twice in my life. An old Cajun speaking man told me a story about that phrase while we sat and had a beer together. Acadiana gets in your blood. I'm curious if anyone else knows the story behind the phrase.

Lydia on June 04, 2016:

Some of My Lafayette and Abbeville relatives called me "Leed ja." It was hilarious to me since I was raised in west Louisiana, & this wasn't common.

Come See-Come Here on June 04, 2016:

T'Bo-My friend Bo

Peh-Peh Tan- SOB

Ruth H on March 15, 2016:

I lived in Lafayette for 30 years. I noticed a long time ago that every town and village has an accent all their own. It is very interesting. The Cajuns know where you are from by listening, they don't have to ask. Also back in the 1980's a cookbook came out named "whose your mama?" because that is something everyone wants to know. Making connections is somtimes easy because so many are related from way back.

Matt T. on January 15, 2016:

Very enjoyable reading of comments- brought back beaucoup fond memories.

Tanks y'all.

April M on January 14, 2016:

And Cush Cush is fried corn meal you eat with milk and sugar.

Corn bread is baked in the oven. You also eat "dat", with milk and sugar.

Some of us here also like peanut butter or coffee with our " Cush Cush or Corn Bread."

Yes! The peanut butter or coffee (or both), go in the bowl with the "Cush Cush or Corn Bread," milk, and sugar...

YUUUMMMMYYYY!!!

The Cush Cush is always fried in a "Black Pot" as we call it. Normal people would call it a "Cast Iron" pot.

But, Us Cajuns are just not Normal...lol

And we ALL love that word " Y' ALL!!!"

"Y'all" know, us Cajuns love a good time "yeah!"

What is a Bizarre?

We have "Festivals" here.

And "Dem dare festivals" sure are fun, "YEAH SHA."

I have so enjoyed this little piece on my true bad english yeah!

Only us Cajuns understand the way we talk. We get it. I was sitting here laughing my butt off at the responses, cause I'm like yeah that's me..lol

Thank you all for the great laughs tonight! I really needed that tonight!!!

And you know, us Cajuns know NO strangers!

We wave to everybody, tell everybody hi, and ask everybody "How ya doin?" like we have known them for years :)

And, even if someone brings a friend with them to your house (stranger to you), you know, we HAVE to feed 'em!

Especially if we think "dey" to "skinny Sha!"

And, that is just a few of the reasons, this lady here, is a VERY PROUD CAJUN!!!

April M on January 14, 2016:

Around here we all say, "Coke."

My grandmother had so many grandkids and great grand kids...

She would run through about 4-5 names then say...

Shaus? Not sure if I spelled that correctly or not. It means "you."

My grandmother would look at you after saying that and say, you know your name!

And, you all know the movie "Water Boy"...

We Cajuns are known for dropping them " R's"!!!

I never realized just how bad I spoke until I married a Hillbilly! He just had to point it out! No longer married...

For instance...

Yawn here = Yarn

Diarrhea here = Dia rear

Ask here = Axe

Specific here = Pacific

Cooler here = coola

Dollar here = dolla

Fly Swatter here = Pi Let (not sure on the spelling.)

If you misbehaved, my grandmother would grab the "Pi Let" and ask you if you wanted to "Smell It!" You knew that awesome lady was no longer playin around then, Sha ;)

Some around here pronounce "Sink" as "Zink."

Or, "Golf" is " Gulf". Like... Hey, you wanna play a game of "Gulf" today?

Oh and this one...

Refrigerator here = Ice Box!!!

Yes! We know "Ice Boxes" did exist way back when...

Here in real Southern Louisiana...

WE ALL STILL HAVE ICE BOXES for our refrigerators!

Oh, or this one...

Go put that on the "cabinet."

We don't say...

Go put that on the "counter!"

What is a couch?

We have "SOFA'S" here!

What is Dinner?

I've always know it to be "Lunch" or "Supper."

Now back to that hillbilly...

We call Long Johns, Long Johns...

Where he is from they call them "Long Handles." Yep, that one through me!

And, we do say, I heard you..

Not...I Heerd you as them hillbillies do where he is from :)

And they say we talk bad? Ummm...okay ;)

JulieB on January 12, 2016:

Im curious...while in Houma I had someone ask me how old my son was..."How old he is?" Is that because of direct translation from French to English?

Derla on January 10, 2016:

Gratin=stuff stuck on bottom of the pot. Grah-tain(nasal "n")

Carolyn on January 10, 2016:

OK, I cannot remember what the stuff stuck to the bottom of a pot is called. You scrape it up when you are making gravy. Can someone help me? I want to say gra-deaux, but I don't know why.

Halfcajun on August 30, 2015:

My cousins said 'pop' for soda all the time. They were from Franklin.

