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louisiana linguistics

The first impression a newcomer to southern Louisiana has is, "How in the world do you pronounce all of these towns, streets, and names?!" Even if that kindly, old Cajun man you asked for directions is too polite to laugh right in your face, I guarantee he and the boys are guffawing at "you Yankees" over a picnic table heaped with smoking crawfish later that day.

Pronouncing names here is something you're only able to do if you were born or have lived here for at least ten or so years. Even then, you may never possess the perfect trilled-R or silent-TH of a trueborn Cajun; however, it wouldn't hurt to be able to make a halfway decent attempt. To help out those not from around 'ere, I've put together a little pronunciation guide for the Louisiana-linguistically-challenged.

A Yankee Says What?

New Orleans
It is not New Ar-leens. Do not call it that - it hurts our Louisiana-ears. It's New Ar-lens or N'awlins; either is acceptable. But never, ever, ever New Ar-leens. Unless you are talking about Orleans Street or Orleans Parish; that's different and is pronounced Ar-leens. Hey, I don't make the rules.

Don't even think about stepping foot in the southern part of this state if you pronounce this word "cray-fish". We don't like the word "crawdads" either. It's pronounced just as it looks: craw-fish. You have been warned.

Pointe Coupee
This is a parish in the central-southern part of the state. It is not, as many Yankee friends of mine have done, pronounced point coo-pee. Try point cuh-pee.

This is a pronunciation that can cause some heated debate between New Orleans folk and the rest of southern Louisianaians. People from New Orleans will tell you this is pronounced I-ber-ville (the "I" being long as in "ibis"). The slightly-less-drunk half of the state will tell you it is correctly pronounced Ib-er-ville (the "I" being short as in "bib"). Hailing from Iberville parish itself, I have been known to get into these very arguments with friends from New Orleans and the fact remains that their street is pronounced wrong and our parish is pronounced correctly. In your face.

Many Cajuns refer to loved ones as cher. If I had a dime for every time my very-Cajun boyfriend saw a cute kid or cute animal & said, "Cher bebe" I'd be rich. For those not in the know, however, this word is not pronounced like the counterpart to Sonny, but sha (the "a" as in "sad"). It means "dear".

You can't get to Lafayette from Baton Rouge without crossing over the Atchafalaya Basin. The Atchafalaya Trace (part of the Basin) is also a heritage area where true Cajun living thrives. It is not pronounced at-chuh-fuh-lay-uh like most people not-from-here think. It is pronounced uh-cha-fuh-lie-uh.

No, it isn't Herbert and it isn't hee-bert. It's pronounced ay-bare (ay as in "hay"). Don't ask why, just accept it (or blame the French). If you say Herbert or hee-bert around here, people are going to laugh at you.

File Gumbo
The "file" stands for ground sassafras and is pronounced fee-lay. It's a type of gumbo and - believe it or not - not the one we normally eat. As for the other one, if you can't pronounce "gumbo" I suggest you stay wherever you are. We don't want your kind around here.

A jambalaya is the infamous rice-based (with whatever-the-hell-else-you-want-to-put-in-it) dish. If you are anywhere but southern Louisiana and see jambalaya on the menu, don't get it (the same goes for gumbo). It isn't the real thing. If you do see it on the menu and decide to order it anyway, it's pronounced jum-buh-lie-yuh.

These candies made with sugar, butter, and pecans are a southern Louisiana staple (we don't count calories down here, in case you couldn't tell). So much so that they're usually sold in souvenir shops! The correct pronunciation is praw-leens (the "aw" sounding very much like "bra"). Not pray-leens, for Christ's sake.

While we're on the subject, please do not - for the love of all things holy - call these delicious nuts pee-cans. They're puh-cons. This is actually worse than calling crawfish "crayfish" (though not by much). Just don't do it.

While we can jokingly call Louisiana's oldest permanent settlement (est. 1714) Natcha-toe-chess, I wouldn't suggest you try it. Nack-uh-dish is the best I can come up with trying to explain to you how to say it right. If you need to find it, just ask for "The city where they have the Festival of the Lights" or "Where they filmed Steel Magnolias" - everyone will know where you're talking about.

Don't worry about this word. Most southern Louisianans can't even pronounce it and I've never met anyone that could spell it from memory. Just say "That long T-word that I can't pronounce." Everyone will know what you mean. If you are curious - or want to try it for yourself - the best I can offer you is chop-uh-too-less.

Cochon de Lait
If you are down here long enough to actually get invited to a coo-shon-duh-lay (the "O" in shon like "on") you should most certainly attend. While the slow-roasted pig is good, a cochon du lait is more about getting together, drinking, and partying while said pig cooks. It's the event, not the pig, that makes these special (though the pig is excellent!).

