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Running head: PHONETIC DIFFERENCES CAJUN ENGLISH 1

A Comparison of Phonetic Differences between

Cajun English and Standard English

Lauren Porter

Colorado State University


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PHONETIC DIFFERENCES CAJUN ENGLISH
Introduction

Cajun English is a dialect of American English spoken most widely in southwest

Louisiana; sometimes the Cajun English dialect is difficult to distinguish as it has close

variants and associations, including Louisiana Creole and Cajun French. In this sense, it

can be helpful to understand Cajun English in terms of its speech community. A speech

community is a broad term used in sociolinguistics that refers to a community that is

identified by linguistic criteria, which can include patterns and frequencies of verbal

interactions, in addition to attitudes toward language (Blyth, 1997). In other words, Cajun

English can be identified by its unique language patterns, as well as how it is viewed

within a social context. Variations in language and dialects can lead to confusion because

sometimes these differences obscure the common patterns of the language, and on a local

level, obscure the specific conventions that a speech community shares (Shopen &

Williams, 1981). In order to simplify this idea of dialect and linguistic differences for the

purposes of this paper, focus will be kept on Cajun English, understood as the dialect

spoken in southern Louisiana primarily by native Louisianians of white, French Acadian

descent (Cheramie, 1998). Cajun English draws on influences from French, though the

use of French is in decline in Louisiana, in part due to unfavorable circumstances for the

maintenance of French (Picone, 2014, p. 202).

Considering that the Cajun English dialect is spoken in such a specific region of

the country (southwest Louisiana), it is pertinent to question if Cajun English deviates

phonetically from the norms of American English (Standard English). This paper poses

the question: Does Cajun English differ phonetically from the norms of American

English? If so, how?


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PHONETIC DIFFERENCES CAJUN ENGLISH
Notable Differences between Standard English and Cajun English

One major difference that has been found between Standard English and Cajun

English is the replacement of // with /t/ and // with /d/ in Cajun English. // and // are

both interdental fricatives; the former is voiceless and the latter is voiced. Interdental

refers to place of articulation in the mouth, where the tip of the tongue is situated between

the upper and lower front teeth (Yavas, 2011). Voiceless indicates when the muscles of

the glottis are relaxed, as opposed to a voiced sound where the muscles of the glottis are

tense (Chisholm, 1981). As fricatives, there is partial airflow out of the mouth with an

audible, friction noise (Yavas, 2011). Examples of // and // are thick as the voiceless

fricative and then as the voiced fricative, respectively. In Cajun English, these

interdental fricatives are replaced by the voiceless and voiced alveolar stops /t/ and /d/. In

alveolar sounds, the tongue goes against the alveolar ridge, which is the ridge on the roof

of the mouth near the front, or opening, of the mouth. A stop is when airflow is blocked

(Yavas, 2011). Examples of /t/ and /d/ are found in the words tick and den.

One possible explanation for this replacement is that Cajun English draws many

influences from French, and French does not have interdental fricatives (Cheramie,

1998). Examples of the replacement of interdental fricatives with alveolar stops in Cajun

English are represented in Table 1. Table 1 represents these changes as they appear in

writing, as well as their pronunciation, as shown with the International Phonetic Alphabet

(IPA) transcription1.

1 IPA is the alphabetic system of phonetic notation. It is a standardized


system that represents spoken language sounds.
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PHONETIC DIFFERENCES CAJUN ENGLISH
Table 1

Replacement of Interdental Fricatives with Alveolar Stops

Feature Standard English Cajun English Standard English- Cajun English-


IPA IPA

// = /t/ Thick Tick K tK


Bath Bat b bt

// = /d/ Then Den n dn


They Dey ei dei

(Cheramie, 1998)

Table 2

Dropping of Consonants and Consonant Clusters in Cajun English

Consonant/Consona Standard Cajun English Standard Cajun


nt Cluster English English- IPA English- IPA

/s/ Sometimes Sometime smtamz smtam

/t/ Best Bes bst bs

/l/ Simple Simpuh smpl smp

/k/ Like Lie lak la

/kt/ Act Ak kt k

/sk/ Asked Axed skt ksd

/lm/ Calm Cam kalm kam

(Cheramie, 1998)
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PHONETIC DIFFERENCES CAJUN ENGLISH
Consonants

There are multiple examples of the modification of a consonant in Cajun English,

including the change from /s/ to /z/. For example, in Standard English the words sink

and gas become zink and gaz in Cajun English (Cheramie, 1998). Additionally,

sometimes final consonants and consonant clusters that are typical of Standard English

will be dropped in Cajun English (see Table 2).

The tables and examples above demonstrate the differences in consonants in

Cajun English and Standard English. For example, we see a dropping of the final

consonant sound in words such as sometimes and best, as well as the dropping of

internal consonant sounds like in the words like and calm. It is also important to

examine the differences in vowel usage between the dialects, and the following sections

will discuss diphthongs and vowel usage in the two dialects.

