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Common Acadian-Cajun Definitions


Acadia: The word Acadia has been interpreted by many historians to mean "fertile land, or rich pastures". Some of the early explorers, Samuel de Champlain for example, during the early seventeenth century on their voyages to the regions of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Maine (lands bordering on the Bay of Fundy), referred to the area as Acadia. For this reason, Samuel de Champlain born in 1567 in Brouage France, may well be considered the "Father of Acadians" since, during his explorations Samuel, along with Sieur de Mont, established what is now known as the first Acadian settlement on the North American continent, under the French flag. This first settlement was established on the Isle-of-St.-Croix, at St. Croix River near Calais Maine. These people, who were selected by the French authorities, are said to have been highly skilled craftsmen and farmers. This choice was made in an effort to make the colony as self-sufficient as possible, thus ensuring the success of the settlement. After experiencing harsh winters and extreme cold on this small island, they moved their settlement into the rich agricultural area of the Bay of Fundy, which subsequently became known as Acadia. Because ofAcadia's strategic location between the French colony of Canada and the Massachusetts and New England colonies, the Acadians occupied an enviable position between two great European powers, France and England. The french colony of Port Royal established in 1605, was exchanged back and forth between France and England on a number of occasions. By the year 1632, after the signing of the treaty of St. Germain-en Laye, other settlers continued to arrive to the area.

Acadian Heart

Acadia (in the French language Acadie) was the name given to lands in a portion of the French colonial empire of New France, in northeastern North America that included parts of eastern Quebec, the Maritime provinces, and modern-day New England, stretching as far south as Philadelphia. During much of the 17th century, Castine, Maine was the most southern settlement of Acadia. (Bristol, Maine was the most northern New England settlement.) The actual specification by the French government for the territory refers to lands bordering the Atlantic coast, roughly between the 40th and 46th parallels. Later, the territory was divided into the British colonies which became Canadian provinces and American states.

The capital of Acadia was primarily Port Royal, until the British conquest of Acadia in 1710.

Today, Acadia is used to refer to regions of North America that are historically associated with the lands, descendants, and/or culture of the former French region. It particularly refers to regions of The Maritimes with French roots, language, and culture, primarily in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, the Magdalen Islands and Prince Edward Island, as well as in Maine. It can also be used to refer to the Acadian diaspora in southern Louisiana, a region also referred to as Acadiana. In the abstract, Acadia refers to the existence of a French culture in any of these regions.

People living in Acadia, and sometimes former residents and their descendants, are called Acadians, also later known as Cajuns after resettlement in Louisiana.


Acadian Heart


Possible alternatives to the Origin of the word "Acadia"

1. INDIAN THEORY: The Miquemaques word for the cod fish, was CAD. French fishing fleets had been sailing the waters around Acadia, long before Columbus "discovered" the New World. These fishermen called their favourite spot "La" (the), "Cad" (cod fish). Thus the term "La Cadie" (the land of the Cod fish) which, when translated from french to english, becomes the word "Acadia"!

2.VERRAZANO THEORY: It is rumoured that the Italian Explorer Giovanni Verrazano sailing from France in 1524, saw this beautiful land and called it "Arcadia"...after the idyllic mythical land!

3. CHAMPLAIN THEORY: After spending the winter of 1604-1605 on Sainte Croix Island off the coast of present-day Maine, Pierre du Gua, Sieur DeMonts and his men moved their colony to Port Royal in the sheltered Annapolis Valley. In 1605, these explorers built a fortification which they named in honor of the King's geographer on the expedition, Samuel de Champlain. He called the land "Acadie", a derivative of Verrazano's "Arcadia"

4. RADDALL'S THEORY: In July 2003, Mike Campbell offered yet another possible origin. Apparently in Thomas Raddall's "Warden of the North" (his classic history of Halifax, N.S.), he mentions... "All Mi'kmaq place names were descriptive, and so the suffix of ak-a-de ("place of") occurred frequently. This deceived the early French explorers, who considered it the name of the country and marked it "Acadie" on their maps."

Raddall doesn't mention his own source for this info, but it seems at least to be a reasonable possibility since there are still placenames in Nova Scotia with the "-acadie" suffix, such as Shubenacadie, and Tracadie (also in N.B.). The area where Halifax now stands was called something like Goo-ow-acadie.