Don on June 09, 2015:

"Beaux ceaux" ain't right. C'est "beaucoup", chere, arright? Na, y'all pass a good time, yeah?

Rachel Galatas on June 07, 2015:

Yep...even if you buy a root beer. You tell people that you are "getting a coke"

New Iberia on June 06, 2015:

Don't forget Nanny and Parain (pah ran)!

Plaquemine on June 06, 2015:

I am from Plaquemine Louisiana and I ain't never in my life heard a Cajun say pop. Is coke no matter what brand it is.

nannysquish on June 05, 2015:

cuhon ... mercy (merci) means thank you, and godfather is pah-rain

Wendy on June 05, 2015:

Hard head Is Tet Dur

Jenn on June 05, 2015:

pistoche ( pronounced pee stawsh) means peanut or an endearing sweet term for a little one... Thra-ca( pronounced thraw caw) means bull crap, in reference to a lie... Beaux ceaux (pronounced boo coo) meaning a lot

cuhon on June 05, 2015:

Muah....kiss

cuhon on June 05, 2015:

Cuhon...crazy

Ma la sha....gosh darn

Gaston...boy

Madame...rich elderly women of statue

Saloon....bar

Pieroux...canoe

BatonRouge....red stick

Mercy....please

Excuzamias...excuse me

Crawdads'....crawfish...or mud bugs

Puppet....grandfather

Nanny....godmother

Prayer...godfather (misspelled )

Turf....property or land

Bebe...baby

BAe...for a friend

Mum...addresses a mother you don't know her name , it replaces ma am.

Pop...soda or coke

Supper...dinner

Cush cush....corn bread sugar and milk

Kush mout....a demon that huants your awaking lucid dreams

Sabrina LeBlanc on June 05, 2015:

Lydia = Leda

J. Fontenot on June 05, 2015:

Great fun!

Chase Patin on June 05, 2015:

Under the idioms section the term like Pattons(pronounced pah-tan-s) Duck the name is actually spelled Patin not Patton. I have been asked how's my duck been doing my entire life

David Tadlock on June 05, 2015:

Coullion - pr=Cool Yaw

I got called this all the time by my grandmother 'Nonnie'. Meant crazy or goofy acting... so I get it honest.

Gaudet on June 04, 2015:

I'M from a tiny remote are called Bayou Pigeon. Now it's all over T.V.

T. Berthelot on June 04, 2015:

As a child in the 60's in the Pierre Part area,bah ti' had 2 meanings.

1. A card game called Battle in English.

2. A large flying insect of unknown origins.

Mike McBride on June 04, 2015:

We forgot the fishermen here in Acadiana area, a Crappie be it white are black is only in this area called a ( Sacaulait ) if you go anywhere else in Louisiana it's a white perch.

maisreellement on June 04, 2015:

I love articles like this one—the fact that our language in Louisiana is infused with French makes our state so unique! It also saddens me a little because I’ve been able to make a long-term observation, and it is clear that our Cajun language is slowly diminishing. I’ve been a French teacher for 28 years now in a small town in South Louisiana. When I began teaching, all my students knew and used the expressions mentioned in the article! As the years (decades!) have passed, fewer and fewer students recognize them. Now they look at me like I’m crazy when I ask them if they’ve heard words like these. I see this as a loss of culture. Additionally, some students now would rather study Spanish because they hear and see more of it around them. I don’t know what could help the situation, but it sure makes me sad…

kat on June 04, 2015:

We've been visiting Acadia for about 9 years now and learn something new every time. I was heartbroken this winter to speak with Mary at the Jeanerette Museum and learn of the eradication of French by the schools. We love in Vermont on the Quebec border and though the French spoken there is not Parisian it is universally spoken. It is by law the official language of the Province and businesses are required to answer their phones in French and all dual language brochures etc are displayed with the French version out. There are fines imposed if either of these rules are broken. How I wish we'd been a bit more supportive of the culture of our French Louisiana neighbors. Things have certainly changed now, with Government materials in Spanish and Italian and French right along with English--our immigrants are not required to learn English anymore. Quel domage.

Anji on June 04, 2015:

I am from Mamou third gen, ti tie was a bug and be tie was an amimal

Chris on June 04, 2015:

I have grown up in the Heart of Acadiana, Eunice. I do have a bit of information to your "Ta Tie". This word is considered a racist remark when speaking to an older person of color in Louisiana. When my parents were young and even decades before them, "Ta Tie" was what Cajuns would call black people to scare their children into acting proper. Most people do not know this, but if you ask an older Cajun they will inform you to shut your mouth and not say that in front of a older black person.

crystal on June 04, 2015:

Tat du I think that how u spell it means hard head

Christine on June 04, 2015:

wonderful....more more more

Carolyn on June 04, 2015:

Thank you! Totally enjoyed reading this Cajun refresher. We heard these a lot growing up: omplot for clumsy, crapoe for frog or booger, gran zeu for big eyes, no ma mon for no way, ga de don for look at that. Plz help me out with the phonetics if u understand these terms!

