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Lessons in Louisiana Creole

Pronunciation, Orthography, & Daily Expressions

Christophe Landry-Hoegan
Student, Modern Languages Department
Université dè Louisiane à Lafayette
L’autòn 2003

© 2003 Christophe Landry-Hoegan


Tous droits réservés – All Rights Reserved
Table of Contents
Louisiana Creole (p. 3)
ƒ Linguistic Movement
ƒ L’espoi’
Chapter I. Grammatical Structure of Creole (p.4)
1A. Pronunciation
1AA. Sound Replacements
1B. Consonants
1C. Nouns & Articles (p. 5)
1CA. Demonstratives
1CB. Agglutination (p. 6)
1CC. Personal pronouns
1D. Adjectives & Adverbs (p. 8)
1E. Verb System/Conjugating
1EA. Dynamic & Stative Verbs (p. 9)
1EAA. One-Stem Verbs
1EAB. Two-Stem Verbs
1EB. Verbal Markers
1EBA. Progressive Marker
1EBB. Perfect/Anteriority Marker (p. 10)
1EBC. Indefinite Future Marker (p. 11)
1EBD. Future Perfect Marker
1EBE. Definite Future Marker
1EBF. Conditional Marker
1F. Prepositions & Conjunctions
1FA. Prepositions (p. 12)
1FB. Conjunctions
1G. Putting It All Together (p. 13)
1GA. Sentence Structure
1GAA. Subject, Verb, Direct Objects
1GAB. Negating Verbs
Chapter II. Vocabulary & Expressions
2A. Interrogative Words
2B. Vocabulary (p. 14)
2BA. Fruits
2BB. Vegetables
2BC. Animals
2BD. Meats
2BE. Places in Louisiana
2BF. Louisiana Scenery
2BG. Human Body
2BH. Modes of Transportation
2C. Salutations (p. 15)

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Louisiana Creole
Louisiana Creole is spoken by an estimated 20,000 – 30,000 people in the triangular French-
speaking region of Louisiana, known as Acadiana. Unlike Cajun and Colonial French, Creole
is a language apart. It benefits from its own unique grammatical structure, but possesses a
heavily influenced French (as opposed to Acadian) vocabulary.

Created by Africans brought to Louisiana during its colonial years, today, Creole is spoken
by a majority of people of African descent, but has become the mother tongue of some
whites as well. Few remain monolingual speakers of the language.

Four creole-speaking enclaves have been identified in Louisiana. First, the Bayou Têche
Region, which includes St. Martin, Iberia, St. Mary and parts of St. Landry parishes. St.
Martin Parish, especially in St. Martinville, Henderson, Breaux Bridge, Parks and Cécilia
remain the most populated creole-speaking regions of the state today. Second, along False
River in Pointe-Coupée parish, near New Roads, there still are significant amounts of
Creole-speakers in the area. The third region identified is nestled along the Côte-des-
Allemands or Old German Coast, which includes St. James and St. John the Baptist
parishes. The fourth and last identifiable region of creole-speakers lies just north of the city
of New Orleans, along Bayou Lacombe in St. Tammany Parish.

Linguistic Movements?

Currently, Louisiana Creole has not benefited from any “campaign to maintain or revitalize
it, as has Cajun French under the CODOFIL program.” There are many reasons which
possibly explain this disinterest in the preservation and safeguard of Louisiana Creole. One
lies among creolophones themselves. For, never has the creole language in Louisiana been
regarded as a prestigious one. More often than not, it associates the language with slavery
(given that most speakers of Creole descend from slaves). To better illustrate the low
prestige of the language, the following are common terms often used in reference to the
language: fransè nèg, gombo, nèg, nigger French, negro French and so on. Whereas CODOFIL and
the State tourism department has found a way to revive pride in the Cajun identity and
language, mostly by linking Cajuns with Acadians in Canada and thereby showing that Cajun
is arguably French and not a patois, Creolophones have not experienced quite the same
revitalization in identity, whether cultural or linguistic.