The area comprising today's New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, was once known as "ACADIA". The first Frenchmen arrived at Port Royal (present-day Annapolis Royal), in 1605. Settlement continued until the early 1700's when, in 1713, ACADIA was given to the British.



Acadian Heart

Acadian: That group of Francophones originating from France, who settled in Acadia and were subsequently deported in 1755.

Acadian Heart

Cajun: The 700,000 Acadians who live in South Louisiana make up the largest French-speaking minority in the United Sates. They are descendants of some of the first white men to settle North America, coming from Brittany, Poitou, Normandy and across France, to establish their first permanent colony in what is now the Province of Nova Scotia, Canada. That was in 1604, three years before Jamestown, four years before Quebec, and 15 years before the Mayflower.

They were forced from their Canadian homes a century and a half later, and eventually settled in South Louisiana. Some settled along the Mississippi River above New Orleans. Others migrated to wetlands along Bayou Lafourche. Another group crossed the Atchafalaya Basin to the country of the Attakapas and Opelousas Indians, near today's cities of St. Martinville and Lafayette.

Each of these groups lived in relative isolation from the Anglos, and to some extent from each other, and developed in different ways. (There is, for example, no single "Cajun French" language, but distinguishable - to the trained ear - regional dialects, all based upon the original Acadian French, alike in sound and rhythm, but often with distinctive phrases and modes of expression. And you can start a battle royal among different Cajuns, over just which instruments are proper to "authentic" Cajun music.)

The Cajuns were, for several generations, largely an unschooled and unlettered people, living simple lives, keeping to themselves, their families, and their lands. Because of this, the Cajun was often, and mistakenly, portrayed as a likable buffoon; an ignorant French-speaking, backwards, swampbilly, scraping a bare existence from his surroundings; a pleasant, easy-going peasant who had nothing and wants less, as long as he can go to the fais-do-do (dance) on Saturday and to Mass on Sunday.

Acadian Heart

Acadian vs Cajun: While both groups descend from the original Acadians, the primary difference is rooted in location in that Acadians are geographically connected to the East Coast of Canada and the New England States, while Cajuns found their homes and cultural influence in Louisiana.

Although a large majority of Acadians were exiled from Nova Scotia between 1755 and 1759 (Le Grand Derangement), many escaped to New Brunswick and remained in the more remote areas of that part of ACADIA. From there, many traveled back to France, or settled in Quebec. In 1785, many ACADIANS immigrated to Louisiana where they became known as CAJUNS.

Acadian Heart

Coonass: A controversial term in the Cajun lexicon: to some Cajuns it is regarded as the supreme ethnic slur, meaning "ignorant, backwards Cajun"; to others the term is a badge of pride, much like the word Chicano is for Mexican Americans. In South Louisiana, for example, one can often see bumper stickers reading "Warning — Coonass on Board!" or "Registered Coonass" (both of which generally depict a raccoon’s backside). The word’s origin is unclear: folk etymology claims that coonass dates from World War II, when Cajun GIs serving in France were derided by native French speakers as conasse, meaning "dirty whore" or "idiot." Non-French-speaking American GIs allegedly overheard the expression, converted it to the English "coonass," and introduced the term back in the United States. There it supposedly soon caught on as a derisive term among non-Cajuns, who encountered many Cajuns in Gulf Coast oilfields. It is now known, however, that coonass predated the arrival of Cajun GIs in France during World War II, which undermines the conasse theory. Indeed, folklorist Barry Jean Ancelet has long rejected this theory, calling it "shaky linguistics at best." He has suggested that the word originated in South Louisiana, and that it derived from the belief that Cajuns frequently ate raccoons. He has also proposed that the term contains a negative racial connotation: namely, that Cajuns were "beneath" or "under" blacks (or coons, as blacks were often called by racists). Despite efforts by Cajun activists like James Domengeaux and Warren A. Perrin to stamp out the term’s use, coonass continues to circulate in South Louisiana and beyond. Its acceptability among the general public, however, tends to vary according to circumstances, and often depends on who says it and with what intention. Cajuns who dislike the term have been known to correct well-meaning outsiders who use the epithet.

