From "Acadien" to "Cajun". Ethnic Labelization and Construction of Identity

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Academic article on Cajun culture.


From "Acadien" to "Cajun" to "Cadien": Ethnic Labelization and Construction of Identity Author(s): Jacques Henry Reviewed work(s): Source: Journal of American Ethnic History, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Summer, 1998), pp. 29-62 Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of the Immigration & Ethnic History Society Stable URL: . Accessed: 16/01/2013 20:22Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

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From Acadien to Cajun to CadieniEthnic Labelization and of Identity ConstructionJACQUES HENRY

OBSERVATION OF everyday life in Southwest Louisiana clearly atFrench is ethnic phenomenon: on signs and in publications, in-group spoken, Cajun identity in kin groups and organizations, is practiced is Cajun music solidarity ethnic food is cooked and sold, and Cajun country is toured by played, to the question remains the answer "What is a Cajun?" visitors. Yet, is claimed elusive. Cajuns, morists; sus. On Operational and anecdotal definitions abound from individual scholars, legislators is of yet this profusion the one hand, views of Cajun ethnicity by Cajuns vary accord ing to situational and referential contexts;1 on the other hand, definitions theoretical perspectives have been attempted from different by histori and writers of all kinds, from poets to hu a clear consen little help in providing tests to the existence of a French-based

ans, geographers, sociologists, linguists, and folklorists anthropologists, a as providing an official with goals as diverse definition, delineating informants or analyzing Cajun ethnic identity. All defi territory, finding nitions focus on or refer to Acadian ancestry, French language, ecologi to Southwestern Catholicism, Louisiana, agri adaptation of Cajun and a particular folk culture as the main variables culturalism, because of inadequacies ethnicity. Yet, these efforts are deemed wanting cal and cultural to the approach,2 the fast-evolving, and some multi-dimensional nature of the phenomenon at hand3 or the larger theo times paradoxical in tackling the issue of ethnicity per se.4 retical difficulties inherent This article the written the Acadian attempts occurrences exiles The It consists another approach. of the labels used to describe of an analysis the descendants of of

Cajun/cadien.5 use, and meaning cadien

in Louisiana, and especially ethno-historical exploration reveal the dialectical process

the English-French pair of the label's creation, at play in the construc

of the early realization This analysis confirms tion of Cajun ethnicity. in Louisiana Acadian and the coining of Cajun by outsid speech ers who popularized it presents the word in the late nineteenth century;

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Journal of American

Ethnic History

/ Summer


in patterns of utilization of Cajun/cadien from its emer as a derogative term used by outsiders to its current positive but gence in English realizations and French. The analysis of the evolu divergent the variations social contexts and from in-group and out-group changing shows that the use and meaning of Cajun/cadien closely perspectives cul social and cultural changes. Stable symbol of a changing espouses ture or constant marker of shifting ethnic boundaries, ap Cajun/cadien tion through evolution pears through historical of Cajun ethnicity. construction as a reliable indicator of the ongoing

DATA AND METHODOLOGYThe data consist of acadien region on of written occurrences a derivative of Cajun/cadien, a to the people and culture of Acadie, now used coast. Cajun/cadien to is to descend of people assumed in Louisiana after their deportation the defini here is "assumed" because

refers [akadi?] which the Canadian Atlantic

the group, language designate exiles who from the Acadian from Canada

and culture settled

in 1755. A key word is still a knot of confusion tion of Cajun/cadien despite a long presence in Louisiana and a surge of commercial interest in the past and scholarly two decades. One issue is unanimously have agreed upon: there would and there would siana between Cajun be no Cajuns if Acadians had not settled a matter of debate. 1765 and 1785. The rest is form of the American used in Loui


of English pronunciation as well and non-Cajuns [kedzAn]; [kedz^n] universally by Cajuns as by English In conformity and French with English mor speakers. it is the only form of the adjective and the singular noun, and it phology, is both masculine Cadien and and feminine. forms of the Louisiana French cadjin are the written of [kadzej. [kadze] used exclusively French speakers, pronunciation by The feminine form of both by Cajuns but also by non-Cajuns. mostly terms is respectively cadienne and cadjine [kadien] [kadzin]. The plural of both the noun and adjective, masculine is marked with and feminine, the s ending, which is not realized in speech. The original oral realization of the term will eternal remain shrouded by the

is the written

silence of its long-gone unrecorded oral usage speakers. Modern The ranges from [ka:dz?] to [kadie] in French and [kedzAn] in English. sources historical evolution be reconstructed from written can, however, that provide diachronic and codified information. The data presented here does not claim to be exhaustive, especially

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for the early and rare occurrences of the words and the current massive use. Compilations of manuscripts documents, (administrative personal were the source of some eighteenth-century occurrences.6 correspondence) Nineteenthaccounts and early-twentieth-century the Louisiana of contacts with have These been material Acadian come from published and terri population

tory; these descriptions

has been collected through observation in books, articles, dictionaries, administrative documents, participation form. Table 3 presents the use of ethnic signs, and lately, in electronic area (1905-1995). in telephone directories code words of the Lafayette There written worthy are methodological ethnic label. The topics to the ethnohistory of a pertinent use and meaning of a name are evolution, of inquiry. Anthropologists and sociolinguists have stud questions

liographical essays.7 ars, travelers, journalists, 1 and 2. Modern material

in several bib and analyzed from administrators, schol reports originate are presented and fiction writers, in Tables and collated

ied ethnic labels to identify and delimit ethnic groups;8 as for the ethnicin Louisiana, the much-confusing situation label Creole/cr?ole has been has not received the the subject of several studies,9 but Cajun/cadien same amount of scrutiny. writ Another issue deals with the use of written data. In Louisiana, as a measurement of ings in French and Creole have long been provided French and Creole cultures: their disap the cultural vitality of Louisiana the demise of French among elites, and the literary pearance signaled renaissance of Cajun first-hand social of the 1970s ethnicity.10 information is hailed as a manifestation of the written by writers, The analysis provided of the resurgence symbols, along with the a unique access to


facts and processes. It is acknowledged that both Cajun and cadien were spoken before were on paper and that their use was wider recorded than the they by a handful of texts. The ques to the correspondence tions pertaining and between oral realization will be addressed; in fact, they are at the core of graphic representation this "ethnography of writing." of a largely illiterate the validity of the written Finally, portrayal limited view of their existence allowed group by erudite outsiders must be assessed. Accounts of the use of Cajun/cadien from non-Acadian large originate In contrast, Cajun authors' publications, noticeably pejorative. especially are recent, rare and reflective in French, ethnic pride. of a renewed Since the task at hand is the analysis of an ethnic label, not the descrip tion of Cajun history and culture, the patterns of name usage by insiders sources and are by and

This content downloaded on Wed, 16 Jan 2013 20:22:02 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


Journal of American

Ethnic History

/ Summer


and outsiders

tion of biases boundary

are significant and can be interpreted through the distor on the and stereotypes. Ethnic label use is positioned that separates the Ethnics from the Others; its historical-ethno

graphic study allows for the integration of the etic and emic perspectives in a multicultural and synchrony. and biracial setting, in diachrony

THE CREATION OF THE TERMof Cajun/cadien is undisputed; there are Cajuns in settled there after their deportation from Acadians in 1755. The etymology Aca