Lespwah/L’espoi’

Actually, if Louisiana Creolophones knew just how many people spoke a French-based
Creole language similar to theirs, perhaps they would take pride in speaking and passing it on
to younger generations. In fact, Creole French is the official language or language of the
people in the Caribbean; such as Haïti, Guadeloupe, Martinique, the Dominican Republic,
Saint Lucy, Dominica; in South America (French Guyana) and in the Indian Ocean
(Seychelles, Mauritius, Reunion Island). Linking Louisiana speakers of Creoles with the
current international linguistic movement would, furthermore, provide a sense of belonging
and of importance, considering the importance of the language worldwide.

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Chapter 1.
Grammatical Structure of Creole
Formed from everyday communication in close networks, such as family or the workplace,
Louisiana Creole possesses many variations. These variations in usage of the language
evolved mainly as a result of contact with other linguistic groups, like different dialects of the
French language (i.e. Cajun, Savoyard, Breton, Alsacien, Québécois) as well as with contacts
with Hispanics and speakers of English.

Section 1A.
PRONUNCIATION
As for intonation and accent, Louisiana Creole differs very little from standard French. In
many cases, Creole is clearer to the ear than is Cajun (depending on geographic location).
However, Creole does, in fact, take on its own sounds in some cases. Find examples of them
below.

According to Albert Valdman, one of the principal editors of the Dictionary of Louisiana
Creole, Creole in Louisiana can have up to thirteen vowels.

1AA. Sounds replaced from standard French

The following standard French vowel sounds have been, over the centuries, replaced
by less difficult ones.

From To Examples

e often to short e (è) le > lè, de > dè


eu combination short e sound (è) peur > père, cœur > cère
long a sound (é) monsieur > misché, bleu > blé
long ee sound (i) Eugène > Eejan, Eugénie > Eejaynee
i short i sound (pen) Caroline > Carolen, babine > baben
ie combination long a sound (pay) vieux > vyay
u long ee sound (ee) mulet > meelay, butte > beet

Section 1B.
CONSONANTS
For the most part, in Creole, the consonants remain the same as in standard French. Only a
few vowel-consonant combinations and consonants take on different sounds. Find below a
couple examples.

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From To Examples

Di J (jay) Dieu > Jé/Jay


Gn n, or y beigne > bain, peignait > painyay
H (silent) h (pronounced) haler > haler, hurler > hèlay
R (rolled or silent) parler > pa’lé
L’heure > l’hère
Tu choo tuer > chooway

Section 1C.
NOUNS & ARTICLES
In most cases, Louisiana Creole does not incorporate gender for nouns. There are
exceptions, of course, to this rule. When counting a number of objects or people, we use
whatever numbers, however. Find below some examples.

From To

Les bœufs bèf-yé or lèbèf


Le chat chat-là
La table/les tables latab-là, tab-yé (*exception)
Le cheval chval-ça

Nouns that begin with vowels usually are preceded by a consonant. These consonants
combine with the noun to make one word, just as agglutinated elements you shall find in the
section below.

Un home or l’homme A man or the man N’homme or nom


L’herbe or les herbes Grass or the grass Z’hèb or Zèb
L’oreille or les oreilles Ear or the ears Z’oréy or Zoré
L’arbre or les arbres Tree or the trees N’ab or Nab-yé
L’haricot or les haricots Beans or the beans Z’haricot or Zaricot

1CA. DEMONSTRATIVES

Demonstratives in Creole, as in English, affect the noun. They correspond, in


English, to this, that, those, these. In creole, these demonstratives are ci-là (this), là (that), -
yé (those), these (cilàyé). Not that the demonstrative for that also can be used to mean the.
See previous examples on nouns and gender.

