Family fears death of Cajun language

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Thursday, June 30, 2011 - 5:49pm

The Cajun language is an important part of Louisiana culture, but many in the state worry that’s dying out.

Four generations of the Cormier family come together often to celebrate their heritage. “I’m extremely proud to be a Cajun,” says Jessica Sonnier. “I love that we have an accent that no one else does.”

As time passes, some of that culture is slipping away. “I wish I was able to speak like that, so when the French music is playing, I can know what it’s saying,” say Baylie Sonnier. She’s part of the youngest generation of Cormiers.

Her great-grandmother, Margie Cormier, speaks Cajun-French fluently. She’s one of the last in her family who can. “My parents didn’t speak no English. I didn’t know how to speak English when I went to school,” she says.

In her younger years, being a Cajun was frowned upon. “They didn’t want nobody to speak French. They just didn’t think it was right,” she says. “If we didn’t learn our lessons and know our English, they would put us on our knees in rice. They would paddle you with a ruler.”

It was a punishment she didn’t want her children to go through, so when they were born, they were only taught English. “They were never taught to speak French,” says Margie. “I didn’t want them to go to school and speak broken English like I spoke broken English.”

Now, that decision haunts the younger generations of the Cormier family. “I think the French language is so important to the Cajun culture,” says Margie’s son, Rickie. “It’s going to be a big loss and you’re never going to be able to recover it back.”

The Cormiers say, nowadays, the language is hard to find. “When I was young, I used to hear old people talking French. You just don’t hear that no more,” says Dustin Cormier. He’s Margie’s grandson.

They worry that the dialect isn’t the only custom fading. “It’s also the Cajun way of life that’s dying,” says Dustin. “Things are moving too fast now.”

Before long, they fear it will be gone for good. “The Cajun language is going to die,” says Margie.

But her family refuses to let it go. “We listen to French music every Saturday morning,” says Dustin. “My kids are brought up to know where they came from.”

They’ll hold tight to their Louisiana legacy.
 

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