Devin Farley on June 03, 2015:

Something that was left out, which I believe is curcual to proper interpretation is all of the "idioms" are a result of direct, literal translation from french to English.

Tilden G on June 03, 2015:

Ta Tie is what parents tell little kids when they're about to get spanked... Ima Ta Tie Ya.

The monster is better known as a Ba Tie (bay-tie)... Ya betta behave or the Ba Tie is gonna get ya, yea!

Josh on June 03, 2015:

Lagniappe - A little extra something given to someone. Pronounced lon-yop.

Melissa G on June 03, 2015:

Don't forget "gree mee" with a rolling gr, which means extra small, a speck, like "whatcha sweep off da floor."

Debra Turner on June 03, 2015:

Also last names that end with eaux is pronounced "o", Thibodeaux (Thibodo).

Beth on June 03, 2015:

I grew up in South Louisiana, but the area I lived in was pretty Germanic in origin, so I don't have the typical "Cajun" accent...but my Pawpaw is a Fontenot from Eunice, so I have plenty of experience! Haha!

I thought my speech was pretty "clean" so to speak, but I realized my first year teaching at a school in Texas, that I was somewhat mistaken. I was at my desk and asked a student to "come see." She looked at me like I had spoken another language! She had no idea what I wanted, but I thought I was pretty clear! I had to say "come over here" so that she knew what I meant!

And then one time I was on the phone with a friend from Phoenix. He asked what I was doing, and I said I was "fixing dinner." He asked what was wrong with it! I was so confused at first! Nothing was wrong with it; I just meant that I was preparing dinner. Love it!!

LeiahS64 on June 03, 2015:

What a great article! I love that our kids have the grands call them Tauntie and Nonky (taunte & nonc). Also until I saw it in print, I thought my husband's great grandmother's name was Leenah but really was Lena. Same thing with his Taunte "Mahryee" who was Taunte Marie.

Nely Marcantel on June 03, 2015:

My wife and me have the "Duhon" argument all the time. She says "Doo-hon", I say " Doo-yon".

Trudy Armstrong on June 03, 2015:

My maiden name is Guillory. We pronounce it Gil'-re. Not Guil-or-ee like many non Cajuns do. But I know it's not their fault. They're not Cajun pav-bet (poor things)!

MikeMcBride on June 03, 2015:

Y'all forgot Boo dey it means to pout or to be sad.

CK Leger on June 03, 2015:

Lydia was actually my great-aunt's name. The whole family pronounced it "Lay-ja" and I had no clue it was actually Lydia until I read her obituary. My married name is Leger, which I find is pronounced "Lay-jay" so that there's a long "A" sound at the end. (Whereas "ja" is kind of like a Nordic "yes" or the beginning of the word "jolly"). None of the pronunciations are professionally done, by any stretch of the imagination. Anyway, I'm glad so many people are enjoying this, it's kind of crazy that it's gone viral after three years, lol. Thanks for reading!

Sonny on June 03, 2015:

I lived in the lowcountry of South Carolina. .peeps from the islands are called Geechies..the drawl sounds a lot like cajole. .not the same. I was told its because of the slave traders. The prominent families of both SC and Lower Louisiana ...don no

Diana on June 03, 2015:

Many different dialect of Cajun French & English. Grew up in Evangeline parish. Met people from breaux bridge when I moved to Lafayette Have friend from around Houma & different dialect for sure. Enjoyed video. Ma chere I did ya

krissa on June 03, 2015:

Lydia - lay jah is what they meant..

Leger - lay jae

It's a matter of long a or short a in the last syllable

Bradleyscott74 on June 03, 2015:

You forgot Deax Deax (Dough Dough) for "go to sleep" lay down... Go Deax Deax

telesma on June 03, 2015:

Also, "Lydia" is pronounced "Leedja." At least that's what they called my great aunt.

telesma on June 03, 2015:

"Ta tie" is spelled "tataille."

Me on June 03, 2015:

Thank you, Cajun634, I was wondering how they got that from Lydia. :)

cajun634 on June 03, 2015:

Leger is Lay ja not Lydia

Angie on June 03, 2015:

Cajun Onstar is a classic! Poo-yie!

Jason Melancon on June 02, 2015:

Great site. I would like to point out that "ta tie" for monster is spelled tataille and pronounced just like "ta tie" as you have it.

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