From To

Ce cheval (this, that horse) chval-ci-là (this horse)


Chval-là or Chval-ça or Chval-là-là (that horse)

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Ces chevaux (these horses) Chval-ci-là-yé
“ (those horses) Chval-là-yé

Ce gars (this, that dude) bougue-ci-là (this dude)


bougue-là or bougue-ça or bougue-là-là (that dude)
Ces gars (these dudes) bougue-ci-là-yé
“ (those dudes) bougue-ça-là-yé

1CB. AGGLUTINATION

Lots of nouns in Louisiana Creole possess all or some of the nouns from which they
derive in standard French. Such as eine lamayzon (from la maison), so dézèfs (from des
œufs), mo lamain (from la main). These agglutinated elements, in Creole, do not, have
meaning of their own, but become part of one word (i.e. lamayzon is one word).
These occur often in Creole French.

Other examples are:

Latab (from la table) Dipain (from du pain)


Dolo/Dèlo (from de l’eau) Divain (from du vin)
Diri (from du riz) Dibwah (from du bois, which means wood in creole)
Lasanté (from la santé) Labouch (from la bouche)

1CC. PERSONAL PRONOUNS

Pronouns are perhaps the most obvious element of Creole language. They differ
significantly from those of the original European tongue. In possessive pronouns,
only in the third person

Subject Pronouns

Standard French English Louisiana Creole Haitian Creole

Je I mo (moi) mwen (moi)


Tu You (informal) to (toi) ou
Il/elle/on He/she/it li/ça (lui) li
Nous We nous/nou-zòt nou
Vous You plural/fml. Vous/vou-zòt/zòt vou
Ils/elles They Yé/ça yé

In Creole, we generally like to make contractions wherever possible. Pronouns are no


exception to this rule, especially with verbs following.

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From To

Mo + alé m’alé
Li + apé l’apé
Nous + va n’a

Possessive Pronouns

When followed by an object, the following system is used to show possession in Louisiana
Creole (i.e. my book > mo liv).

Standard French English Louisiana Creole

Mon (masc.), ma (fem.) my mo (*remember, no gender)

Ton (masc.), ta (fem.) your to


Votre (masc. & fem.) your (formal) vous/vo

Son (masc.), sa (fem.) his/hers so

Notre (masc. & fem.) our nòt, no, nous, nous-zòt

Votre (masc. & fem.) your (plural) zo (informal), vous, vo (formal)

Leur/leurs (masc. & fem.) their yé + noun + yé (yé garcon yé)

When possessive pronouns reflect simply possession of an object or person, without that
element being expressed in the sentence, possession is expression in the following way.

Standard French English Louisiana Creole

Le mien, la mienne mine motchain or moquainn

Le tien, la tienne yours totchain or toquainn

Le sien, la sienne his/hers/its sotchain or soquainn

Le nôtre (masc. & fem.) ours noutchain or noquainn

Le vôtre (masc. & fem.) yours (inf. or form.) voutchain or vouquainn

Le leur, la leur theirs yétchain

Examples: Pou qui liv-ça? C’est moquainn. (For whom is this book? It’s mine.)

To té wah nouveau char là-bas? Mè wè, c’est noutchain. (Did you see

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the new car over there? Of course, it belongs to us.)

Mo gain moquainn récòt. (I have my own crop.)

Section 1D.
ADJECTIVES & ADVERBS
Adjectives and adverbs in Creole are no different from those in standard French. They
follow the same rules in Creole as they do in standard French (adjectives follow the noun the
modify).

Example:

Nèg jònn-là, so pape c’est ein blanc. That light-skinned guy, his father’s white.

One exception to this rule are with special feminine forms of the words bon/bonne and
mauvais/mauvaise.

Examples:

Mo popa té ein bon n’homme. My father was a good man.


Li c’est eine mauvaise fômme. She’s a wicked woman.

Adverb examples:

Rar (rare) > rar’ment (rarely)


Complè (complete) > complèt’ment (completely)
Enché (entire) > enchyè’ment (entirely)

Section 1E.
VERB SYSTEM/CONJUGATING
Creoles usually possess the simplest conjugation of verbs from the mother tongues. This
aspect of the language makes things much easier to grasp on. For its conjugation remains the
same throughout all forms. This conjugation derives from the third person singular form of
standard regular French verbs (i.e. –er verbs). Find examples below.

