Talk Cajun to Me // “Water Speaking”

by Jenna Orgeron, special sections editor

Some southern Louisiana natives still speak in their own language, which evolved from a combination of cultures influenced by their ancestors who first settled along the waterways in the bayou region.

Edward Ledet, a fluent Cajun French speaker who was born and raised on Bayou Lafourche, says a large group of French immigrants, known as Acadians, traveled by water and boat from Northern Canada to the delta of the Mississippi River where they made a living from the water and wetlands of South Louisiana.

Other nationalities populated the region as well, like Haitian, Vietnamese, and Native American. As a result of people from these different backgrounds migrating to this region to start a new life in the southern swamps and bayous, Cajun culture was born.

These people who spoke different languages needed to work and communicate with one another on the water to make a living, so they named the waterways and created common water-related terms that helped them understand each other and the environment they were inhabiting.

Linda Lafont, another bayou native and former French teacher of 33 years, recounts some of her earliest school memories of being forced to repeat sentences in English until she got them grammatically correct.

“It would take me a few tries because I was literally translating every single word, from French to English,” Lafont says since she only spoke French with her relatives and neighbors and they never corrected her grammar. The dominant influence of French is because of the dominant influence of water. According to Lafont, “the French-speaking people who built business and homes along these waterways maintained their own little community in this region to keep their heritage alive.”

Caitlin Orgeron, currently French teacher in the bayou region and Lafont’s former student, says “the combination of various languages and improper translation without grammatical correction” is what formed Cajun French.

“But,” Orgeron continues, “the bayous, the communities that surround them and the deep appreciation for tradition is why it’s still spoken today.”