Acadian Heart

Creole... (Louisiana Cajun French and Creole): South Louisiana is a dialectal region of the French-speaking world, but it would be a serious over-simplification to think of it as a homogenous region. There is a great variety of sub-regional dialects of French spoken here, based on three main currents: the colonial French that developed among the descendants of the French who first began to settle Louisiana in 1699, the Creole that developed among the descendants of the African slaves brought to work on the French colonial plantations, and the Cajun French that evolved among the descendants of Acadians who began to arrive in Louisiana in 1765 after they were exiled from their homeland in what is now Nova Scotia. Yet there is little pure linguistic stock today. The basic sources influenced each other in areas where the groups came into frequent contact. For example, Cajuns along the Bayou Teche are as likely to speak Creole as their black Creole neighbors, while black Creoles living out on the southwestern prairies tend to speak what amounts to modern Cajun French. Many move effortlessly and even unconsciously between dialects according to the context. All three basic sources were also modernized by steady trickles of immigration, especially in the 19th century by the so-called "petits Créoles," economic immigrants from France, and by refugees from the Haitian revolution, as well as by contemporary academic influences.
French was the language of everyday life and government in Louisiana into the 19th century. French Creole planter society supported a small but thriving Louisiana French literary scene including published poets and novelists, theater and opera. French enjoyed equal status in newspapers, legal proceedings and daily commerce. But the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and statehood in 1812 placed serious pressure on French Louisiana to conform to the language and culture of the United States. With the end of the Civil War, French Creoles understood that their future was necessarily going to be American; they immediately began to send their children to English-language schools. By the turn of the 20th century, their transition to English was virtually complete. Ordinary Cajuns and black Creoles did not get the message until much later, beginning with the arrival of Anglo-American farmers from the Midwest in the 1880s, reinforced by the arrival of Anglo-American oil workers and developers from Texas, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania in the early 1900s. This process was intensified by the nationalistic fervor that preceded and accompanied World War I, by the relief efforts that accompanied the great flood of 1927 and the agricultural and economic depressions of the 1920s and 1930s. As their children were humiliated and punished in schools for speaking the language of their ancestors, Cajuns and black Creoles alike were convinced that the French dialects they spoke were cultural, social, political and economic liabilities. With the wave of regionalism that followed World War II, this stance was reconsidered and efforts were launched to preserve and restore this valuable linguistic resource. What came to be known as the Louisiana French renaissance movement was led by the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL), a state agency created in 1968. Since then, French has returned to the schools, most impressively in the immersion programs that are once again producing a small but growing generation of young Louisiana French speakers.
The Creole spoken in some areas resembles the Creole dialects used in parts of the Antilles. There, linguists, educators and literary figures have been struggling for decades to produce a written form that distinguishes their language from French. Setting aside the debate on that question for a moment, Cajun French is a different matter. Most of what the Cajuns say can easily be rendered in written form by simply using the French language, though Cajuns have generally not done this themselves. An already complex socio-linguistic situation was compounded during the first half of this century by a hostile climate that actively sought to eliminate the French language in Louisiana as part of the Americanization of the Cajuns and Creoles. Both Cajun French and Creole were long stigmatized, denounced as dialects unfit for preservation. It was felt that they had no place in the classroom. Even once French began to be taught again as a foreign language in Louisiana schools, teachers regularly told students that knowing some Cajun or Creole French was worse than none at all. Thus, there is virtually no history of literacy in French among most active Louisiana French speakers as their language remained at the level of oral tradition.
Cajun French is a close enough variant of the French language to use standard orthography in most cases. The Cajuns do not always speak according to French rules, yet Cajun French does not differ from "standard" French any more than other regional variations of the French language among speakers of comparable social and cultural background. Whether or not a particular Cajun can write, his or her language can be transcribed with a few adjustments for lexical and syntactical changes. For example, while a speaker of academic standard French would likely say, for "I am repairing my car," "Je suis en train de réparer ma voiture," a speaker of Cajun French would more likely say, "Je suis après arranger mon char." The words are all French, but the vocabulary, syntax and style are all dialectal. Though divided at first, today most serious Louisiana French specialists seem to agree that Cajun French is a variant of the French language and is best rendered using the French system with minor adjustments. For