Verb Conjugation in Creole Conjugation in standard French


‘Oir/Voir (to see) mo wah/’oit je vois
to wah/’oit tu vois
li wah/’oit il voit
nous wah/’oit nous voyons
vous wah/’oit vous voyez
yé/ça wah/’oit ils voient

Manger (to eat) mo mange je mange

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to mange tu manges
li mange il mange
nous mange nous mangeons
vous mange vous mangez
yé/ça mange ils mangent

1EA. DYNAMIC & STATIVE VERBS

In Louisiana Creole, verbs are classified into two sections: one-stem and two-stem verbs.
Common two-stem verbs are –re verbs in standard French, such as manger (mange/mangé)
and in –ir verbs like sortir (sòr/sorti). The use of these forms depends on whether the verb
describes an action that has taken place or a verb that describes an habitual action.

1EAA. One-stem verb examples

Fini (to finish), doublé (to double), tracassé (to bother), connaît/connè (to know
a person or thing), vini (to come), voit/’oit (to see), couri (to run), gain (to have),
doit/dwah (to owe), tiens (to have/hold), bourré (to stuff), amarré/maré (to tie,
attach), démarré (to start), allumé (to turn on), comprenn (to understand)

1EAB. Two-stem verb examples

Lave/lavé (to wash), travaille/travaillé (to work), chante/chanté (to sing),


hale/halé (to pull/haul), jongle/jonglé (to think), lève/levé (to lift, wake up),
Braille/braillé (to cry), galope/galopé (to run, manage), crie/crié (to yell after),
noye/noyé (to drown)

Examples:

Mo lavé mo char eeyè équand li té fè beau. I washed my car yesterday when the
weather was nice. (completed action)
Mo lave mo char côté Sosthène carwash. I wash my car at Sosthène’s
carwash. (habitual action, no reference
to when exactly)

1EB. VERBAL MARKERS

The following are the most important verbal markers in Louisiana Creole: apé (progressive),
té (perfect), va (indefinite future), sa (future perfect), alé (definite future), sè (conditional),
fait que/ça fait (que)

1EBA. Progressive Marker

The progressive marker denotes action presently taking place (i.e. I am eating, she is
sleeping). In Louisiana Creole, these markers are expressed by the word apé
(contracted to ap’ where applicable, é, and often ap (not a contraction)).

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Examples:

Ça fait presquè trwah s’maines I’ve been working with Télesphore


m’apé travaille côté Télesphore. going on three weeks now.

M’é couri travail aprèmidi-là. I’m going to work this afternoon.

N’ap vini back dans clo(s). They’re coming back to the fields.

*In the past tense, the progressive marker usually contracts with the past marker té
to form tépé (I was eating, he was yelling).

Example:

Quand mo té pélé li eeyèr, li tépé lave li. When I called her yesterday, she was
taking a bath.

1EBB. Perfect/Anteriority Marker

This marker indicates a past event and is expressed by the word té, a deformation of
the word était or été. It often indicates an even occurring before another event in the
past.

Examples:

Li té prenn so sèr ‘vec li en-ville. He took his sister with him to N.


Orleans.
Apé yé té vini, nou mangé zaricots. After they had arrived, we ate snap
beans.

*When combined with apé, the sentence expresses ongoing events in the past. Often
it contracts into tépé.*

Example:

Li t’ap joué en-dans laboue quand He was playing in mud when arrived.
mo rivé.

Yé tépé tané yé garçon quand mame They were whipping their son
té pélé. when mom called.

1EBC. Indefinite Future Marker

This marker is often expressed as a and derives from the conjugated form va (from
the verb aller). It indicates hypothetical events.

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Examples:

N’a gain ein ti chien. We’re going to get a puppy (indefinite when)
Mo va dit li ça. I’ll tell him (when I see him).

1EBD. Future Perfect Marker

Also said to be indefinite often with stative verbs.

Examples:

To sa ka donné li ein kiss pou moi? You’ll give her a kiss for me?
Quand t’a vini démain, mo sa déjà parti. When you come tomorrow, I will
have already left.

