Kittie Howard

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Little Bit of Dis; A Little bit of Dat

I have a friend from New England who insists she doesn't have an accent. She complains about what's left of the southern drawl in Northern Virginia. A few years ago, we took a chick trip to visit a mutual friend in North Carolina. Traffic was heavy on the Interstate. We decided to meander side rides around the congestion. It was a good call. Beautiful scenery, lots of Americana that warms the heart.

We stopped at a mom and pop diner for lunch. A lovely young lady asked my friend what she'd like to order (from the menu). My friend turned to me. "What did she say?" she asked.

I translated English into English. My friend told the young lady what she'd like. The young lady turned to me, a question mark in her eyes. I translated English into English. Ah, yes, the military's nomadic life hub and I had led had enabled me to become multi-lingual. Of course I still have my southern accent. It's just not as pronounced as it used to be.

When I go home to South Louisiana, I hear the same thing happening there. By 'hear,' I mean the Cajun French accent that was once as thick as drip-ground coffee. The accent's mellower now, sometimes a mere hint of what it used to be--to my ears. Tourists still have a blank look at times before the translation kicks in. As do Louisianians from, say, Shreveport in the state's northwest corner. We're one state divided by a common language, to paraphrase Mr. Winston Churchill.

When French-speaking, Catholic Acadians got booted out of Canada's Maritime provinces in the 1700s for political and religious reasons, about 4,000 settled in 22 of Louisiana's 64 parishes (counties). These 22 parishes are in South Louisiana and comprise the heart of what is commonly referred to as 'Cajun Country.'

Cajun Country is said to encompass the three B's: from Beaumont, Texas, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The best shrimp po'boy I've ever had in my life was a couple of years ago in Bay St. Louis. Can taste it now, yum!

But back to when the Cajuns set up shop in South Louisiana. Spain had gained control of the rather large area from France (most of which later turned into the Louisiana Purchase, back again to France). The Cajuns didn't seem to mind, though, as French was the dominant language.

However, as the United States expanded and the Port of New Orleans grew, more and more English speakers moved into the region. Out of economic necessity, Cajuns learned English. Since French lacked the plosive /th/ sound, 'this' turned into 'dat' and so on. Because of translation problems and a literacy problem common to the region in general, a fractured English emerged that many linguists consider a dialect: "I's goin' ta buy dat" or "Taday's hot, hot." Modifiers often repeated.

Although Louisiana has some of the lowest education statistics in the U.S., great strides have been made. I blogged about some of these achievements in the A-Z Challenge.

However, many linguists don't understand why this dialect remains. What with cable TV, people traveling more, the influx of job-seekers to Louisiana, Cajun English remains. Make no mistake about it, a South Louisianan can drop textbook English and slip into the dialect with ease. I do. Why? I honestly don't know, save that it gives a conversation a deeper bond; perhaps it's part of my comfort zone, the culture I grew up in. Cajun English does not have a Southern drawl. Cajun English is spoken very fast. Your ear's gotta keep up or huh?

The setting for "Rings of Trust,"my upcoming second novella, is near Baton Rouge, in Cajun Country, but influenced by Southern drawl creep from North Louisiana and nearby Mississippi.

Yep, I took the plunge and wrote the dialogue as my ear heard it, with a nod to the reader. Too much of this stuff is too difficult to read.

In a couple of weeks, "Rings of Trust" will launch. I hope to share my linguistic comfort zone with you.