terms not in contemporary French dictionaries (asteure, cil [celui]), etymological and historical dictionaries often provide a solution. Most early Acadian sources can be found in the works of Poirier (1964 and 1977) and Maillet (1971). For regionalisms and borrowings from other languages, especially Spanish and certain Native American languages (brème, instead of aubergine, for eggplant; chaoui instead of raton-laveur for raccoon), references can be found in the studies of Ditchy (1932), Phillips (1936), and Read (1931). Daigle's Dictionary of the Cajun Language (1984) can be helpful despite the author's unusual history of the language. Faulk's Cajun French I (1977) is a rich resource, though the author does not provide a viable written form. Following the same linguistic strategy by which standard French attaches purely euphonic sounds (as in "a-t-il"), words which consistently retain the liaison sound from the plural in all forms are rendered by a preceding [z-], as in un z-oiseau and une z-oie. When the grammar and syntax of spoken Cajun French pose an orthographic problem, as in the variant conjugation of certain verbs, historical spellings can be used (ils estiont, ils vouliont). Otherwise, one can usually find parallels in the French language (je vas, tu vas, il va). The negative is systematically formed without the ne (je veux pas aller; j'ai jamais vu ça; j'ai pas rien dans mes poches; il y a personne dans le bateau). The [u] of tu typically elides before verbs that begin with a vowel (t'as, t'es, t'oublies). In the descriptive grammar being produced by contemporary scholars, the rules observed in actual usage determine how the language will eventually be written and taught.
Creole is somewhat complicated by its greater distance from the French language. Many Creole specialists have opted for the creation of new writing systems that seek, as linguist Robert Chaudenson put it, "d'éviter les incohérences du code graphique français" [to avoid the inconsistencies of the French writing system]. Even in the most radical of these, there is a tendancy to base Creole transcriptions on French phonetics. Louisiana Creole is relatively less creolized than the dialects from the West Indies, though it does have some typically creolized elements. Briefly, there is a reduction to a single form in the present, with other tenses indicated by markers: pé, or apé + participle = progressive; té + participle = past preterite; té pé, or té apé + participle = past imperfect; sé + participle = conditional; va + participle = future; similarly, lé or oulé + participle marks volition. The pronouns are mo, to , li, nous or on , vous (formal) / vous autres (plural), yé. There are also lexical shifts and differences. For example, gain, apparently from gagner, is use for avoir [to have]; couri, from courir, is used for aller [to go]. There is also considerable overlap with Cajun French, such as the disappearance of ne from the negative, and the dropping of [u] from tu before a vowel (t'as faim, t'es parti), and the use of old French terms, such as cil for the demonstrative.
Cajun French and Creole are often unfavorably (and unfairly) compared to Parisian French. It should be considered, however, that Parisian French itself varies greatly from one arrondissement of the city to another, and from the campus of the Sorbonne to the market districts. It is important to remember that the French language is spoken variantly in many places throughout the world, including Europe, Africa, the West Indies, and the former Indochina, as well as North America. Considering this variety in the Francophone World has begun to eliminate the value judgments that were characteristic of France's exclusively hexagonal perspective. Compare the relative differences within the English speaking world between an Oxford don and a Liverpool docker, between a taxicab driver from New Delhi and one from Sidney, between a member of the Canadian Parliament and an American Congressman. Yet all of these English speakers use what they all insist is the English language to express themselves, though one might "mind the lorry" while the other might "watch out for the truck," one might take the "lift" and another the "elevator," and one might write "colour" and the other "color." The francophone movement has empowered and emboldened speakers of French throughout the world, including here in Louisiana, to challenge the expression sometimes used to indicate non-standard speech, "Cela ne se dit pas" [That is not said], with "Mais oui, je viens de le dire" [Yes it is, I just said it].

Acadian Heart

Francophone: A person who speaks the French language.

Acadian Heart

Franco-American: People of French-Canadian or Acadian descent, living in the United States of America.

Acadian Heart

French-Canadian: Those Canadians of French descent who may (or may not) speak the French language. While many French-Canadian persons live (or have lived) in the Quebec Province of Canada, many have located throughout other Canadian Provinces and North America. Generally speaking, their ancestors did NOT come to Quebec (or other locations), by way of Acadia, but rather directly from France to Quebec.

  Acadian Heart

Summary of Acadian VS French-Canadian: Generally speaking, those first ancestors (and all their decesdants) who came directly to Quebec from France, are considered to the French-Canadians. Whereas, Acadians are those folks who migrated directly to early Acadia (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and a small part of Maine) directly from France, are considered to be Acadians. What can bring confusion to this 'brief summary', is the fact that many Acadians and French-Canadians inter-married, since they all spoke French.

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