Diphthongs and Vowels

Diphthongs are vowels that are accompanied by a movement in the tongue or jaw

(Chisholm, 1981). For example, diphthongs occur in the pronunciation of words such as

ear, tour, and deer. The absence of diphthongs is an important phonological marker

of Cajun English that distinguishes it from Standard English. This absence of diphthongs

in Cajun English is credited to the absence of diphthongs in French (Cheramie, 1998). As

mentioned previously, Cajun English draws influence from French, so it makes sense that

Cajun English would follow a vowel structure similar to French in certain situations. As a

reference, examples of diphthongs in Standard English can be found below in Table 3.

According to Cheramie (1998), the absence of diphthongs in Cajun English is instead


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PHONETIC DIFFERENCES CAJUN ENGLISH
characterized by tenseness in vowels. Table 4 shows how these differences, in diphthongs

and other vowels, appear in some Cajun English lexicon.

Another difference in vowels between Cajun English and Standard English is the

movement of the vowel // to /ae/. This vowel movement can be described as a movement

from a lax mid front vowel to a lax low front vowel. This can be found in words such as

hair being pronounced /haer/ (Cheramie, 1998). Table 5 provides more examples.

Table 3.

Examples of Diphthongs in Standard English

Diphthong Word Examples

// Ear, deer

/e/ Air, their

// Tour, cure

/e/ Say, day

/a/ Pie, fight

/i/ Oil, voice

/e/ Go, slow

/a/ Owl, found

Table 4
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PHONETIC DIFFERENCES CAJUN ENGLISH

Diphthong and Vowel Differences

Diphthong/ Standard Cajun Standard Cajun English-


Vowel Change English Word English English- IPA IPA

/a/ = /a/ I Ah a a
// = /i/ Itch Eetch t it

/a/ = /ae/ Like Lak lak laek


/ae/ = /a/ Man Mon maen man
// = // Lunch Lonch lnt lnt

Uncle Oncle kl kl

// = / / Oil All l l
// = /o/ Won Wone wn won
(Cheramie, 1998)

Table 5.

Modification of Vowel // to //

Vowel Standard Cajun Standard English- Cajun English-


English English IPA IPA

//- // Very Vary vri vri


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PHONETIC DIFFERENCES CAJUN ENGLISH
Yellow Yallow jlo jlo

Jet Jat dt dt

Ten Tan tn tn

(Cheramie, 1998)

Conclusion

All of the aforementioned features of Cajun English including the transformation

of interdental fricatives to alveolar stops, the dropping of consonants and consonant

clusters, and the absence of diphthongs and modification of vowels, demonstrate that on a

phonological level there are many distinguishing features of Cajun English that make it

different from Standard English. These varied features appear in a plethora of everyday

vocabulary, which means that not only are there a number of differences, but that these

differences also occur with high frequency. Taking all of this into consideration, it can be

concluded that phonologically, Cajun English definitely deviates from the norms of

Standard, or American, English.

Implications

This research paper helped me to understand that systematic differences occur

between dialects. In my research, I learned more about the International Phonetic

Alphabet, and how it can be used as a helpful standard for understanding phonetics and

word phonology. Additionally, because I learned about the systematic differences

between the dialects, stereotypes and previously held beliefs of mine about the Cajun
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PHONETIC DIFFERENCES CAJUN ENGLISH
dialect were changed, as oftentimes different dialects get seen as lesser because they

are not standard. Throughout this research, I learned that the different pronunciation of

words was not random, or due to a lack of education, but instead was its own system.

Additionally, because Cajun English draws on French, I was able to see how the

phonology of an influential language (in this case, French) can transfer to another

language and appear in the phonology of the language.

As a teacher, this research, combined with a sociolinguistics course I took, helped

me understand that differences in dialects are oftentimes systematic. That said, just

because a person speaks in another dialect does not mean that they are not proficient in

English, nor does it mean that the phonological and morphological differences are

random. If a student is struggling with a certain aspect of language, and desires to achieve

proficiency in Standard English, I can return to the phonology of the dialects (and

perhaps languages that influence the dialect), to examine systematic differences between

it and Standard English in order to predict and detect common errors that might occur for

the learner.

References

Blyth, C. (1997). The sociolinguistic situation of Cajun French: The effects

Of language shift and language loss. In A. Valdman (Ed.), French and

Creole in Louisiana (pp. 25-46). New York, NY: Plenum Press.

Cheramie, D.M. (1998). Glad you axed: A teachers guide to Cajun English.

Retrieved from http://www.eric.edu.gov/contentdelivery/servlet/ERIC


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PHONETIC DIFFERENCES CAJUN ENGLISH
Servlet?accno=ED420881

Chisholm, William S. Jr. (1981). Elements of English linguistics: New York, NY:

Longman.

Cox, J. (1992). A study of the linguistic features of cajun english. Retrieved from

http://www.eric.ed.gov/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=ED352840

Picone, M.D. (2014). Cajun french and Louisiana creole. In M. Di Paolo & K. Arthur

(Eds.), Languages and dialects in the U.S.: Focus on diversity and linguistics

(pp. 196-213). Florence: Taylor and Francis.

Shopen, T., & Williams, J.M. (1981). Style and variables in English: Cambridge, MA:

Winthrop.

Yavas, M. (2011). Applied English phonology (2nd ed.). Malden, MA: Wiley-

Blackwell.

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