1EBE. Definite Future Marker

Used with the marker alé, this tense indicates actions that will definitely take place in
the future.

Examples:

Li t’alé voyer li un coup! He was going to smack him one!


Yé p’alé laisser nègs-là. They won’t let those boys in.
M’alé lave mo à-soir. I’m going to bathe tonight.

1EBF. Conditional Marker

Conditional in English are commonly expressed through words such as would, could
and should. In Creole, this marker is sè and derives from the French word serait.

Mo sè l’aimer connè li. I surely would like to meet her.


Ça sè bon si t’alé couri-vini wah yé. It’d be nice for you to go to see them.

Section 1F.
PREPOSITIONS & CONJUCTIONS
The following section lists the most common prepositions and conjunctions employed in
Louisiana Creole. You will note only minor differences here between Creole and standard
French.

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1FA. Prepositions

Creole English Standard French Example in sentence

avant before avant Mo té wah li avant li parti.


I saw her before she left.
aprè/apé after après L’un apé l’òt yé couri travaillé.
One after the other went work.
ichquà/jishka until jusque/jusqu’à Nous té là ichquà dè zèr.
We were there until two o’clock.
dépi/dipi for, since depuis Mo já marié dipi vaint-an.
I’ve been married twenty years.
à-travèr through à travers Nous wah li à-travèr nuages.
We [can] see it through the clouds.
sous under sous Li sous latab.
It’s under the table.
sur/sir on, over sur Mame té quitté li sir to char.
Mom left it (for you) on your car.
audéssi/déssi over, above au-dessus/dessus L’avion passe déssi ici.
The plane passes over here.
au-ras/côté beside, next to à côté de/au ras de L’ap resté au-ras nous-zòt.
He lives next to [near] us.

1FB. CONJUCTIONS

Creole English Standard French Examples in sentences

et/etpis and et Yé mandé etpis mo té répand.


They asked and I answered.
ou or ou To fini ou t’ap toujou causé?
Have you finished or not?
mè/mais well, but mais Li pélé mè mo pa toujou là.
He calls but I’m not always here.
quand/équand when, while quand/lorsque Équand n’a sò’ti ensem?
pendant que So when are we going to go out?
Ça t’olé gain n’affaire quand
mo té gone.
They wanted to come make business
while I was gone.
si if si Si to vini astèr, n’alé courri.
If you come now, we’ll go.
pâsqué because parce que Mo mandé pâsqué mo pas sûr.
I asked because I’m not sure.
quand-même although, quoique, bien que Yé dit li pa vini ojòdi, mè li
quoiquè anyways quand-même vini quand-même.
They asked him not to come, but he
came along anyways.

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Section 1G.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
1GA. SENTENCE STRUCTURE

Fortunately, for those who are already proficient or fluent in English, the sentence
structure of Louisiana Creole is exactly the same.

1GAA. Subjects, Verbs & Direct Objects

Creole follows the same conventional subject-verb-direct object structure as in


English. Unlike in standard French, in Creole, direct objects. See examples below
and compare.

Louisiana Creole English Standard French


Mo té mangé li hier au-soir. I ate it last night. Je l’ai mangé hier soir.
Commen to connais li? How do you know her? Comment tu la connais?

1GAB. Negating

Once again, this grammatical feature resembles that of English. Unlike in French
where ne and pas envelope the conjugated verb, Creole completely removes the ne
and places the pas before the conjugated verb, same as in English.

Mo pas gain moula. I don’t have money.

Chapter 2.
Vocabulary & Expressions
The following section shall be useful in common vocabulary and everyday expressions in
Louisiana Creole.

2A. INTERROGATIVE WORDS

what (Ça, quoi, qui), when (quand, équand), where (àoù, àyoù, éyoù, éoù), from
where (d’àoù, d’àyoù, d’éyoù), how (comment), how much/many (commien),
which (qui).

Examples:

Équand to té wah li? When was the last time you saw him?
Comment t’apé fait pou étidié? How do you study? (circumstances)
D’àoù vous sort? Where are you from?