My grandmother and I once had a nice chat with a Yankee woman in a small, local - yet very popular - restaurant. "I just followed that body of water out there," she told us when explaining how she happened upon our little eatery. That "body of water" was Bayou Maringouin. For those that aren't sure how to say it, it's by-you.

If you go to New Orleans and do not stop (at any time of day or night) at Café du Monde and have a beignet, then you have not experienced New Orleans. Make sure when you order it you say ben-yay or you will be kicked out (just kidding).

Every time someone pisses me off not only do I bitch about it on this site, I cast an evil, potent gris-gris on them as well. Not really, but it sounded good. A gris-gris is what Voodun Queen Marie Laveau will cast on you if you mispronounce words while in Louisiana so make sure you say it right: gree-gree.

Vieux Carre
Another term for the French Quarter - saying Voo Carry or Voo Car could get you shot. It is voo ca-ray (the "A" in "ca" like "cat"; the "A" in "ray" like, well, "ray").

A favorite of mine. An Indian (dot not feather) friend of my father's once called this thigh-buh-dex, which we still say in joke 20+ years later. If you don't want to be laughed at for years to come make sure you say tib-uh-dough. Since this is the name of a city and an entire parish here, you might want to make sure you get this one right.

The City of Lafayette, or Lafayette Parish, or maybe you mean Lafayette Hotel in New Orleans? When we like a name, we use it right into the freakin' ground. However, it always makes me cringe to hear people trying to pronounce this one. The proper pronunciation should be laf-ay-ette or, if you've the accent down right, laf-ee-ette.

While it isn't well-known even to people in southern Louisiana, I am from here and so had to add it to the list if for no other reason than my hometown is not simple to pronounce. You will likely never in your lifetime find yourself here or with a need to refer to it (at least you should hope not), but if you do its called Ma-ring-gwin (the "A" like "man"). It means "mosquito".

A rather large parish in the Yankee Northern part of the state that you probably can't pronounce. If you're just dying to know how, it's wah-shuh-taw.

You probably don't even know what it is and if you do, and aren't from here, you probably would balk at eating it. The fact remains, however, that this meat-and-rice filled sausage is delicious. But if you go around asking to try some boo-din no one will know what you're talking about. Try boo-da-n (the "A" in da like "van" - the "n" is almost but not quite silent).

Plaquemine or Plaquemines
The first, the "city" and seat of Iberville Parish, the latter, a parish in the southern tip of Louisiana. The word is Indian (as many of our confusing words that aren't French are), and taken from "piakimin" which means "persimmon". It's pronounced plack-uh-min and, for the parish, plack-uh-mins.

Another of those oddly named parishes. Tan-ja-puh-ho-uh or Tanja-puh-ho (depending on who you talk to) has waterways in it with names such as Lake Maurepas (mar-ruh-pah) and Tchefuncte River (I have no idea how to freakin' pronounce that - I'm French not Indian). Right about now you're thinking that you're awful glad you're not from this state with all of these insane names. I feel you.

Another one of those weird Indian-named parishes. This one is also its own city (Louisiana's Strawberry Capital). The word is Choctaw and means "hair to hang" which some people think refers to the abundant Spanish moss covering our trees. I can guess as to a few other things it might mean, but that's me. It's pronounced pon-cha-too-luh (the "O" in pon as in "poncho").

"A little something extra". You hear this a lot down here (over-used a bit, IMO) and means "extra" that is added to...anything. It's pronounced lan-yap. Get used to saying it and hearing it, because if you come down here to visit or for vacation, you're going to become all too familiar with it.

Another parish, the one housing Thibodeaux, that no one can pronounce correctly. The parish is named for Bayou Lafourche, which runs through it. The name is French and is pronounced lah-foosh. Say it three times real fast.

Now obviously you shouldn't have any difficulty pronouncing this. I included it because 99% of the people outside of southern Louisiana I say this word to look at me with complete confusion; even moreso when I try to explain that I am one. "You call yourself a racoon's ass?!" they ask incredously. I'm not sure how that's worse than someone from Wisconsin calling themselves a "Cheesehead", but whatever. If you are a coonass or a relative/friend of one, you can safely say this. If you are or are related to/friends with a Dago or a Redneck, you'd best keep your mouth shut when it comes to Louisiana slang such as this. 'Dem's fightin' words, cher.

This is another pronunciation found only in New Orleans (and likely no where else in the world - including the rest of this state). New Orleanians will tell you this is pronounced bur-GUN-dee, rather than just saying burgundy like the rest of us. You know they like to be different. If you ever find yourself in New Orleans looking for this street, do not ask where "Burgundy Street" is because you will only get blank looks (they know what you mean, but they want you to say it their way).


I grew up hearing Cajun music all my life, but like most teenagers I got side tracked and wanted to hear popular music...It didn't take me long to realize that we had something very special here...It's our music. It's who we are.
- Christine Balfa.

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