Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wednesday's Word of the Day: Keeyau!

Okay kids, bust out your notebooks & dunce caps--it's time for a little Cajun lesson. Each Wednesday I'll be posting one of the Cajun terms that traveled back north with me.

"Feaux, you speak Cajun?" you ask. Well--no. Not a lot. Truth be told, there's not a LOT of Cajun French spoken in Louisiana these days, at least not out and about, or by people my age.

This is because after the Louisiana Purchase occurred, there was an en masse influx of English-speaking Americans into the area, mostly wealthy aristocrats, who looked down on the rural, French-speaking Cajuns. Within a generation, American politicians created and enforced English-only laws. The locals were shunned for speaking Cajun French in public, and the kids were shunned from doing so in schools... A generation passed, and many parents warned their children not to speak it, for fear they would face the same humiliation and stereotypes. Without french being taught in the schools, and the younger generations only exposures being occasionally at home from their parents, the use of Cajun french became reduced to a word or phrase here and there, that people from my generation picked up from their parents and grandparents.

More recently, the stigma tied to the language has gone away, and many younger people WANT to relearn the language of their heritage. Some private schools offer French immersion programs which teach both formal & local French. And speaking Cajun French in public isn't as taboo as it once was; now, around certain towns, you can catch older men & women sitting on a bench outside a store, discussing their days or most recent fishing trip in their original native tongue.

But for the most part, the 20 to 40-somethings (and beyond, both younger and older) speak what I would refer to as "Cajun English", and I say that as a term of endearment. It involves 99% English, and 1% Cajun, all 100% spoken with a thick Cajun drawl. This drawl is different depending on where you live; if you're from "down da bayou", it's a little thicker, more "round", and a little more... lively. I have on more than one occasion accidentally mistaken a regular Bayou Cajun discussion as an argumen--and when I tried to interject, they just give you a raised eyebrow and say, "Mais, dis is just how we talk, yeah." Nobody's mad or upset--they just speak with a lot of passion, whether it's discussing the Saints game or who should unload the dishwasher.

In the Lafayette area, the "prairie Cajun" (as they are referred to as by the "down da bayou" folk) have a flatter, more monotone accent, spoken a little more quickly. I'll post some videos demonstrating what I mean, maybe next week.


So, now that you've had your history lesson, what's your actual word of the day?


I believe the technical definition for this is "wow!" It's used as an interjection, and, like so many truly Cajun phrases, has multiple pronunciations. The one I picked up on was "kee-YAW", though it sometimes just comes out as "kyaw", with a little aspiration between the k and y sound. But I've heard everything from "Poo-Yie" to "Key-Yoo". It all means the same.

Use it in a sentence? Why, of course I can!

"Keeyau, you see the size a dat fish?"

(I wish I had a more impressive pic, but this LITERALLY is the biggest fish I ever caught in Louisiana. I's sad.)

Or, another example with another pronunciation: I have heard a friend who grew up outside of Lafayette say, whilst getting ready to change her son's diaper:

"Poo-yie, baby, you STINK."

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