Galeemacha Column by Earl J. Comeaux


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We’re a little bit amused when we see outsiders and “Americans” laugh at our Cajun French with its blend of English words. As we have pointed out in before, many things were unknown to the world or to the Cajuns when our ancestors left France, and as a result, Cajuns have adopted the English word for some things, like telephone and the airplane.

Some outsiders mimic Cajuns for this supposed flaw in their language, and have the impression that Cajuns are speaking a pidgin language, part French and part English.

These same folks would have die of shame if someone was to correctly point out to them that the King’s English is, by the same logic, really pidgin French.

You don’t believe it? Then listen to this:

The original language spoken in England was a combination of the German tongues spoken by the invading tribes of Angles, Saxons and Jutes. This language has not survived, but it became the basis of the English language.

In 1066 William the Conqueror, a Norman (from the Northern coast of France) defeated Harold at the famous Battle of Hastings, and with the Norman conquest, French became the official language of England.

For over 220 years French remained the official language and it so influenced the English language that today nearly 40% of the words in the English dictionary are of French origin.

The French words which came into the English were for the most part prestige or learned words. The everyday words of the Anglo-Saxon origin remained. For example, we speak today of cows, sheep, calves and hogs, all Anglo-Saxon words. But when they are prepared for the table they become beef (boeuf – bull), mutton (mouton – sheep) and veal (veau- calf) from the French. We speak of a lunar eclipse (from the French “la lune” -moon) and not of a moony (from the Anglo-Saxon) eclipse, and we refer to a solar system (from the French soleil – sun) and not of a sunny system.

Since no other foreign invader ever again set foot on English soil, the Norman invasion of the language was the last violent change in the English language. Since then the language has become more stable through the invention of printing and the advent of the dictionary.

English today is a Germanic language in structure and basic words, but almost 80% of its vocabulary comes from other languages. Besides the French there are contributions from Hindu (khaki), Arbic (alcohol), Greek (gym), Latin (optic), Indian (opposum), Japanese (kowtow), Yiddish (kibitzer), Gaelic (clan), Norweigian (ski), and Spanish (ranch).

The English, like the Cajuns, have simply taken into their language whatever foreign words they find serve a useful purpose.

Since almost half of the English words are of French origin, learning French is easier for someone who speaks English. Many words are identical in spelling but differ only in pronunciation. Examples are table (pronounced in French as tob), agriculture (ah-gree-cul-tour), baton (bah-tohn), court (coor), and pardon (par-dohn). This similarity led one well-known Englishman to exclaim when studying French that French was just “English mispronounced.”

Not all words which are similar in spelling mean the same thing in both languages, and this has caused some embarrassment to neophyte French or English speakers. But we’ll go into that some other time.

You should get the point by now; no one who speaks English as a basic tongue has any right or reason to laugh at anyone who speaks Cajun French.

The above noted is a re-print (with thanks) of one of the Galeemacha column written by Earl J. Comeaux. Earl also authors a bilingual Cajun/English comic strip at [] entitled “Bec Doux et Ses Amis”, depicting Cajun culture and language.