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2B. VOCABULARY

2BA. Fruits 2BB. Vegetables

Apple(s) ein dèpòmm Cucumber(s) ein concomb


Orange(s) ein z’orange Squash eine ciblème
Banana(s) ein banan Pumpkin eine giromon
Grape(s) ein raisin Broccoli di brocoli
Lemon ein lémon Celery di céléri
Cherry/Cherries miriz Onion(s) z’ognion
Tomato(es) eine tomate Bell pepper ein piment doux
Mango(s) ein mango carrots décarrot
Plum(s) eine prun Okra di gombo
Muscadine ein soco Spinach l’épina’/z’épinar’
Persimmon(s) eine plaqu’mine Vegetable pear eine mè’liton
Strawberries dè fraise Beets dè bétrave
Pineapple z’anana Potatoes patate, pomme dè tèr
Canelope ein mèlon Beans (White) dépois blancs
Watermelon ein mèlon d’eau Beans (Red) zaricots rouges
Pear ein poi’ Corn maï(s)
(Blue) Berries dè mur, kanko Sweet Peas pitipois
Figue(s) eine figue Snap beans zaricots (vèrts)
Cocount coco Garlic l’aile/lay
Grapefruit eine schadèque Sauerkraut lachoukrout
Butterbeans dè fèv platte

2BC. Animals 2BD. Meats

Bear ein l’ours Beef laviande dè bèf


Rat ein rat Pork laviande-cochon
Possum ein rat d’bois Chicken poulet
Raccoon ein coon, chawee Steak di steak
Deer eine chèvrèye Pork Chops dè chop cochon
Chicken eine poule, ein coq Meat (in general) laviande
Goat(s) ein cabri, belyè Pork Bone l’os cochon
Duck(s) ein canar’ Salt meat viande salée
Cow(s) eine vache Saussage dèsaussises
Crow ein carencro Ham di jambon
Fish di pwasson Roast ein dob, rôti
Bobcat ein pitou, chat marron
Bird ein zozo, zwahzo

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2BE. Places (in Louisiana) 2BF. Louisiana Scenery

New Orleans en-ville, laville River ein flèv, eine rivyèr


Baton Rouge au bâton-rouge Stream eine coulée
Carencro Saint-Pierre Swamps dè marais
New Iberia (Nouvelle)-Ibérie Marsh lamèche
St. Martinville Saint-Ma’tin Cypress tree ein Cip’
Iota Pointe-aux-Loups Cypress Swamp eine Ciprière
False River Fausse-Rivière Oak tree ein chêne
German Coast Côte-des-Allemands Pine tree ein pin, bois-gras
Lake Charles au lac-Charles

2BG. Parts of the Human Body 2BH. Modes of Transportation

Eye(s) zyè/zyeux Car ein char


Nose nè/nez Little boat eine pirogue
Hair chvé School Bus transfè d’écòle
Lip(s) lèv Airplane ein avion, aéroplèn
Arm(s) bra(s) bâtiment d’air
Ear(s) z’orèy Train ein char
Foot/feet pied/pyay Pick-up/Truck ein tròk
Finger(s) doigt/dwah Bicycle eine bicyc
Toe(s) z’ortèy
Leg(s) jamb’
Thigh(s) cuisse/kwiss
Hip hanche
Breast poitrine/pwahtrin
Back do(s)
Neck cou
Rear end chi, cheu, dèriyèr
Elbow coude

2C. SALUTATIONS

Hi/hello Bonjou How do you do? Comment t’es?


Bye/So long Aurévwah/N’a wah Comment vous y’est?
See you later Wah pli tar/Wah pi tar Comment c’est?
Comment ça va?
Have to make do. Ça gain pou couri. I’m fine. C’est bon et toi/vous?
What time you have? Qui l’hèr to gain? Mo bon and you?
What do you know? Ça to connè? Bien et toi?
What’s up? Ça t’ap fait aster? It’s going (ok). Ô, ç’apé couri.
Take care. Soigne-toi. Thanks, you too. Mèsi, toi itou.

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