Cajun Cars

On June 4, 2009 · 4 Comments

The United States does not have an official language. English predominates of course, but other languages prevailed in certain places as they have for centuries. The Cajun dialect of French as spoken in parts of Louisiana is a prime example.

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Cajun Country

Cajun culture intricately intertwines with the Louisiana’s identity, personality and heritage. In recognition the state legislature chartered a Council for the Development of French in Louisiana in 1968 when it perceived a general decline in the use of this distinct dialect. The group uses other names too, including the Counseil pour le développement du français en Louisiane in French and the Kounséy pou le dévelopmen di françé en Lwizyàn in Creole, along with the acronym CODOFIL.

It aspires to:

…do any and all things necessary to accomplish the development, utilization, and preservation of the French language as found in Louisiana for the cultural, economic and touristic benefit of the state.

The Cajuns (Acadians) left Canada at the behest of the British government in the 1700’s. I’ll leave the details and politics to other sources if you crave more. For purposes of this entry, the item to note is that many of these displaced peoples migrated to southern Louisiana. Here, they’ve successfully retained a vibrant cultural and linguistic identity for two hundred and fifty years.

Recently CODOFIL designed a license plate that is now available for sale to residents of Louisiana, with proceeds supporting French immersion programs in public schools.

Chez Nous Autres License Plate
Source: Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles

This may be the only license plate issued in the United States in a language other than English (please post other examples in the Comments box if you know otherwise). Drawing upon material presented in recent press coverage, "la glaie bleue" translates to Louisiana Iris and "Chez nous autres" translates to Our Home. Even more significantly, the state name has been rendered as Louisiane rather than Louisiana. Apparently it was quite a challenge to get the "e" approved but it was critically important because that feature fully de-anglicizes the license plate and supports the CODOFIL mission.

French Speaking Louisiana
Darker colors equals greater percentage of French speakers (highest is 20%-30%). See Wikipedia for details

There must have been decent interest in the plate or it would not have been issued. The Legislative Fiscal Office required there to be at least 1,000 applications before the plate would be printed. It’s not entirely surprising that CODOFIL met the mark given the population available to their cause. Nearly 200,000 people in Louisiana speak French, Cajun or Creole as their primary language according to the 2000 Census. The population of people who identify and affiliate themselves with the Cajun community is much larger though, and is probably closer to a couple of million.

Incidentally, the Parish with the highest proportion of French Speakers is the oddly bifurcated St. Martin Parish that I featured previously, at 27%. The Parish with the highest absolute number of speakers is Lafayette, with about 25,000, again according to the 2000 Census.

Laissez les bons temps rouler, as they say down in New Orleans.

On June 4, 2009 · 4 Comments

4 Responses to “Cajun Cars”

  1. An alert reader has brought a typo to my attention. The French rendering for CODOFIL should include the word Conseil rather than Counseil. I’m a notoriously bad speller in English so you can imagine my trouble with a foreign language. This time I thought I’d play it smart when I put this entry together by relying on the source itself. I went to CODOFIL’s French language page so I could cut-and-paste the phrase directly into my entry. Ah yes, the spelling is correct at the top of the page. However it’s a graphic so I couldn’t copy the text. Then I found it in text footer at the bottom of the page and I lifted it directly into my entry, word-for-word. With that, I think all of you will enjoy the irony: The organization charged with promoting the French language in Louisiana has misspelled its own name!

  2. Steve_CTMQ says:

    While these are in English (for the most part), they are certainly interesting:

    By the way, growing up in DE I always heard that the DE plates are the only flat, reflective plates rather than raised characters. I’m not sure if that’s true anymore, nor do I have the wherewithal to research that random fact.

    Though, the Univ of DE Blue Hen is the only inarguably female sports mascot in the US.

  3. Craig says:

    @Steve_CTMQ, Delaware indeed still uses a silk-screening process to print its plates, rather than embossing them.

    Myself, I was born and grew up there too, and I was really disappointed when they introduced specialty plates that weren’t gold on dark blue.

  4. Lincoln Ho says:

    What?! What other countries have no official language?

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