Recently, I was at a boudin stop on the Bayou TÃªche in Breaux Bridge, when I initiated a conversation in French with the man behind the counter. He asked where I was from and was surprised to learn I was local because of my "French" accent. I told him that I tried my best to speak Cajun French. "Well, you can try," he retorted, "but you're never going to do it (Ti peux assayer, mais ti vas jamais faire li)."
Many young Louisianians, like me and my friends, did not learn French Ã la maison but are learning it quand mÃªme. In a global world, we realize that being bilingual is an enormous advantage. More important, we know that our culture relies heavily on the continuation of French in Louisiana. We want our culture to survive. We appreciate the efforts of local businesses and organizations that provide services in French and wish there were more. We also regret that our elders were stigmatized for speaking French and subsequently did not to pass it to the younger generation. Still, to discourage the young because they lack "pure" Cajun accents is wrong.
Learning and speaking a new language takes courage. I encourage my high school students to speak Cajun or Creole French with their families and with locals in their communities. If they encounter negative attitudes from native speakers, it may discourage them in the acquisition and continuation of the language that is rightfully theirs. Not to mention, it's plain embarrassing to be told that you aren't speaking the "good" way. We should know that by now.
Then again, maybe the man I spoke with was right ' Cajun French will "die" with his generation, because young Cajuns who try to speak French will "never do it" like a "real" Cajun. However, isn't it true that here French changes from parish to parish, person to person, and generation to generation? A language is only "dead" when it is no longer dynamic, and Cajun French certainly will fade if its native speakers do not vigorously urge the young to continue it.
If French in Louisiana is going to survive in more than a marginal way, it is going to take acts of determination by the young, and support from the community elders. We need to be encouraged. However, even in the face of discouragement, my friends and I will continue speaking French. After all, how do you get a Cajun to do something? Tell her she can't.
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