French is a Latin based language. This means it shares many common aspects that languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and other Latin based languages. The most obvious of these is that nouns in Latin based languages have a gender associated with them. A noun can be feminine or masculine. Also, adjectives that modify these nouns must match in terms of gender. This is a difficult thing to remember, because there are so many nouns and they have specific genders. Let's take a look at some cognates and see how gender influences the words.
|La table||The table||feminine|
|Le garage||The garage||masculine|
|La vermine||The vermin||feminine|
|Le jardin||The garden||masculine|
So as a learner, care must be taken to memorize both the word and gender of every noun. There are some general rules for most nouns, but there are always exception.
From the previous example we see the definite pronoun in French - (le/la). In English this is the. The indefinite pronoun Un/Une in French corresponds to a/an in English. Un is for masculine nouns and une is for feminine nouns.
Common endings and their usual gender
In Cajun, words borrowed from English (zipper, truck, tv, computer) are masculin, and then there are some words like radio which can be either le/la, and it's la library.
Cajun French like French may be difficult for beginners to read. There are many rules and it is hard at first to grasp everything.
The first person singular pronoun in French is je and is pronounced like the "s" sound in the English word "treasure." The Cajun pronunciation of je is a little easier for English speakers; it's a little like "sh." But Cajuns never really say je by itself. In fact, the sound is always elided (or combined) with whatever sound follows it. This is expressed in informal written Cajun like this: j'sus (or I am in English). The formal way to write j'sus is je suis, but because je suis is pronounced like sh-soo, it makes sense to write it like j'sus. Another example is j'te donne (I give you, literally I you give). The j'te sounds like one word, sh-tuh.
The second person singular in French is tu and in Cajun is pronounced tee and sometime written informally as ti, e.g. Ti veux aller avec moi? (Do you want to go with me?) While tu is not commonly used in International French, reserved only for close friends and family members, in Cajun tu is the prefer second person pronoun. The "polite" vous form is used only when the age difference between speakers is so great that it becomes acceptable, although for the younger generations who have learned French over the past 50 years the use of vous as a subject has almost all but gone out of use. In contrast with International French, using the vous form with someone that's only a little older than you (even if that person is a perfect stranger) could be interpreted as being slightly insulting -- the implication being that you're saying the other person is old.
The third person singular comes in two genders, masculine and feminine. Both the masculine and feminine forms can mean it in addition to he and she. The masculine is il and sometimes y. Both il and y are pronounced by Cajuns as ee. You'll only hear the "l" in il if it comes before a verb that begins with a vowel, like Il est grand (he is big). If the pronoun comes before a verb that begins with a consonant, then you might see Y veut aller (he wants to go).
The feminine third person singular is a bit more complicated. There is no one unified Cajun way of saying she. In formal Cajun French, we'll use the International French spelling elle, pronounced el. However, depending on where you are at in Louisiana, you'll run into the following local variations: alle, a, é, al, and e. Like the masculine, the usage varies depending on the verb the pronoun precedes. If the verb begins with a vowel, then elle or alle is used, e.g. Alle est jolie (she is pretty). If the verb begins with a consonant, then you'll see A veut aller (she wants to go) or É va pas venir (she is not coming).
Since there are many variations of these pronouns depending on where the speaker is from in Louisiana, we'll try to use all of them so they will be familiar to you.
The first person plural, we, in informal Cajun is typically on, e.g. On veut être là demain (we want to be there tomorrow). Cajuns do use nous in more formal situations. In certain cases Cajuns will use nous-autres (noozawt). E.g. Ils ont donné l'argent à nous-autres (they gave the money to us), or Ils ont donné l'argent à nous. Nous-autres can be used as a subject, and the majority of the time after nous-autres you will hear on so that the verb can be used. E.g. Nous-autres, on veut ça, ou, Nous-autres on a été là hier au soir nous-autres.
The second person plural in Cajun is vous-autres (voozawt) and is used when the speaker is addressing two or more people. Quoi c'est que vous-autres veut manger? (What do you want to eat?)
The third person plural, they in English, has multiple different forms, which depending on your area, can be used interchangeably, and you will usually hear more than one of these forms in the same sentence. The different forms are: ils, eux-autres, eusse, and ça. Elles is not used in Louisiana, so the gender, if necessary, will be implied earlier via naming the people, or it it will be explicitly called, such as "les filles là" or "les hommes là". Eg. Ils sont en retard, ou, Ça reste sus l'autre côté du village, ou, Eusse aime pas la musique forte, ou, Eux-autres aime pas équand tu mets ton truck dans la cour à eux. For an example of using multiple forms in one sentence, Eusse aime pas équand tu viens parce que t'aimes jouer la musique forte et ça aime pas ça eux-autres parce qu'ils sont vieux et ça fait mal aux oreilles.
|je||on, nous, nous-autres|
|il, alle, elle||ils, ça, eusse, eux-autres|
For using these subjects, with the exception of the subject '"ils"', the vast majority of the verb conjugations for regular verbs will sound the same. With '"ils'" however, there are two types. The verb conjugations can sound the same as all of the others, or it can take on the verb conjugation of '"nous'" from International French.
Manger - to eat
Conjugation in the present tense :
Je mange (I eat)
Tu manges (You eat)
Il / alle mange (He / she eats)
On mange (We eat)
Vous-autres mange (Y'all eat)
Ça / Eusse / Eux-autres mange (They eat)
Ils mangeons // Ils mange (They eat)
With the exception of "Ils mangeons", this present tense verb is said as "'mawnzh"